Organizations cannot simply buy a positive reputation and credible image.
Strong relationships aren’t for sale. Building them requires relentless honesty and compelling storytelling directed at the desired audience.
Great publicity must be earned.
Organizations and individuals can certainly work on public relations campaigns themselves with existing resources, but they often need help from consultants or agencies. So, how much should they pay them for establishing trust and enhancing the image of their products and services?
Use this guide to help price your next PR project:
Many consultants and public relations firms offer individual items off the shelf such as TV, radio and print placements, op-eds, press releases and blog posts.
This approach often represents the best option for those without much experience who want to stick their finger in the bathwater before committing to a specific person or company.
Lamont Johnson with The Art Department typically invoices $800 to write and distribute a press release on wire services such as PR Newswire and PRWeb. Without wire distribution, Johnson charges $500 to write the release and send it to his own proprietary media contacts.
John Stellar, president of Everyone’s PR based in southern California, bills clients $1,000 to draft two media documents—including the company biography and a press release—and a $250 per month subscription fee. After that he adds $250 for each local print and radio placement, $500 for local television coverage, $750 for national print and radio placements and $1,500 for national television placements.
Stellar also sends invoices for payment only after an article appears or a TV or radio interview concludes. His approach reflects an industry trend toward performance-based pricing.
“Our clients love this approach, and it has given many more people the opportunity to use our services, because in this recovering economy they don’t have that $2,500 to $4,000 a month retainer fee to risk,” Stellar says.
The gravitation away from hourly rates and toward performance-based pricing resulted from customers’ demand for measurable value.
As freelance consultant Ryan Waggoner explains, “When you bill hourly, you are putting yourself in a position where you are incentivized to take as long as possible to deliver the results that your client is trying to buy. … Wouldn’t it be better for your clients if you were incentivized to constantly be looking to deliver the results they’re trying to buy even faster and more efficiently?”
Still, hourly rates remain a staple of PR pricing and vary depending upon experience and deliverables:
Leigh Dow with 48 West Agency in Phoenix, for example, charges from $120 to $140 per hour.
Tami Belt with Blue Cube Marketing Solutions in Las Vegas bills $100 per hour with a 15-hour monthly minimum. She breaks it down into five hours for a typical press release, 10 to 15 hours for a feature media pitch, two to four hours for bios, and one to three hours for testimonials.
Rhonda Rhees in the suburbs of Los Angeles offers the options of a $150 hourly rate, $500 and more on special projects, and monthly retainers ranging from $1,500 to $2,500. “Since I’m small, and more of an independent, I find that these rates are now in line with today’s marketplace,” Rhees says.
Typical retainers begin at as low as $1,500 per month and max out around $20,000.
“In terms of dollars and cents, I’ve seen budget ranges under $5,000 per month, at or near $10,000 per month and then much higher,” says Chicago-based Motion PR CEO and founder Kimberly Eberl. “For the smallest amount—$5,000 a month or less—expect a narrow focus (i.e. just local media pitching, solely trade media, etc.). For larger amounts you can build in more tactics, reach a wider audience, conduct events, utilize third party experts, etc.”
The big agencies—Edelman, Weber Shandwick, FleishmanHillard and that ilk—don’t get out of bed for less than $25,000 and can command fees of $100,000 or more per month. Major clients at the high end of their scale include major cities, global corporations and nation states that require large staffs dedicated to single accounts.
Southern California’s Tracy Bagatelle-Black worked for one of the world’s largest firms and dissects how retainer pricing worked there.
“When you figure out what a project will cost a client, you plug in an account coordinator at one rate and how many hours you expect to use them and a senior account executive or two at a different higher rate,” Bagatelle-Black says. “For the most part, account hours are mostly filled with more hours from the junior staff than the senior staff, because they are much cheaper.”