How to pick the right PR partner for your budget.
Clients can waste a lot of time, energy and money in recruiting a PR partner, only to find they don’t get the service or results they want. Similarly, agencies can waste a lot of time talking to prospects - only to find the client either isn’t equipped to do PR, or lacks the budget required to make it worthwhile.
Spend too little, and it’s not worth it. Spend too much, and you’ll be spending cash that could be better invested in other things. Getting this balance right isn’t easy.
This blog aims to provide a rough guide on what share of budget to allocate to PR, and - given your overall marketing budget - what PR options might suit.
Freelancer or Agency?
First, some fee ballparks. A freelancer with 5+ years experience will start at £250/ day; this is probably the best option for a PR budget below £1k/ month.
Above that, some agencies will offer retainers in the £2-3k/ month range. But irrespective of the KPIs you set, the chances are you’ll be a low priority and/ or not receive much attention from senior people at this fee level.
Depending on your sector, £5k a month should ensure you get a reasonable service from a reasonable agency.
Between these ranges, virtual agencies such as ours (that work with a network of freelancers rather than hire staff) may be a better value-for-money option.
PR’s share of the marketing budget
PR works most effectively as part of a blended marketing strategy that (in b2b for example) may include a provision for creating content/ experiential, attending and sponsoring events, and paid social.
If you put 100% of your budget into PR and nothing into marketing, you’re unlikely to be able to make the most of it. Of course many agencies offer a blend of wider PR services including content, marketing, and consultancy - here I’m referring to media relations specifically.
Media coverage is predominantly about long-term reputation building and brand awareness rather than sales activation. And in advertising, the rule of thumb is that spend should be split 60:40 in favour of brand; if you don’t invest in brand you’ll not generate/ maintain the awareness you need to convert the sale later. It may well be the case that an article in the press will create a direct lead, but this is hard to measure.
So what share should you put into PR? For this illustration I’m suggesting you split the ‘brand’ share of the budget 50:50 between paid (eg. adverts/ conference branding) & earned (ie PR). This suggests that PR forms 30% of the total marketing budget.
Given that, working back from my ballpark freelancer & agency rates above, here’s a suggestion on how you pick the right PR partner, based on your overall marketing budget;
Sub-£40k per year
Recommend you either keep it in-house, or start really small & focussed; allocating up to £1k/ month for an expert freelancer to work to a specific brief. While you won’t be able to get an ‘always on’ service at that level, freelancers can start to help you build relationships in your core territories.
From £40k-£200k per year
Despite representing a significant investment on your part at approx £4k/ month, you’re unlikely to find value in a traditional agency / retainer model at this price point. PR freelancers will be great at certain things, but may not be able to do everything and managing more than one can be unwieldy. A virtual agency may come in to play at this price point.
£200k+ per year
A budget of £5k+ month should be enough to secure a good PR agency, and enough attention from its senior team. I’m not saying avoid virtual agencies at this price point, rather it’s hard to find value in a traditional agency below this price point.
There are pros and cons to working with different types of partner; some freelancers are worth paying way more than the rate above, and can deliver in just a few hours a standard of work a poor agency may take a month to deliver (if at all).
Many virtual agencies will outperform established agencies at bigger budgets, but are unlikely to offer the theatre/ high polish production values/ immediate ‘drop-everything’ level of servicing some established agencies can provide by virtue of having larger teams on the payroll. They may also lack the brand presence/ influence/ prestige/ plush offices & hospitality that a blue-chip consultancy such as an Edelman, Brunswick or Freuds can provide.
Or you might find value with an agency at the lower levels, especially if you get the right team on your account and the agency sees you as a ‘trophy’ client. Specialist agencies are also ‘go-to’ brands for journalists too, which means they may get in-bound opportunities you might otherwise miss; this is the main reason they are able to charge a premium, and they may have famous clients they can leverage to create opportunities you might not otherwise get.
Finally, the marketing budget (and PR’s share within that) must fit the business strategy, in which case these rules of thumb may not always apply. For example, a short-term over-investment on very-targeted PR in a particular vertical may make sense when entering a new market. And there are other benefits to working with PR professionals beyond the nuts and bolts of earning media coverage - such as a sounding board for advice, or source of new connections and ideas.
The key point is, that while PR is (pound for pound) an incredibly effective way to build brand profile, you do tend to get what you pay for.
Spending too little can be just as wasteful as spending too much!