What can I get for this mister?

How much do you need to implement a PR campaign?

Many people new to the idea of PR are often surprised at the cost of this so called ‘free publicity’.

After all, free means free, right?

Well, in terms of not having to purchase advertising space in a publication, that bit’s free (although there is a caveat to this, which we’ll revisit later).

But, you do have to create the news stories, articles and supporting material, such as photography, video or graphics that you want the media to run. Someone has to do the hard graft to convince editors to run your stories and provide the legwork and liaison to get the stories together in the first place and make sure editors and journalists get everything they need, which might also include arranging interviews or providing comment in the precise way they want it.

This all takes time and, therefore, has a cost: either actual financial outlay in employing someone to do it or hidden costs associated with doing it yourself.

If you’re doing it all yourself, you don’t have to part with any money to create the content, but you might want to factor in if:

(A): you have the required skills and knowledge (relating to the media and how it operates, rather than your own products or services, and a journalistic-style writing ability)


(B): if your time could be more effective/worthwhile doing something else.

The alternative is to use an external agency or freelancer or recruit a PR professional to work ‘in house’.

In-house PRs

In house PR professionals can work well, but also have their drawbacks. First, a good one won’t be cheap. Sometimes companies think they can get a seasoned PR for £24k or 25k a year. You can’t. And when you factor in what they actually cost, with additional expenses, national insurance and pension, training, plus subscriptions to media databases and monitoring services etc., you’re looking at an outlay of 2-3 times that amount. At least.

That’s for a single person. Adding in an assistant will take your PR spend closer to £100k or more. Of course, you’ll get them full-time (apart from holidays and when they’re ill). Over time they’ll, hopefully, get a good handle on your business and your products and be able to write about them intelligently and confidently.

The downsides can be things such as having to bring in someone new if they leave and go through the training process again (and again), having to manage them to get the results you want if it’s not quite happening, ensuring they don’t look to fill their days with the easier or more attractive aspects of the job at the expense of not doing the hard stuff that actually gets you results.

The high fixed overheads, the difficulty in recruiting good people and the inflexibility (you can’t just fire them if you don’t like what they’re doing, unlike an agency) is why many companies opt to use external PR agencies or freelancers.

Agency vs freelancer

Agencies tend to be more expensive than freelancers, because you are usually paying for a team of people, rather than an individual and have access to a range of experience and expertise that you might not find in an individual freelancer (but this is not an absolute rule and there are some fantastic freelancers operating in the industry – albeit, probably full up with work from grateful clients).

And if a good freelancer recognises the value they deliver for their clients, they might not be what you would consider ‘cheap’.

The cost of PR also depends on whether you want to implement an ongoing PR programme or deliver a short, time-limited campaign.

For many businesses, ongoing PR activity is probably a mainstay of their marketing activity, which may be complemented by additional campaigns to promote specific initiatives or events.

It is most likely the case that without an ongoing PR presence, it requires more effort, resource and expense to implement individual campaigns because you are operating from a standing start and have to work extra hard to establish your credentials with an audience that has little or zero awareness of your organisation.

And for short burst activity, an agency or freelancer is the only realistic option.

Cost spectrum

So how much should you expect to pay?

Well. You might, might convince a freelancer to do something (not much) for under £1,000 a month – if they are desperate, but you really wouldn’t see much for your outlay, because it just doesn’t stack up businesswise.

They’d need at least three more clients at that rate to make an income that even then wouldn't see them paying the higher rate of tax and they would also have to take their running costs out of that. They’d be better off in an agency, unless they crave the 'flexibility' that freelancing offers (e.g. working around childcare) and don’t mind making up the hours in the evening or at weekends.

In reality, an OK freelancer will be asking for at least £1,000 or £1,500 a month minimum.

That’s your base level starting point.

A good ex-agency account director, turned freelancer, will command £2k, £3k or even £4k a month. Maybe even more. And you’ll be sharing them with 3 or 4 other clients.

If you’re wanting a bigger programme of activity or a resource intensive PR campaign, you’ll be better off seeking out a competent agency who can put a team of people on your account. They may also have additional specialists who you can tap into, if required, such as crisis PR experts.

Employing an agency also protects you from an individual falling ill or going on holiday, as there’s normally a minimum two-person team (an account director or manager and an executive). Many agency teams consist of three or more people, depending on what needs to be delivered for a client and over what timescale.

While they won’t be working full-time on your account, they will allocate the required hours to meet their targets and you should expect the fees they charge to reflect the size of the team, their combined experience and the benefits of using a recognised agency.

The fee itself will be determined by the scope of the work required and is normally agreed at the outset, with review dates built in to the programme to determine if the team is delivering what the client expects and that this can be achieved within the budget structure agreed.

Support costs

On top of fees, you’ll need to factor in photography, video and production of graphic accompaniment (as appropriate), which will require an annual budget upwards of a few thousand pounds.

Professional photography, video and graphics are definitely worth it.

Pictures are more memorable than words. Great photographs are even more memorable and they enhance the overall appeal of your products. Bearing in mind that your photography can be used across your entire marketing activity – PR, website, literature, presentations, exhibition displays – it’s a real value-for-money addition to your marketing armoury.

If you’re working in the business-to-business (or B2B) sector and trying to build a profile in trade media you’ll more than likely come across ‘colour separation charges’. Basically, this is a fee for, ostensibly, including an image with your news story, but, in reality, if you don’t agree to pay it, your stories most likely won’t be included.

There are exceptions, including higher end industry ‘news’ titles, many of which now operate on a paid subscription model and don’t rely solely on advertising/colour ‘seps’ revenue to cover their costs.

Realistically, you need to allow a budget for colour separation charges to support your trade PR campaign. Minimum £500 a month, and most likely more.

To sum up

So, whether you’re using a freelancer or agency, you’ll need an annual budget upwards of £25k or £30k. If you want a PR programme that requires a three or four person agency team and a profile, say, of a market leader in your sector, you would want to allocate a budget of two, three or even four times this amount.

Of course, as with many products and services, there really is no limit to top end budgets – many PR agencies (especially in London) won’t take on new accounts for under £10,000 a month and global brands will run PR programmes running into the millions.

So, if you’re new to PR or thinking of ‘trying’ PR as part of your marketing, be clear about what you want it to do and be realistic about the costs involved.

Done well, PR is one of the most cost-effective marketing activities you can do and it will establish and build you a public profile that will be worth many more times the money you put into it. Be realistic that this achievement will take time to build, it’s not something you can achieve in six months.

If someone agrees to do your PR for an unrealistically low fee, be careful. They won’t be able to deliver what you want and instead of getting a bargain deal, you’ll end up pouring money down the drain.

Categories: Opinion PR