5 Different Ways to Hire PR Agency, Even with a Limited Budget

While the traditional agency model is based on a company paying a monthly retainer, there are actually several different ways that brands can get the benefit of PR expertise.

For newer brands, committing to an annual contract for a PR retainer can feel daunting, and agencies often struggle with client expectations for immediate, Oprah-style results. For new and emerging designers specifically, a la carte PR services can be an easier and more affordable transition into working with an agency while offering the agency a chance to show the client what they can do.

Somewhat similarly, for companies with an in-house communications team, or a marketing manager, working with a PR agency just one specific area of support, like celebrity placement, social media or crisis communications can be a viable way to round out expertise without bringing on full-scale PR services.

Some PR agencies believe the traditional PR model is outdated and are moving toward a performance model that uses a low retainer base and then charges additional fees only when media coverage comes in.

Exploring different pricing options can be a great option for both brands and agencies alike. Here is a quick recap of how these different options work for brands looking to keep costs low.

1. Sign a monthly retainer with a boutique agency

The traditional model involves paying a certain amount of money up front each month. How many hours you get depends on the hourly rate of the practitioners working on your behalf – so if you are paying $1,000 and your publicist charges $100 an hour, that equates to 10 hours of work done against your retainer a month.

PR retainers vary in size and scope, but most smaller boutique agencies consider $2,500 a month to be a minimum retainer, while larger agencies may consider $10k a month to be a starting point. Of course, the more you can spend the more time your PR team has to pitch you to the media and provide strategic support. Retainers typically require a commitment of at least three months, usually six. This is because PR is cumulative and requires consistent work and outreach to secure the best results.

2. Retain a freelance publicist for a short-term project

Unlike a retainer, a PR project is a fixed cost (often based on estimated hours) for a limited amount of time. Projects can be an additional cost for a retainer client who needs extra support on a particular initiative like an event or international media trip. Agencies might offer a fixed project cost to a new client as a way of proving their value. Brands might come to a freelance publicist for short-term outreach around a specific campaign or task – holiday pitching, or a blogger campaign. In a project, the client pays one sum, no matter how many hours the project takes to complete.

3. Choose from a la carte services

A bit similar to project work, a la carte PR services can be an affordable transition into working with an agency, although not all agencies offer this option. From a PR perspective, offering a la carte services can be a great way to start work with a new client, because it is low-risk, and the hope is that after providing stellar results, that client will feel comfortable committing to an ongoing retainer.

Brands can leverage a PR agency’s expertise and contacts, while still being able to return PR services in-house after the event or campaign is over. Pitch! Press, a fashion and lifestyle boutique agency in Los Angeles focused on editorial, says about one-third of clients have used their a la Carte services, which range from media coaching to deskside appointments. “The desk side appointments are the hottest item we offer, ” explains Pitch! Press partner, Shannon Cavanagh. “We travel with our client to New York present collection to editors over 4 days, sometimes we will take a core retailer list and visit stores. Clients say its invaluable and we find that editorial often triples after doing desk side appointments.”

Some agencies offer packages specifically for new brands that include basic PR materials. Polina Fashion, a fashion PR agency in New York offers “Instant Fashion PR” which gives interested clients the option to purchase packages of PR services, including SEO and graphic design, Turnaround time for these services is 4-7 business days, though they offer a 1 business day turn around time at increased cost.  As Polina explains, “Too many of our clients have had bad experiences with large PR firms, or they have not had any prior experience with an agency. Our Instant PR services let designers find out our standards, character, and professionalism without having the risk of buying months of PR at a time. Once we demonstrate that we can provide world-class PR, instantly, and without having to have signed up for 6-months at a time, we know you’ll be back!”

4. Sign up for a one-time consultation

Agency owners understand that not every company is ready for a long-term or event a short-term commitment, but that by making a positive impression and providing some direction, they can help expedite business growth and with it, the likelihood of a PR budget, faster. To this end, some agencies also offer coaching sessions or one-off consulting, like Creative Development Agency, which allows a brand to vet a few ideas and get expert feedback without paying for implementation.

5. Compensation based on coverage

While controversial because public relations outreach is never a guarantee for sales, you might be able to negotiate for a base retainer with a bonus fee structure based on placements. According to David Oates, President of Stalwart Communications, a pay on performance PR firm based in San Diego, the traditional PR model as we know it is going out of fashion, simply because retainers aren’t measurable and therefore agencies aren’t accountable to clients in the same way that a law firms or marketing firms have had to be. At Stalwart, the goal is above and beyond simple product placement, but to function as a facilitator between clients and media, strategically pursuing opportunities to engage media around what clients are doing, what expertise they have, and what their perspective is on current trends. The revenue model is a low base plus bonus, the bonus being a set fee for different secured opportunities – speaking at an event, positive articles, etc. Clients are not billed by the hour so that Stalwart’s practitioners are, as David says, “chasing opportunities instead of hours.”

The decision to work with a PR agency should be made after a thorough research phase and compared against current capabilities and specific needs. Each agency has its own personality, expertise, quirks, and set of services, so it’s worth taking the time to find the perfect fit!


About This Author

Known as the “fashion publicist’s most powerful accessory,” (San Diego Union-Tribune) and the “West Coast ‘It’ girl of fashion PR,” (YFS Magazine) Crosby Noricks put fashion public relations on the digital map when she launched PR Couture in 2006. She is the author of Ready to Launch: The PR Couture Guide to Breaking into Fashion PR, available on Amazon. Crosby spends her time managing PR Couture and mentoring fashion publicists through PRISM and Instappable, as well as the biannual NYC workshop, Fashion PR Confidential. Occasionally, she opens up limited consulting spots for emerging brands through her signature offering, The Brand Elixir.