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PR Pricing: Why It May Not Be Time for Us to Work Together (And That is OK)

Q: As a prospective client, how much does it cost to work with a PR agency? Q: As an PR agency, should we “discount” retainers when we *really* want to work with a brand or if they can’t afford our service as priced? These are hard questions to answer — or at least they have been for me. As a consultant or agency, you learn that sometimes you price your services too low or you take on a client that isn’t exactly the right fit for your culture and goals. Or, you find that you didn’t communicate expectations enough on the front end

Startup PR Pricing Belle Communications Kate Finley

Startup PR Pricing Belle Communications Kate Finley

Q: As a prospective client, how much does it cost to work with a PR agency?

Q: As an PR agency, should we “discount” retainers when we *really* want to work with a brand or if they can’t afford our service as priced?

These are hard questions to answer — or at least they have been for me. As a consultant or agency, you learn that sometimes you price your services too low or you take on a client that isn’t exactly the right fit for your culture and goals. Or, you find that you didn’t communicate expectations enough on the front end and ignored warning signs like, “We really don’t have a budget for PR, so we need the best deal you can get us.”

Ouch.

I’ve encountered many of these scenarios and know it can be SO hard to say no — especially when you’re trying to make payroll and grow your business. It can be VERY scary to turn potential clients away when they just aren’t ready for the caliber of your expertise or they simply aren’t the right fit.

PR Pricing: Three Scenarios that Ruin Client-Agency Relationships

Although I’m speaking from the perspective of a PR agency CEO, I’ve had conversations with consultants, B2B business owners, photographers, startups and others who encounter similar struggles. The pricing / deliverables issue is not specific to one industry.

Here is where I have scaled-down our rates in the past. I consider each of these scenarios a potential pitfall for the service provider AND the client receiving the service.

1. I really liked the brand and saw the potential for (possible) growth.

2. It was a startup and they didn’t have a designated budget for PR (or marketing in some cases) so the standard rates for working with an agency completely overwhelmed them.

3. I saw the immediate cashflow advantage of bringing on the new client regardless of the long-term strain it could ultimately put on our team, our agency and the lower-retainer client due to a mismatch of expectations vs. workload.

Some of these circumstances worked out because we were transparent in our partnership and they understood that we were meeting them in the middle with the vision of growth and being a vested partner.

But most … didn’t.

To be honest, in most cases, these seemingly “small” compromises resulted in a misalignment of expectations and here’s why:

Our team is excellent. We are A-players who bring our best everyday. Despite retainers, we produce exceptional results for all of our clients.

Why is this a problem? It shouldn’t be. Our clients stay on with us long-term and referrals are a primary revenue source for us because our client satisfaction rate is so high. BUT if we don’t price ourselves appropriate to the amount of work our team will inevitably produce and our experience, we are left with — at the very least — an awkward conversation about significantly increasing retainers and projected hours down the road.

It can be a big downer for everyone involved.

Adjusting Sails to Grow Sales and Exceed Your Expectations

Fast-forward to the beginning of this year when I outlined one of my primary goals as growing retainers to our target fee range. We’ve proven our expertise (we have collective experience of 15 years!) and identified the right target audiences who understand the investment it takes to see rockstar results within PR, content and social.

As I have been reflecting and developing an adjusted approach to how we engage new brands within our Belle Communications family, several things have become abundantly clear:

1. Regardless of how much we like a brand or individual, if they either don’t see the value or are unable to dedicate the necessary investment for our services, they’re not the right fit for us. This doesn’t mean they are a bad brand — it just means it’s not time yet.

2. If there isn’t a designated marketing budget or PR budget that can be communicated before we draft a proposal, the brand probably isn’t ready for the caliber of service we provide. If we go in “blind”, at best we scare you with the necessary investment, at worst we waste both your time and ours and get each of our hopes up for a partnership when the timing just isn’t right.

3. Regardless of immediate cashflow advantage, it is better for YOU the brand, our team and our growth as an agency that we do not move forward with mismatched expectations when it comes to actual need for our services vs. investment.

Maybe You’re Ready and Just Need More Data before Investing

There are, of course, exceptions to this. Sometimes, a brand just needs to understand the scope involved in working with an agency partner. This is especially the case for startups. If you don’t have a dedicated line item for public relations yet or you’re unsure of what to allocate in order to properly grow your brand, read this article for rate structures that will help you understand some baseline retainer estimates.

Everyone has to start somewhere …

… and often, especially when you’re starting out, you have to bootstrap your PR, content and social media efforts. That’s OK and it’s totally normal. We actually have a FREE ebook to help you until you can allocate marketing dollars for support.

It just means that right now, it may not be time for us to work together.

…And that’s OK.

Are you a consults or agency that has encountered this struggle? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Or, if you’re a brand that’s not sure what to expect when it comes investing in a PR partner, send me an email.

Kate Finley

Founder + CEO of Belle
Currently thriving in Puerto Rico