What Should You Really Be Look For In A PR Firm?

Whenever I talk to someone hiring a PR firm, I really have empathy. We know, hiring a PR firm can be daunting. With increasing frequency, we’re hearing stories from clients who have experienced “bad PR.”  We hate to hear that, because we know it’s important for our entire professional to provide exceptional services. More importantly, we know it’s important to you when making a PR investment. What should you ask before hiring a modern PR firm?

We truly believe many of these stories are due to client and agency being a mismatch, rather than a “bad PR firm.” Taking a deeper look at PR before hiring them can save you money, but time.  We can attribute much of this to the vast distinctions between how PR agencies operate and handle their clients. The intention of this piece is to provide you with questions we would be asking OUR PR firm before we hired them, and why those questions are important. Also, consider these “6 great questions you can ask us before hiring Avvans PR”

6 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Next PR Firm

Do You Understand Our Product?

Ask yourself how important a baseline understanding of your product or industry is to your overall communications. We’ve heard story after story of people unhappy with their PR firm because their PR firm doesn’t understand an emerging industry’s regulations or a technology. Understanding the industry isn’t just important from a regulatory and technical perspective, it’s also the ability to monitor relevant news, understand what’s relevant (and what isn’t) and move quickly. Now, that’s not to say that a beauty PR can’t handle B2B PR for the industry, but expect to educate your firm.

What tradeshows and conferences has your team attended?
Does your PR firm understand what makes your product distinct within your industry?
What publications are writing about your vertical?

Before Hiring a PR Firm, Establish Clearly Defined Ways of Measuring Success for PR

Most companies today want consistent placement, strategic oversight, and outstanding communication. But what else? In a mature, less regulated industry, a PR firm typically works with multiple other firms from branding to experiential to an ad agency.

PR is THE leading brand trust and awareness tool.

In addition to earned media, companies should be looking at additional metrics for PR such as SEO value. Website traffic, brand mentions, brand name reach, and even share of voice are all KPIs that are relevant, depending on the overall strategy. Your PR firm should be ready and able to provide those kinds of metrics to you on a monthly basis. Changes in public perception or decreased sales cycle are also metrics with which PR can support. If you’re measuring your PR firm against KPIs like this, work with your PR firm to set a baseline and a reasonable timeframe.

Is the Fee Structure Fair & Does It Make Sense?

Most PR firms work on a retainer, so make sure you have an understanding of what’s included in your retainer?

Does the firm charge for wire releases?
Is branded content included, and if so, does that extend to graphic design?
Is there a markup on expenses incurred by the PR agency and if so, what is it?
Are off-site activations included?
How are hours tracked?

There’s no single way to manage a retainer, so asking questions like this upfront will give you a deeper understanding. Be fearless about asking these questions, after all, you’re the client. You should expect a rationale that isn’t arbitrary. While you may view this as a negotiation opportunity, be wary of cutting the budget to the point where your brand isn’t on the radar daily. You want your PR firm engaged with your brand on a daily basis – make sure you’re getting that because the alternative often provides unsatisfactory results. A great PR firm will be transparent about their billing methods.  Financial terms form the foundation of your relationship with your PR firm. Get that right and find a balance that works for you and your PR firm.

Look for Good Personal Chemistry in Your PR Firm

While this one is tough to put on a spreadsheet, asking some tough questions will often reveal the quality of the chemistry. As an engaged client, you should be working with your cannabis PR experts regularly and you REALLY want that process to be enjoyable. Make sure your company culture meshes well with your cannabis PR firm’s value system.  Teams who like one another, work better together. If you’re not gelling with someone in the first call, chances are, that’s not going to change.

Compatability breeds productivity and results.

Before Hiring Your Next PR Firm, Consider: Location, Location, Location

Before you start narrowing down your PR firms, decide how important location is to you. We think having account presence in major journalism markets, like Los Angeles and New York is a priority, but if you’re the person who needs to meet face-to-face once a week, acknowledge that and find a firm close to your base of operations and hire a PR firm that’s near by.

Flexibility AND Systems

Pay close attention to the systems your PR firm uses and also take notice of their flexibility.

For starters, there should also be a clearly defined exit clause in the contract.

Who owns content?
How will the PR firm handle future press inquires when/if the engagement ends?
What is the cancelation agreement?

Your PR should have systems and processes in place, but those systems and processes should also be nimble enough to manage the PR world. For example, getting a press release right is exceptionally important, but it shouldn’t take your PR firm a week to write it. You should be able to review the first draft within hours on an emergency or breaking news circumstance. On the other hand, there should be a consistent drum beat and strategy behind media relations.  Which bring us to:

A Strategic Approach That Makes Sense

Before hiring, your  PR firm should be able to articulate an approach and strategy that makes sense to you. While credible PR firms won’t reveal details about clients, they should be able to articulate some case studies of  PR strategies and why they worked. For example, provide an experience that required a decision to respond to industry news. When, where, and how you respond to breaking industry news is determined by your brand strategy, BUT your PR should be able to articulate a strategy and when/why it worked. Your PR firm should have some strategic storylines and outlines in mind for your brand, which proves they’ve done a little research. Even if they aren’t perfectly on-brand, at least you’re starting with a strategy that is better than starting from zero. Avaans takes a slightly different approach by providing strategic research and competitive analysis before you even work with us.

Maybe you’ve never hired a PR firm before, or maybe it’s been a while and you’re just unsure of what a PR agency costs. Either way, you’re asking yourself, “how much will a PR firm cost me?” Since PR usually falls within the marketing budget, let’s start there.

To grow your position in the marketplace, a good marketing allocation is about 15% of revenue. In 2022, the average marketing budget for B2C brands was 13.7% of revenue, and for B2B brands, it was about 10% of revenue.

So if you’re an average company, and you’re looking to maintain your position, you’re probably spending in the range of 10% of revenue. If you’re looking to dominate, your budget should be higher. Ambitious startups typically allocate between 12-17%. A typical breakdown might be that 1/3 of the budget is advertising, 1/3 of the budget is content, and 1/3 of the budget is PR. Large international agency budgets can be $380,000 or more annually, while a mid-range agency budget typically clocks in at $156,000-$180,000 annually and a smaller agency budget would be $120,000 per year, a mid-range freelancer could be anywhere from $36,000-$100,000 a year. If you’re a CPG or DTC brand with a marketing spend of under $100,000, then you might consider consumer product PR sprints, which feature micro contracts that align with key buying seasons. Hiring a PR agency is an investment, but considering PR converts ten to 50% better than advertising, PR is indeed a place where the ROI pays off.

 

So what goes into a PR agency’s fees?

 

According to Muck Rack’s 2021 State of PR report, the number one cost to a company to PR is the agency, which makes sense because unlike programmatic ad spending (a typical minimum is programmatic spend is $25,000/month), PR agencies rarely have a minimum spend or activation fee requirements outside their retainers.

PR agency rates increased, and in 2020, the average PR agency CEO billed $417 per hour, while VPs clocked in at $319 per hour and Account Managers billed $256 per hour. The average blended rate was $240 per hour. It’s safe to say that if your PR team has executive PR experience, and your agency spends an average of 10 person-hours per week on your account, your monthly retainer will be around $13,226 per month.

If you require more executive hours, your fees could go up. If you work mostly with a junior team, your rates could go down. Oftentimes, fees are different depending on your strategic objectives. For example, if you want to keep a firm on retainer for a few calls a month, and no proactive media outreach, your annual fees may be considerably less. If you are trying to secure investment or you’re pre IPO, you may find your fees are on the higher end of an agency’s fee structure.

It’s a balance to strike your budget with your goals, but when asked, I always give the same advice to CMO’s and startup founders. In 2020, 45% of companies increased their PR budget. If your budget is $400,000 or more per year, hire an agency that does $20 million+ in revenue. If your budget is $180,000 per year, hire a boutique PR firm, with less than $10 million in revenue. If your budget is $60,000 per year, don’t hire an agency, hire a freelancer.

Odwyer PR’s annual report shows rates increased considerably between 2019 and 2020, so if your agency didn’t raise its rates, you’re fortunate.

Agencies are notoriously reluctant to share minimum retainers, but in 2013, several agency executives did just that with PR Observer, an industry publication.

“To properly scope a client program and assign the proper team support, we feel $15,000 – $17,500 per month is a reasonable starting point.”Anne Green, President & CEO, CooperKatz & Company, Inc.

“Our retainers range from $7,500 – $50,000 or so. Crisis costs are different and generally charged by the hour with a $20,000 minimum.”—Ronn Torossian, Founder & President, 5WPR

“We have some clients that pay us $100,000 or so per year, some clients that pay us more than $100,000 per week, and many clients that pay us $100,000 or so per month.”— Mark Hass, President & CEO, Edelman United States

“Our clients generally pay between $15,000-$30,000 a month depending on the workload.”—Stu Loeser, Founder & President, Stu Loeser & Co.
So what’s typically included in a bespoke retainer rate? Well, again, that may depend on each agency’s specialty. For example, if your agency specialized in digital communications, you may find that social media content creation is included, but media relations are not. But the following services are a good rule of thumb to expect within our typical PR agency retainer:
  • Strategies about how to stand out from your competitors using PR
  • Internal and external communication strategies that match your growth goals.
  • Campaign development and creative activations for marketing opportunities.
  • Media relations, and securing regular media coverage, speaking engagements.
  • KPI and business impact reporting.
  • Copywriting such as press releases, speeches, white papers, and branded journalism.
  • PR crisis planning – but not necessarily crisis management.
  • Partnership strategy and potentially management such as cause, social impact, or purpose-driven PR initiatives.
  • Executive training, including media training, interview prep, and research or executive ghostwriting.
  • Content strategy for video, social media, and inbound leads.
  • Content creation oversight, including social media, photography sessions, and video development.
  • Poll or research development, implementing the poll may or may not be within the agency’s retainer.
  • Peer agency coordination, such as with branding or advertising agencies.
  • PR campaigns that “make the news,” are designed to create word-of-mouth or media opportunities.

For a complete list of what we would include in your PR retainer, reach out to us and tell us more about your business and your goals.

Hiring a PR agency is an investment, but considering PR converts ten to 50% better than advertising, PR is indeed a place where the ROI pays off.

 Is a press release an effective investment? That’s a question that many business owners and marketing professionals are asking themselves in today’s digital age. The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple one.

If you’ve already done your press release research, then you know it’s expensive for good press release distribution and it’s time to focus on press releases. However, before we talk about press releases, let’s take a step back and look at some basic PR knowledge.

On the one hand, press releases can be an incredibly valuable tool for getting your story out there and reaching a wider audience. They can help you build credibility with media outlets and create a positive image for your brand.

On the other hand, press releases can be quite expensive to produce and distribute, and they may not always be effective in reaching your target audience. 

Given the state of the press in today’s media-saturated environment, press releases do this: more people see them than they did years ago when people actually opened their mailboxes to find physical press releases with paper clips on them! In other words: today’s press releases aren’t exclusive to journalists. In fact, most PR experts agree: press releases do little to gain earned coverage. Direct pitching an inside scoop is much more effective. 

But, press releases are still an effective way for organizations to disseminate news to journalists, media outlets, and bloggers in a format that is easily digestible by search engines. This allows for wider distribution of your message, which will eventually lead to backlinks and press mentions. However, if you’re looking for tangible ROI from press releases, you might be disappointed – press releases are not the silver bullet for marketing success.        

Whether to issue press releases is a decision made on a case-by-case basis with your PR agency. If they recommend press releases, there are a few reasons:

1) Well-written press releases are an effective part of an SEO strategy and improving search engine rankings. 

2) Press releases help to establish your company or organization as an authority in your field.

3) Issuing press releases can help you to build relationships with journalists and bloggers.

4) Press releases can enhance the all-important trust factor.

5) Press releases can be a way to spread the news about your company’s products and services during slow news periods.

6) Issuing press releases is a great way to stay connected to journalists and bloggers who might write or blog about you in the future.

7) Press releases can serve as “proof” that you are actively involved in your industry if someone were to call out of the blue for this reason.

8) Well-written press releases can establish thought leadership, which may help attract new clients down the road.

9) In today’s world, press releases can be powerful social media content tools — if they’re written well, quickly go through press mentions and social sharing.

A modern PR agency can help you determine whether press releases are the right tool for your organization and, if so, how to write them to garner the most attention. We’re a top-rated Los Angeles PR firm with a distributed team in major media centers. For more information on press releases and other aspects of effective PR, please contact us.