Stephanie is a native New Yorker and publicist who selectively represents ethical or sustainable brands.
I’ve fielded this question in excess as of late: What can I expect in return for contracting PR efforts? And I understand why! Ethical or sustainable brands are especially budget-conscious, being that they manage the inherent struggle of business development coupled with higher costs of production of sustainably made goods. They need to be careful with how they spend their money, which is why traditional PR doesn’t work for them in general.
Well, the truth is, it’s a really difficult question to answer. And I don’t say that for the sake of saving face… Inherently, public relations efforts are difficult to quantify. Unlike its close cousins–marketing and advertising–PR lacks any quantifiable indicators for measuring direct ROI. That’s not to say there is no ROI, though. It’s just, usually, less straightforward and “to the books.”
But I want to help you understand what the price is and what you can expect. Read on.
Understand the Difference Between PR and Marketing
Before getting into it, it’s important to understand the difference between marketing and public relations, as the two are often confused. They are separate roles entirely, but often work hand-in-hand. The simplest differentiator is the exchange (or lack thereof) of funds. PR is earned media, whereas marketing is paid media–guaranteed placement for specific, anticipated returns.
While I can’t speak to the inner workings of traditional or digital marketing, at its core, it’s the management and allocation of a set budget for meeting certain goals. PR, on the other hand, is typically retainer-based work with the objective of building brand equity and positioning, to increase awareness and exposure, and, in turn, convert sales. That chain of events, though, is not marked by dollar spend and metrics, but rather a little bit of magic (patience and persistence) and “faith in the process.”
Ask yourself: Is my brand poised for PR?
Don’t listen to any publicist (salesman) that tells you every brand should employ PR efforts. While, technically, any brand can hire a publicist and garner press for some brands, it’s not worth the cost for all. The brands that we look to represent, through Orchard and Broome, have a multifaceted story that is dynamic, distinctive, and translatable to various verticals–something that truly inspires us and, in turn, the consumer-audience. Not only does this make us more passionate about our work, but developing a dimensional brand story gives us the maximum opportunity for garnering coverage. If a brand lacks a compelling narrative, your dollars are better spent in marketing, trying to get as many eyes on the product (or service) as possible.
What kind of budget do you have?
Once you’ve determined that, indeed, your brand has a beautiful story that you’d like to be told, working PR into your budget is the next step. Depending on the city or region, prices can vary, of course. What is typically universal, though, is that you’ll get what you pay for–especially with an agency.
Publicists range from $2,000 to $10,000 (and beyond) per month, with the average in NYC hovering around $7,000 per month.
Bear in mind that ‘scaling’ the work for any brand is relatively difficult to do, so one can safely assume that the most mind will be paid to the highest spender. Ethical or sustainable brands are more budget conscious, though. Does that mean you’ll be ignored? No, if you choose the right PR representative. Expect return based on the values of your publicist–is s/he most concerned with the bottom line, or the success of your company?
Don’t be fooled by “agency pricing,” either, as it’s more about the integrity and dedication of the individual managing your account. It’s true they may have a wider network, access to more databases and PR tools, but that’s not what makes a good publicist. Traditionally, you’d hire a publicist based on their contacts. While this is still true, as connections are highly valuable, the media industry fluctuates tremendously, so it’s more valuable to have a publicist with acute research, writing, and interpersonal skills, along with common sense, creativity, and grit.
Either way, those prices are steep for an ethical or sustainable brand–and, truthfully, most companies without heavy funding. Bearing this in mind, our minimum retainer is not only significantly under-market-value, but oftentimes we’ll offer a tiered plan with an even lower barrier of entry for the “right” companies that increases alongside their anticipated growth. Try to negotiate with whomever you’re prospecting, but, please, don’t ask for a performance based structure. As mentioned, actually pinpointing the connections between press coverage and sales is tough. I could read an article, open a separate tab, search for a company, and make a purchase… going entirely untraced to the original source. Or I could read about your brand in a print magazine and open my laptop to shop.
Once you’ve sealed the deal, understand that there’s usually no immediate gratification. It takes time to develop angles, craft pitches, coordinate interviews, information, or assets, and then–at the will of the editors–actually publish the piece.
- To engage in a contract for at least six months in order to give your publicist a fair shot at doing a decent job.
- Consistency is key, so I think it’s fair to expect anticipated and/or garnered press every month after you’ve gotten over the hump (month one or two).
- Expect transparency–in the form of reporting. We provide clients with monthly performance reports that outline all the work performed throughout the previous month (they’re sent out on the 1st) as it relates to branding, media relations (garnered press, leads, pitches), and anything else we’ve been contracted to do.
- To move the needle, whether that’s more site traffic, converted sales, social followers, or all the above.
- To be in touch with your publicist weekly, if not daily, to share status updates and exchange ideas. You should have a close relationship–another criteria for the brands with which we work: personality match.
DO NOT Expect:
- Immediate gratification.
- To “cherry pick” publications within which to be featured. Having targets is great, but we cannot wave a wand and guarantee coverage (ever) in a specific outlet at any given time.
- To be connected directly to a journalist, or have contact information shared with you.
- Performance-based pricing
- To be hands-off in the process. You’ll need to provide quotes, answer interview questions, and work with your publicist to make magic happen.
- For him/her to perform work outside of the scope of public relations: pre-determined services upon entering a contract.
- To pay for any lunches, dinners, drinks, or meetings hosted by your publicist with a reporter. I truly believe this is a business expense that falls on the shoulders of the publicist, and also why I opt for coffee meetings instead!