How to select a PR agency - advice from a PR agency, plus discover our free proposal review service

Colleagues from a PR agency collaborating in a modern office

25 minute read


In this article, we will explain:


How to give yourself the best chance of finding the right PR agency

How to understand what good PR looks like for you

How to set yourself up for success with extremely powerful questions to ask

How to avoid bad fit agencies

How to shortlist and narrow down the search for a PR agency

How to compare agencies

How to engage an agency

How to measure the success of the relationship with your PR agency

How to support a PR firm to get the best out of them

What to do if you’re looking for a PR agency for the first time and have limited experience

How to set a budget

Which payment structure works best for your business

We will also introduce you to our FREE pr agency evaluation service. This might prove useful for businesses and business owners that know they want a PR agency, but aren’t yet sure of how to go about finding the right firm, evaluating the proposal or engaging the agency.

What to do before approaching a PR agency

This section is for people who know they want an agency, but aren’t sure of the first step towards finding one.

Decide on an approximate budget

You don’t need to set an exact budget, and it’s important to remain flexible, but having an idea of what you want to spend (or what you can afford to spend) will help you eliminate unsuitable agencies from your selection process.


How do you set a public relations budget?


You may have been given the job of finding an agency by your manager, and with that, he or she may have specified a budget range. In which case, you don’t need to worry about setting the budget. But you may need to ask your manager how they came to settle on that budget range, after speaking to some agencies yourself.

The most important thing to keep in mind when setting a budget for a PR agency is that it should never constitute 100% of your overall marketing budget. 


PR is one tool in a broader marketing mix and when delivered in isolation it tends to be less effective. If you’re not performing other marketing activities, you may find that your PR work lacks the impact you’d hoped for. 


For example, if your PR agency manages to drive leads to your website, but you don’t have a content marketing or customer relationship management (CRM) engine in place to manage and nurture those leads, you may have wasted your budget.


In our experience as an award-winning PR agency, clients who want to spend all of their marketing budget on PR tend to experience the lowest customer satisfaction rates. This is because we are helping them to increase their awareness, establish expertise and category leadership, but they have limited means of taking that interest and awareness and turning it into revenue through sales.


What is the minimum budget for public relations?


This varies a lot by location and sector. Our advice to clients is twofold; in creative disciplines, small budgets are not a barrier to big results. Creativity is creativity, afterall. 


But if a client tells us they can’t spend more than £1,500 on PR activity, we advise them that their budget is best used elsewhere. Some agencies will take on clients with smaller budgets than that (we have done too, but we’ve delivered the work in significantly smaller chunks than normal). 


If your budget for PR is £1,500 or less per month, you may be better served by engaging a freelance PR practitioner who has fewer overheads.

Decide on your goals and objectives (but be open to advice)

This is simultaneously the most important part of agency selection, and also the one that is subject to the most change. That sounds counterintuitive. So let us explain it a little bit. 


If you approach an agency with no idea of what you want in return from your investment in public relations, it’s really hard for the agency to help you achieve anything meaningful. 


However, if you approach an agency with an extremely fixed idea of what goals and objectives to aim for, you may be excluding approaches that would work really well for your business and that support growth.


The trick is to have some idea, either through benchmarking your competitors or having a set business goal in mind, but also to be open to hearing what the agencies recommend. We’ve been approached by agencies in the past who believed that they wanted to do PR for one reason, only to realise after speaking to us that PR served their interests in a number of other, more impactful ways.


Here are some of the common goals and objectives we’ve been approached with, quoted verbatim (or paraphrased), from our actual enquiry forms.


Speak to industry peers or contacts

A great way of preparing yourself and your business to approach a PR agency is to speak to peers in your industry. These may even be competitors, but you’ll be surprised at how open people can be in sharing their experiences.


Some good questions to ask to form the basis of your own key criteria include:


Look at what your competitors are doing

Even if you’re not prepared to speak directly to competitors and disclose your plans for engaging a PR agency, you can still learn from them.


Here’s a quick and easy way of getting started. Go to Google and type in the name of your first competitor. Put it in quotation marks “like this” so Google only returns results for that exact term. Or do the same but with the name of their CEO of CMO.


Set the date range to the last 6 months and look at the results. If a significant portion of the results are news and editorial websites, as opposed to LinkedIn, Crunchbase or the competitor’s own website or social channels, it’s possible that they are investing in public relations activity. This does not mean that they are necessarily doing it with a PR agency.


To find out if they are using an agency, you may wish to search Google for any press releases containing their company name. Some common press release sources include Cision’s PR newswire and Response Source. If you find a press release and the contact listed is an employee of the competitor, it’s unlikely that they are using a PR agency. 


If the contact information listed is a third party, Google them. It’s possible that they’re a PR agency. 


WARNING: If all you can find are press releases on newswires, but you’re not seeing any actual coverage, either on news outlets or in your trade publications, you’re one step ahead of your competitor already as they have clearly not hired a good agency. So make a note of their name and make sure to discount them from your search. This is not to say that only bad agencies use PR newswire services, but if that’s the sum total of their online presence, they are not being well served.


How to narrow down the search for a PR agency

There are thousands of PR agencies, some big, some small, some great, some good and a few not so good. Some agencies specialise by sector, some specialise by business type, some don’t specialise at all. And that’s fine too. So how do you go about creating an initial shortlist?


You could simply start with Google. The obvious caveat here is that any PR agency can theoretically place themselves at the top of the search results by bidding on the right keywords. Being top of Google doesn’t necessarily indicate that a PR agency is at the top of its game.


That’s why directories like Clutch are very useful, because while they let PR agencies advertise, every single agency on the platform has verified reviews. 


Clutch employs an army of verifiers to ring up and interview the clients of the PR agencies on its directory, to make sure the review is legitimate, accurate and there is no conflict of interest. Other directories exist, but Clutch is possibly the market leader for providing buyers of PR services an unbiased, verifiable database of PR agencies with legitimate and accurate reviews.


If you decide to use Clutch to filter agencies and create a shortlist, here are some tips on how to discern which agencies are the right fit.



When and how to approach a PR agency

Once you have a clear idea of your objectives, a rough budget range, and some thoughts on ‘what good looks like’, the next step is to begin reaching out to agencies that look like they may be a good fit.


The best way to do this varies according to your tastes, how busy you are, and what you are looking for in a PR agency.


We get approached in a few different ways, here are some of the most common.



What to share with an agency ahead of a conversation


Finding a PR agency to serve your goals is a time investment. So to get the best return on that investment and hopefully find the best agency for your business needs, it does help to share information ahead of the call. This doesn’t mean you need to share confidential business information or ‘weaken your hand’ by disclosing your budget (more on this in a second), but it will help the agency better prepare for your call, better understand your needs, hopes, goals and anxieties. 


Nothing can replace a conversation, but sharing some key info ahead of time will always be useful for both you and the agency you’re hoping to hire. Here is some information you may wish to share in advance.



Should you share your budget in advance of speaking to a PR agency?


This is a tricky one for a lot of businesses, especially those looking to partner with an agency for the first time. 


And we personally understand why many of our potential clients are not keen on talking numbers right out of the gate. A lot of businesses are reluctant to share their budget ahead of receiving a proposal. From our experience, this is because the client assumes that as soon as they share their budget, the PR agency will produce a proposal that aligns with the top end of their budget.


The truth is that you’ll need to disclose your budget one way or the other at some point, even if you do it once the agency has invested their time and your time into producing a proposal. If the price is too high, by declining on that basis you are revealing your budget.


The best approach when thinking about budgets is to give the agency enough information to come back with a proposal that is realistic and affordable. When clients refuse to disclose budget, agencies are left guessing at how much resource they can allocate to an account, what goals they can set, and what sort of work they can do to maximise a return on investment. 

Eventually we’re going to have to talk about money, so why not make the process smoother by disclosing your top budget limit in advance? That way, if the agency’s fees are out of budget, you’ll both save time (and money) by not going into the long and fascinating process of agency selection.


Do I need to write a request for proposal (RFP)?

So you’ve figured out roughly what you want from an agency, and you have an idea of budget and scope. 


Do you need to write an RFP?


This is perhaps one of the more controversial conversations that happen in relation to PR agency selection. RFPs are useful, in that they clearly state the brief, objective, assets, budget and timeline. But not all RFPs serve this objective well. Simply put, some RFPs are terrible and serve only to exclude potentially good fit agencies from contention. Even well produced RFPs can exclude good agencies, because a lot of agencies have a policy of not responding to RFPs?


Why do some agencies not respond to RFPs?

Speaking as an agency that typically declines to respond to RFPs, we can give our take. RFPs are necessarily prescriptive. They’re often written by heads of marketing who then have their wishes distilled by a procurement department. By starting the agency selection process with a prescriptive list of ‘must haves’, it can steer the selection process away from agencies that are best served to meet your needs.


RFPs are an indication that the client is open to proposals from any and all interested PR agencies. This is indicates that the agency will have significant competition to even make it to the shortlist and quite often, it is the larger agencies who have the resource to speculatively respond to RFPs, so it is the larger agencies that win most of the business that comes from organisations that take the RFP approach to agency selection. This actually means that on average, companies that solicit proposals in this way tend to pay higher retainers because they necessarily exclude smaller agencies with smaller business development teams from the process.


Our approach is to only speak to clients who have done some research about us, have potentially seen our case studies or seen our work ‘in the wild’ and think we may already be a good fit. We have no interest in spending days filling out an RFP on the basis that we may be excluded from the shortlist due to a technicality. We’re not opposed to RFPs, but we prefer to have conversations first.


Do I need a proposal at all?

Proposals can be useful for outlining mutual objectives, responsibilities and obligations. Lots of PR agencies LOVE writing proposals, because it’s a chance to demonstrate their credentials, add context, introduce their team and show off their case studies and testimonials.


They’re nice to have, but not essential.


We’d advise firms who either don’t have much experience with PR agencies, or haven’t engaged one for more than a year, to ask (not demand) that the agencies they have under consideration provide a brief proposal to outline their vision for how they will support you in achieving your communications goals.


But do expect the following things to be true for every proposal you receive:


What to do if you’re hiring a PR agency for the first time

We specialise in helping brands that are new to PR. Our head of media relations has worked with Google, Hewlett Packard and Ford, but the majority of his work has been in helping clients do the following:


If you’re new to PR, it can be daunting to even dip your toe into this world. 


So here’s what to do if you’re new to our industry and are unsure of which way to go in your selection process.


What questions to ask a PR agency


The first thing you’ll notice when you actually speak to a PR agency is that they are very happy to hear from you. Of course they are. And if we’re being honest, it’s because they are excited at the prospect of working with you and getting paid for the pleasure of doing so. 


That’s business at the end of the day. You will also notice that the PR agency is optimistic that they can do a good job, confident that they are a good fit, and hopeful that they can price their services at a level with which you are comfortable. Of course they are. They want your business.


So how do you cut through the gloss and sheen of an agency that makes its money by looking after reputations?


Asking some well designed, intuitive questions is a good approach. Here are some things that you should come away from your first call with an agency knowing and the associated questions you might ask.


Capacity for delivering results


“Can you give a recent example of a great result you got for a client and how you achieved it?”


Ability for overcoming challenges


Tell us about a challenge that you overcame on behalf of a client? What are some difficult conversations you’ve had in the past year?”


Strong outreach competency


“Can you describe your outreach and media relations philosophy?”


PR team configuration


“Who would be on the delivery team if we were to engage you as our PR agency?”




“Can we see biographies or arrange a follow-up call with the delivery team?” (assuming they’re not on the call)


Sector expertise


“What are the challenges and opportunities you’ve identified in our sector?”


Conflicts of interest


“Without breaching any NDAs, what other clients do you have in our sector, if any, and how would working with us affect that and vice versa?”


PR agency client concentration


“Can you break down roughly the mix of sectors you represent?”


A quick note on ‘conflicts of interest’

Many buyers of PR services assume that if an agency looks after one of their competitors, it would be unethical for them to look after their business too. There’s even a scene in Mad Men where Don Draper is forced to ‘fire’ a small airline client in order to give his agency a chance of winning the business of American Airlines.


David C Baker, who is an advisor to expert creative firms, once described this situation as follows: “Two clients in the same industry is a conflict, three is a specialism”.


While your competitors may have similar business objectives to you, their communication goals and needs are probably very different. They will have different operational risks, different areas of expertise, and a different communications strategy.


It is not necessarily a conflict of interest if the agency you hire looks after some of your competitors. In fact, it can be an advantage as it points to very strong expertise in your sector.


How to compare PR agencies

Once you’ve spoken to a few agencies, you’ll have a good feel for which teams best match your needs in the following key areas.

At this stage, I’d like to introduce our free PR agency review service. Our team can help you overcome some of the most common PR agency selection challenges, including:

This service is exclusively for businesses and organisations with fewer than 30 employees and is aimed at agencies hiring a PR agency for the first time.

To get started, complete this very short enquiry form.



You can use these three criteria to discount unsuitable agencies, then use the criteria below to make a more informed decision, before taking the next steps.

PR agency size


PR agency size does impact choice and suitability. But possibly not in the ways you might assume.


Big PR agencies are typically more expensive, but justify their increased costs by pointing to their bigger teams and (hopefully) bigger results. Smaller PR agencies may lack the market presence of their larger competitors, but are often able to compete better on price, can be more nimble and often are more attentive. 


So what typically happens is that clients with bigger budgets tend to partner with PR agencies that have bigger teams (and nicer offices, larger budgets and flashier websites). But there is a catch here.


We’re a small agency, but we’ve looked after some very big clients, including The BBC, Co-operative Bank and And we fully understand that the vast majority of our larger competitors are large because they’ve grown. And they’ve grown because they’re good at what they do.


As a client looking for a PR agency, you should aim to match the size of the agency to the size of your project, not the size of your business as a whole. And keep in mind some of the following questions about the size ratios between your business and your PR agency.


Do you want to be their largest client?


Some larger firms select smaller agencies because they want to be the number one client by revenue. These clients tend to believe that this will get them more attention from the agency and that that will result in a better service overall. And it often does. 


However, if you are an agency’s largest client, keep in mind that this will affect the dynamics of your relationship. Especially if your budgets represent anything more than 15% of the agency’s total recurring revenue. The higher proportion of revenue you represent, the less likely the agency is to be willing to give you difficult news, unwelcome feedback or simply tell you ‘no’. 


You need an agency that can give you solid, reliable counsel. And that can mean having difficult conversations. When the stakes are so high for the agency, there’s often a tendency for them to become ‘yes men’ to their most important clients. It’s not always like this, but it is worth considering.


Do you want to be their smallest client?


Flip the scenario. You’re an early stage business with a modest budget and you want one of the big agencies to look after your PR. You agree to move ahead with one of the big PR agencies, but are aware that you are at the lower end of their client size in terms of budget and headcount. 


Being a small client on the books of a big agency has advantages, you get the benefit of their experience, their associations with larger clients, and their relationships with the media. There is also likely to be a far deeper talent pool too. However, the lowest paying client on an agency roster will typically not be at the forefront of any planning, hiring decisions and will receive only the basic level of service.


If the truth be told, the smallest client on any roster is typically what is called a ‘legacy client’. A legacy client is one that has been with the agency since its early days, and one who is paying a ‘grandfathered rate’ from the days when the agency took on work at lower rates of compensation. These clients are happy to stick with their agency because they are comfortable and familiar with the people and the level of work, but if that client were to approach the agency as a new prospect today, the agency probably would not work with them.


Every agency will have a lowest payer, or a tier in which there are multiple lowest payers, and this is not necessarily an indication of poor service or low priorities.


The same budget used with a different agency is likely to be spent differently and the client may receive more attention from their agency. We are not recommending you use the revenue and size ratio to determine whether an agency is a good fit, but it is worth considering along with everything else. You need to decide where in the ‘pecking order’ you are comfortable sitting.



In our post-Covid world with remote working being so ubiquitous, you might think that the location of your PR agency wouldn’t be very relevant. And it’s true, PR agencies can and do serve clients from different parts of the world excellently. 


In fact, the days of selecting the best (or cheapest) agency in your city out of convenience are thankfully gone and clients are able to select from a global talent pool of PR agencies. But geography is still something you need to take into account due to some timezones simply being difficult to coordinate.


A PR agency account director based in London, UK, looking after a client in Hong Kong, has one hour in her day in which her client Hong Kong is in the office. The same issue is true for a client in London being served by a PR agency in San Francisco. With just one hour in the day of ‘synchronous office hours’, it can be really tricky to set up meetings and even trickier to do short notice communications, which can be a real challenge when handling crisis and issues communications.


You can mitigate time zone issues of course, but that will always involve compromise at one end or the other, with someone either working late or getting up early. And here’s an issue some clients can overlook. When a PR agency worker has to stay up late or get up very early to be on a call, it’s unlikely that you’ll be getting the best out of them in the moment. And when a client has to do it, it’s not uncommon for them to see that as a barrier to the working relationship.


We’re not suggesting you rule out agencies that are so far out of your time zone that calls become a hassle, but keep it in mind. Essential Content has looked after clients on the West Coast of the USA and in the Far East and we accepted that we would need to make plans to be available late and early. But we also put mitigations in place to limit the need for face-to-face video calls.


In some scenarios, a timezone conflict is unavoidable. We looked after a client based on America’s east coast specifically because they wanted to grow their UK presence, so they selected a UK pr agency with a good track record in their industry. One of the biggest challenges, aside from our team having to work late once a week for our regular meeting, was that the client spokesperson was often asleep when we secured exciting, short-notice reactive PR opportunities. So we eventually ended up focusing solely on proactive PR (and did a great job), but it did feel like a heavy constraint at the time.


If you’re looking to hire your first agency and think you’ll need a lot of facetime with your them, be prepared to make it work. The most typical reasons for selecting a PR agency in a tricky geography are:



How much does a PR agency cost? Comparing PR agency prices, KPIs and payment terms


If you’ve Googled this more than once, you are probably frustrated with the lack of clarity in the answers. Most articles give a range that spans tens of thousands of pounds / dollars.


So we’re going to hopefully add some clarity by disclosing our fee structure here. This will be subject to change and we will update this page accordingly.


Please note that most of our clients are on custom service plans designed to meet their specific objectives, but we work from these prices to design a service that fits within their budgets. For UK based clients, these prices do not include VAT, which is 20% on top. These prices will vary depending on sector and specific objectives and are correct as of September 2023.


Basic service levels – £2,000 – £3,000 / $2,480 – $3,700 per month.


Intermediate service levels – £3,500 – £5,000 / $4,300 – $6,200 per month.


Premium service levels – £5,000 – £10,000 / $6,200 – $8,600 per month.


What do these service levels mean?

Here’s a very rough breakdown of the deliverables each service level gets you.


Basic service levels typically include:


Intermediate service levels typically include:



Premium service levels typically include:



As you can see from the above, the main differences between service levels break down to the following workstreams.


The volume and intensity of these workstreams are typically aligned with the scale and reach of your PR activity. More content and outreach normally results in more media coverage.


The other confounding variable when it comes to cost is who manages your account. This typically boils down to who will answer your emails, phone calls and run your meetings. For lower budget clients, we have a team of exceptional account managers who report to our account director Becky. For our highest paying clients, Becky handles the accounts herself, with the support of our account managers.


For most businesses looking to hire a PR agency, cost will inevitably be a major consideration. But cost does not equal value, nor does it equal performance. Here are some factors to consider relating to the cost, price, value and performance of a PR agency.


Does the PR agency genuinely want your business?

This point is controversial, but it’s better to be honest about some of the perverse incentives that can appear in agency land.


Clients will never know this, but some agencies will overcharge them based on the fact that they do not genuinely want their business. I can say this with a degree of credibility because before I founded Essential Content, I worked at an agency that employed an ‘inconvenience tax’ and – regrettably – an ‘annoying client tax’. This was an internal pricing mechanism that added between 15% and 20% to standard rates on the basis that the agency didn’t particularly want the client.


The inconvenience ‘tax’ was based on a few factors, including whether the agency had the capacity to deliver, if the client was in a tricky or undesirable sector (gambling was a common one, as was the construction industry for some reason). The most common reason was that the agency was already very busy, didn’t need the extra work and didn’t particularly want to hire in more people. Ostensibly, the ‘tax’ was to fund outsourcing to freelancers if required, but interestingly I never witnessed any freelancers or contractors working on these accounts.


The ‘annoying client tax’ (it was actually called something else slightly less polite) was a surcharge of anywhere up to 30% based on the presumption that the client themselves would be difficult, demanding, dislikeable, unpleasant or in any way annoying. It was simply a way for the agency to cushion the blow of having to deal with a client they anticipated might be difficult to get along with.


Admittedly this experience is based on one agency I worked at a long time ago, and the majority of agencies would never do this. Indeed, I’ve never worked at an agency that employs any of these ‘taxes’ since, but it’s worth putting out there that if an agency is in the enviable position of not needing or wanting your business, they may take it anyway, and just overcharge for the privilege. 


Are this PR agency’s prices roughly in line with industry norms?

Big caveat, there isn’t really an industry ‘norm’. But if you’ve spoken to three or four agencies and understand their pricing model and rates, you will be able to spot any ‘outliers’ in terms of pricing. This DOES NOT necessarily mean you are about to be overcharged, there are lots of reasons why one agency may be significantly more expensive than the ‘average’, for example they may have deep sector expertise, they may include a performance contingency, or they may just be exceptionally good at what they do and confident enough in their value and positioning that enough clients are happy to pay for their top tier services.


If the agency with the outlier fees doesn’t appear able to justify those rates, ask yourself why not?


In fact, ask them. We’ve been told in the past that we are on the expensive end of the PR agency spectrum (in reality we’re probably toward the more affordable end) and our response to that challenge was simply “we are confident that we will deliver greater value to your business than your investment.”


PR agency cost vs value 

So let’s talk about cost vs value. Cost is what you pay. Value is what the agency adds. As discussed above, it’s not easy to discern the precise value, but here are some ways a good PR agency can be invaluable to your business.



Your PR agency should generate more value for your business than it costs. Otherwise it would be an unprofitable investment. However, the value of PR is notoriously difficult to measure. There is something of an attribution gap, which is one the industry’s major challenges. Unlike digital marketing or paid search marketing, where there is a clear relationship between investment and outcome, the line between investment and value is a little more blurry. 


Take this example, your PR agency secures you coverage in The Sunday Times. It’s a feature that focuses on your business, why it’s different and the piece is generally very positive. You might expect from that coverage a surge in interest and an increase in traffic to your website. More than 600,000 people read The Sunday Times, so surely if even 5% of those decide to follow up with you, that’s a meaningful increase in visits, but it’s unlikely to transpire like that. Some people who read the feature will visit your site on the day, others will go to your social media channels, others will pass that info to a friend who will investigate in a week or month’s time. The best way to judge the value of your investment in a public relations agency is to ask yourself these question in a year’s time.



Billable hours vs retainer – how to pay your PR agency


PR agencies typically charge in one of two ways; billable hours or fixed retainer. Essential Content charges on a retainer basis 90% of the time.


There are advantages to both.


Here’s a very quick summary of the differences between the two.


PR agency retainers are typically based on the sale of outcomes and expertise. PR agency billables are based on the sale of time. 


Retainers provide predictability and flexibility. They enable your agency to allocate resources better and provide a more predictable flow of work. 


Billable hours arrangements can be unstable. Your agency may put in 30 hours in a month without solving any of your business problems or making progress on amplifying or enhancing your reputation.


Retainer arrangements provide your agency with the capacity for focusing on specific goals and objectives over time.


There’s no right or wrong way to bill for PR work, but our experience is that retainers are a lot better suited to work that is dynamic and opportunity based. Billable hours work best for workflows that have a predictable relationship between inputs and outlets, for example software development, engineering, and even some types of digital design.


Some agencies offer a hybrid, whereby they charge a retainer that is based on a scale of blended hourly rates. They track their time and when they hit capacity on the retainer, they then bill in separate chunks of time.


We strongly believe that retainers create a mindset of focusing on outcomes, not inputs, prioritising work that will move the needle and have an impact for the client and allow the PR team to react to opportunities. Imagine if your PR agency didn’t respond to a journalist enquiry because they had exhausted or exceeded the cap on hours that they had agreed to do.

PR agency key performance indicators (KPIs)

Before you engage an agency, you may wish to discuss KPIs. But be warned, a LOT of agencies do not agree to including these in their contract or service level agreement. 


This is because public relations is not a discipline that necessarily suits being judged on fixed metrics. One month might see your agency spending 90% of its time refining your top line messaging, preparing pitches and getting its strategy in place. Next month they might land you three TV interviews. How do you reasonably put that sort of work into a KPI framework?


However, some PR agencies, including Essential Content, are willing to work with some slightly more flexible KPIs that can be judged over time. These include:



It can be tricky to agree on KPIs, especially on a monthly basis, because PR is dynamic and often the needs of the client change from month to month. I know of lots of agencies who don’t work with clients that demand KPIs be formalised, and will only agree to one service level which is ‘we will provide PR services’.


I can understand why clients want KPIs. They want to know how to judge success, how to benchmark and how to understand if they are actually receiving a return on their investment. 


We recommend clients use the following guidance to set their KPIs, while understanding that even great agencies will miss KPIs some of the time.


How long should a PR agency retainer be?

Interestingly there doesn’t appear to be an industry standard for PR retainer length. Our retainers are typically 6 months long, with a performance-contingent break clause at month 3. After month 6, we switch to a rolling 30-day notice agreement. We ask for a minimum commitment because the costs of delivering PR in the first 180 days are higher than they are thereafter. This is because on-boarding and account set up are not billable. Similarly, it takes a while to gain momentum.


We are relatively unusual in that we offer all clients the 30-day notice agreement after month 6. This exposes us to a higher level of financial risk, as it becomes harder to forecast revenues and we are effectively only ever 30 days away from being ‘let go’.


However, we feel it helps us build a higher degree of trust between clients and our team, and also, interestingly, since we introduced 30-day notice agreements, our client retention rates have increased.


In general, retainer lengths are determined by the PR agency’s appetite for risk and the preferences of their typical clients. Larger agencies tend to work on longer retainers, typically from 9 months to one year. Smaller agencies tend to work on slightly shorter retainers, from 6-9 months.


One very important thing to keep in mind when considering how long a PR retainer should be is that PR is long term thing. Public relations has a compounding effect similar to investing. The longer you’re in the game, the bigger your returns. We have clients who have been with us for more than 6 years and the impact of our work now, compared to the first year, is significantly higher. This is because we’ve done the groundwork, the clients have media footprints and relationships with the press that mean we are often pushing against an open door in our pursuit of influential coverage.


PR agency payment terms and billing structure 


How you pay your agency can have a material impact on your relationship.


Our approach is quite typical for a small PR agency, but we are aware of other agencies with different approaches. We’re aware of agencies that will charge for a year’s worth of work up front, and some agencies will charge for half of that.


We tend to work with smaller and medium sized businesses and understand that the cashflow pressures are different.


In a nutshell, here’s our approach to payment terms and billing for our PR services.


We do not offer credit terms. We understand the financial risks of engaging an agency and we hope that our clients similarly understand that financial risks of offering a line of credit to a new customer. In some exceptional cases we may offer credit terms, but we prefer to work on the following payment terms.


Deposit: First month’s retainer fee paid in advance before work begins

Second invoice – raised on day 60, payable within 15 days


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