How long should I keep a PR on retainer?

Let’s not beat about the bush.  PR agency retainers can be extremely costly, particularly for a small business or startup.  There are many factors to consider of course – whether they specialise in a particular sector, whether they have developed a good relationship over several years with the media contacts you need – and the sheer amount of salaries and overheads the agency has to meet.

I know you like to hear my own personal brand of practical, down to earth advice.  So I’ll tell you straight.  For some organisations, a freelance PR is absolutely no good and that organisation will certainly need the specific skills, knowledge and experience of the right agency, to ensure at least a decent return on investment.


I’m now beginning to hear about not just agencies, but freelance PRs who are charging an absolute fortune in retainer fees – and not delivering results.

When I talk about a fortune, I mean well in excess of £1000 per month and sometimes right up to £2000 per month.  I know few startups and small businesses that can afford those kinds of fees.

And what do you get in return?  Well, quite often, limited results it seems.  And in the case of a client I spoke to recently, absolutely zilch.

Now you clients can be quite demanding of course!  And rightly so, when you have limited time and resources to make a splash in the marketplace.  Part of a PR’s role is to manage expectations – to tell you, cards on the table, what you are and what you aren’t likely to achieve in the early days.

Some PRs really aren’t comfortable with doing this, imagining that they’ll see that potential hefty retainer drifting away into the distance.  Instead, they prefer to over-promise which, in many instances, automatically leads to under-delivery.

So what should you do if you’re looking for a PR and how do you avoid wasting money?

  1. A good PR will tell you up front if the story you have in mind is good enough to achieve anything like what you expect.
  2. Your PR should be flexible enough to accommodate your needs, rather than demanding an expensive retainer and minimum hours per month
  3. You set the budget and ask what can be achieved for that amount per month
  4. Agree on a trial period and what you should expect in that time in order to continue (I’d recommend a minimum of 2 months and maximum of 3)
  5. Agree on a selected list of media – some PRs will charge additional fees, whenever a story is picked up by a website/blog. Be very careful – often, this will be done automatically without the aid of the PR and even a mention on a low ranking site could attract further fees

Take the time to put everything in order before your PR starts work.  Ensure both parties understand what is expected with regards to milestones (which SHOULDN’T include that old chestnut “we’ve spent 4 hours this month in talks with…..”)!!


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