PR Rates: How to Determine (and Increase) PR Agency Retainer Fees

Besides your team, monthly PR retainer fees are essential building blocks for your PR agency’s foundation and growth. Being strategic about setting them and increasing them over time can make or break your revenue goals and profitability.

There is no magic calculator for how to determine and increase PR retainers, but you can definitely narrow in on fair and competitive PR rates that will entice your potential and existing customers and ensure you’re running a profitable PR business

Let’s talk about how to first determine monthly PR agency retainer fees for new clients, and then how to increase them for existing clients.

How to price PR retainers

How to price PR retainers - Prowly Magazine
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There are two popular ways to determine monthly PR retainers for a new client: by an hourly wage or by the value of PR mentions. In both cases, one important step should never be skipped at the very beginning: asking the potential client explicitly what their PR budget is. 

There’s just no point in spending your valuable time on a monthly retainer calculation if the client’s budget is far below your minimum, so get this information from the first introduction call.

Once you have their budget in mind, conduct some online research to learn what other agencies are currently charging. This is when being a member of a professional PR community is especially helpful, as PR pros are often great at sharing current rates and feedback. 

As you search for current pricing, remember that it’s normal for monthly PR retainers to vary significantly by industry (for example, tech companies versus non-profit organizations). Make sure any research you conduct on pricing narrows in specifically to the potential client’s industry.

In general, retainer pricing research should be a regular and recurring task for you, so take advantage of every new PR proposal by seeing it as an opportunity to assess your current pricing and confirm it’s priced competitively for the market.

Whichever system you use to determine your monthly PR agency retainer fee, make sure to have your clients commit to at least a 3-month contract, and preferably 6 months.

PR campaign preparation, execution, and results don’t happen in 30 days alone. The process requires time for you to educate yourself on the client and their product or service, craft the appropriate media contact list and pitch, and reach out to them consistently to land valuable PR mentions.

Let’s now take a look at those two popular ways to determine monthly PR retainers.

Determine monthly PR retainers by hourly wage

Some agency owners and freelancers prefer to focus on an hourly wage. It’s worth pointing out here that you always have the option to simply set an hourly rate, track your monthly activity, and bill your clients for hours worked. 

However, if you’re running an ongoing PR campaign for your client, using an hourly wage to price a PR retainer makes budget planning easier for both you and the client. That is why it’s better to choose this option over billable hours that vary by month.

Determining your agency’s hourly wage takes into many accounts factors, and needs to be priced fairly for the market. To get to the perfect hourly wage, consider the following:

  • How many years of PR experience do you have? If you’re new to PR, you’ll likely want to start at a lower rate. However, as soon as you’re comfortable with pitching and delivering results, don’t hesitate to increase it! Starting with shorter-term contracts like 3-6 months and proving your work with deliverables will allow you to increase your PR retainer fee at the contract renewal time.
  • How large is your network of close media contacts? Are there editors you regularly connect with and can immediately reach out to about a new client?
  • Is your background and network of contacts strongly anchored in a specific industry, like beauty, fashion, or gaming? For potential clients in this industry, you can charge a premium for this specialized experience.
  • If you’re moving from in-house PR to freelance or agency owner, consider what your last hourly wage was, including benefits. You may want to set this as your hourly rate to get started.

Of course, don’t forget to factor in the basic costs to run your business—like rent for office space, PR software subscriptions, and labor – and your desired monthly revenue goal. Knowing these numbers by heart will help you recognize when you have to pass on a client because their contract will not help your agency’s bottom line.

Note that with this monthly retainer set by hourly wage, you don’t have to provide a monthly breakdown to clients. Instead, you’re offering a simple fixed monthly retainer to them, and working the exact number of hours you need to meet your desired hourly rate. Just make sure that you’ve included enough monthly hours to give them the best results you can provide!

Once the monthly retainer is determined, deliver it with the specific projects and tasks your agency will manage. Even better, list out the additional services that aren’t included but can be quoted separately if desired. This will leave you flexibility for when a client’s monthly needs begin to exceed your PR retainer fee.

Even though you are charging a fixed monthly retainer, it’s still important that you track your time in-house so you can ensure you’re meeting or exceeding your desired hourly wage. This is simple with a time tracking software like Toggl. At the end of each month, make it a habit to check the total hours you worked for each client and divide that by the monthly PR agency retainer fee.

Confirm you’ve hit your desired hourly rate! If not, investigate which tasks took longer than planned and assess whether you can reduce time on those tasks next month. If not, you may need to reevaluate your retainer and discuss an increase with your client during your next contract renewal.

One way to quickly reduce time spent on tasks is to invest in PR automation software like Prowly. These can reduce the hours of your weekly PR  tasks significantly, so the investment is almost always worth it.

Determine monthly PR rates by the value of PR mentions

Other agency owners and freelancers choose to determine their monthly retainer based on the estimated value of their media placements. This calculation is trickier, but can oftentimes justify a higher monthly retainer.

For example, if based on your network of contacts and past track record, you anticipate you can consistently deliver 2-3 media placements per month for the client, you would estimate the value of these placements and charge accordingly.

The client should think of their budget for these PR placements the same way they do for their monthly ad placement costs. However, we all know that PR mentions can be even more valuable than ads, so estimate your placement value accordingly.

How to estimate the value of a media placement is a debate as old as PR itself, but it can be done by taking a holistic look at the PR placement. Look at advertising rates for the media outlet, add in value for any evergreen backlinks to the client website, include the value of the resulting social media and website announcements on the client’s platforms as creative content, and don’t overlook the added value of third-party credibility. 

All of these benefits from a PR mention quickly add up to substantial marketing value. 

How to increase PR agency retainer fees

Now that you’ve successfully delivered PR mentions for your client, let’s move on to discussing how to increase PR retainers for existing clients.

The best time to approach this topic is at the renewal of a PR contract, which typically happens annually or bi-annually.

At a minimum, the client should understand that your costs of doing business increase every year, just like it does for them! 2-3% is a typical increase rate, so at a minimum, you should be increasing your retainer cost by that each year.

However, an even better approach is to place value on the placements you’ve landed during the previous contract period and determine your new pricing from there. In one report, share the number of media contacts you’ve introduced the client’s product to and the number of PR mentions you’ve secured (with an estimated value for each). 

Don’t be afraid to keep this report very simple. In fact, it likely paints a clearer picture that way. Once you’ve listed out your work and progress, it should become very clear that you can be relied on for consistent deliverables, and that future investment in your relationship is a no-brainer!

Some agencies set themselves up for this increased pricing conversation in advance by letting new clients know that their initial retainer is a discounted, introductory one set to build trust and learn if the companies fit well together. There’s a side bonus here: this approach also helps set you up for not renewing a contract if you find yourself in that position at the end of the introductory contract.

Other important considerations for PR rates

No matter how you decide to determine your PR retainer, keep some of these other considerations in mind:

  • Some PR agencies offer a discounted monthly retainer if a client commits to a longer-term contract, like 12 months. The ability for you to project revenue on an annual basis with these contracts may be worth the monthly price reduction.
  • Always stay informed on what the going rate is for PR services so that your pricing remains competitive. Network with other PR professionals and openly share pricing. You can also find PR package pricing on many agency websites. 
  • If you find yourself consistently being asked to reduce or discount your monthly retainers, increase your starting offer by 10-15%. This allows you to test higher pricing (they may say yes right away!) and gives you the ability to negotiate a discounted price while keeping the final amount in line with your desired retainer.

Determining and increasing your monthly PR retainer fees is truly personal to your freelance business or agency and your growth goals, but the guidance provided here will help you consider the myriad of options and find the best solution for your business today. Good luck! 

Cover photo by Volkan Olmez