Why PR does not charge enough

If you are a PR agency owner or freelancer, there is a good chance you are not charging enough for what you do. As Jane Austin, founder of communications agency Persuasion Communications, says: “PR isn’t charging enough, but I think every sector is trying to maintain their client base and win new ones in this pandemic.” Pandemic aside, Austin points out that as a service industry, PR has to keep its clients happy: “Basically, it’s all about what the client can afford and working to fit that budget. Once they set their budget, we can plan around that and add supplementary initiatives, such as a social strategy or conference speaking where appropriate.”

However, PR should still charge a fair rate. Below we list four reasons why it often does not.

Value is hard to measure

Jane Austin: “I think what limits PR earning substantial fees is because the metrics by which success is measured are so old fashioned, it can be hard to justify what we do and charge enough. We’re measured on headlines and I think there has to be a shift in that attitude.

“With PR you can’t say, ‘we’re definitely going to get you this coverage’, because there are no definites in PR. I can say ‘I got you this headline, on this panel and onto the shortlist for this award”, but I can’t say ‘you’ve been able to hire a better calibre of people because you’ve been talked about more because of our work’ or ‘you attracted this new business because of me’, even if I know it’s true. So much of PR success is sentiment as opposed to anything tangible. It’s about building fame and you can’t really measure that, at least in the sectors I work in.”

People-pleasers are drawn to PR

Helen Jane Campbell, business coach for creative people and author of Founders, Freelancers and Rebels: How To Thrive as an Independent Creative: “PRs are skilled at meeting tight deadlines and unrealistic demands, working all the hours, under-charging and over-servicing. These tendencies might help win and keep clients, but having poor boundaries invites clients and agencies to take these people for granted. I see this problem a lot, I recognise it and I support people who want to change their people-pleasing patterns and grow their businesses without burning out.”

You worry too much about what others think

Helen Jane Campbell: “You get to decide how much your services cost. If you want to be the PR equivalent of Selfridges rather than Tesco, that's your choice. Worrying about what others might think can hold founders and freelancers back. In reality others are too busy thinking about their own stuff, so crack on and charge what you truly believe you're worth please.”

The industry tends to charge for time and give ideas away for free

Helen Jane Campbell: “It's easy to undervalue intangibles such as your network, your knowledge, ideas and - most importantly - the value of the strategic counsel you offer. As Alex Myers of agency Manifest observed when I interviewed him for my book: '...we're selected as consultants but paid for like cleaners'. Until that changes, the problem of clients expecting too much and paying too little is likely to remain.”

Understanding why you may be undercharging is the first step to working out a fair rate to demand. There are also checks you can make, as shown by the case study below, for reassurance that your calculations are correct.

Case study 

How I work out what to charge

Karina Scott, founder of social agency girlaboutsocial.co.uk: “One way that I ensure I am charging the correct amount and know my worth is by using the annual salary guides by recruitment agencies like Major Players. This gives me a base to understand what the daily/hourly rate is for someone in my location with my experience. Plus it helps me to look at longer-term contracts as I can measure via Pro Rata for a six- or 12-month contract.

“I also ask around, I am part of Facebook groups and networking groups and we often have open discussions around the salary/budgets of new contracts that have come in or what to do if a client asks for less than the usual rate I would charge.”

It is important that everyone in PR receives a reasonable amount for the work they do, charging too little does the whole industry a disservice.