MP&F’s Top 25 PR Questions

July 2, 2012

McNeely Pigott & Fox is celebrating 25 years in business during 2012, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is by answering the 25 questions we are most asked about our business.

Question 4: How Much Does It Cost To Hire Us?

By Mark McNeely

What public relations firms charge for their services can vary greatly. We jokingly like to tell people that we charge just like law firms, only a lot cheaper.

Public relations is a service business and generally follows the financial models of other businesses that basically charge for their time and knowledge — like accountants, architects, engineers and, yes, attorneys.

So we establish an hourly billing rate, depending on experience levels, for various staff members. We track time spent on client work by the quarter hour, and set rates based on industry standards adjusted to the local market. We base our estimates for any project on these rates, whether the client prefers us to bill hourly, at a fixed monthly fee or as a one-time project fee.

Obviously, costs are dependent on levels of effort. So a time-intensive project or program is going to be much more expensive than a passive monitoring and advisory assignment. The analogy is like buying a car. You can get a basic, no frills version, an expensive, souped up version or something in between. It depends on your budget and your needs. Crisis situations and assignments that need to move ahead of other work generally are more costly.

We don’t want our senior (and more expensive) staff performing tasks that our younger, less experienced folks can easily do well. That way, it is more cost-effective for our clients.

Our commercial billing rates range from $60 an hour for younger staff members to $300 or more per hour for our principals. We have federal government-approved rates that are considerably discounted (generally 20 percent to 25 percent) from our standard fees. We also provide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pro bono, community service work at no cost to the many beneficiaries of those services.

Each firm and situation is different; but in general, we have a minimum engagement fee of $6,000. Our typical monthly client fees range from a couple of thousand dollars to $20,000 or more. Large corporate and institutional clients generally have larger communications budgets, but we also have worked over the years for many small startups and mom-and-pop types of entrepreneurial businesses, which have to stretch their dollars to the max.

Also, we get client approval for any out-of-pocket expenditures and charge industry-standard rates for paid media commissions and handling fees.

We do our best to establish budget parameters on the front end. We have found over the years that when clients expect a certain cost, they are fine with it, large or small. It’s the surprises that create confusion and delay. My advice is to be as transparent as possible with all clients, to let them know if something they ask for will require additional costs and make sure they approve them ahead of time, and to give as much detail as possible about the time being spent on behalf of the client.

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2 Responses to “MP&F’s Top 25 PR Questions”


  1. […] an employee of a public relations agency, I am required to stay as busy as possible. Agencies make money by billing time. If I’m not billing time, my agency is not making money. If my agency is not making money, I may […]


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