How Much Do I Pay A Communications Agency?

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Welcome to the world of paid communication services. We’re assuming you’ve decided to inquire about hiring a communications, media, or public relations agency to help your organization reach a few of its goals. And you’re not alone if you’re asking yourself how much you should expect to pay for communications services.


Communications and creative services don’t always come cheap; in fact, it’s a global industry worth about $14 billion annually. And how much services cost can vary based on geographic region, types of services, even the size and expertise of the agency your hiring. Managing cost expectation can be a wild ride if it’s your first time to the rodeo.

We’ve picked the brains of some of the top consultants at HiveMind Strategies for tips on how to navigate the pricey world of communication agencies and creative services.


  1. Have A Budget In Mind and Communicate It

“We often get calls from prospective clients; as part of our process we often ask them if they have a budget and the call usually goes silent for five seconds,” said Joshua Garner, a HiveMind consultant. “They either don’t know what the budget is or are unwilling to say—it can be a closely guarded secret or a game of chicken to find out.”


Garner said it’s always great when a potential client has some kind of budget on hand, often times firms and agencies can work to accommodate those numbers based on service needs. If the budget is low, it may be a matter of scaling back services or prioritizing services and phasing them in overtime to reduce the cost.


  1. Get To Know a Firms Hourly Rate and Do The Math

Firms often establish an hourly rate—larger firms will even have hourly rates based on the experience of the account managers, meaning a more experienced manager will have a higher rate. Hourly rates are then built into payment structures like retainers and billable hours (more on that later).


While rates can vary based on services and geographic region, U.S.-based hourly rates can be as low as $20 and as high as $500. For small and midsized agencies in major metropolitan areas, that figure can be a bit more narrow between $100-$250 per hour. If you’d like to know more about the numbers, read more here.


“At the end of the day, agencies and firms have to make a profit,” Garner said. “Communications services rely heavily on strategy, experience, even creativity—that’s not something that comes cheap and agencies know that.”


  1. Get Familiar With Payment Structures

There are three standard types of payment structures, Garner said.


Retainers—this is the most common and preferred type of payment structure. It gives a fixed monthly, sometimes quarterly rate for a time-limited contract—usually at least six months. Depending on services and agency size, retainers can be as low as $2,000 a month or upwards of $20,000 a month for larger agencies. Remember, retainers are based on hourly rates multiplied by the expected amount of hours to be spent each month.


Billable Hours—while not only a term for law firms, billable hours are also used by communications agencies.  Every service an agency renders within a billing cycle is counted by the hour—this can include conference calls, emails sent, strategy planning and more heavy duty tasks like media pitching or drafting press releases, blogs, and design work.


Project Based—this payment structure is a bit of a hybrid of the previous two. An agency may be contracted to do a very specific task—sometimes on a specific budget. If the task takes 20 hours to complete, the agency will pre-price the task to the client. This can include single or ongoing projects like providing a communications plan or creating digital branding strategy. Or single projects like campaigns, launches, or events.


Honorable Mention

Payment-By-Results—while less common than the previous three, payment-by-results usually centers around a success-driven task. This can include generating a certain amount of leads through a paid SEO campaign or successfully placing a client in a news publication or outlet. In short, an agency will not bill the client until the task is complete and success is measured.


Interested in a free consultation with a HiveMind consultant? Feel free to visit our contact page for more.

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