What You Pay For When You Hire a PR Firm

Imagine that your book is coming out in several months, and you fall into the camp of those who want to put some time and resources into promoting it. Knowing that your publisher can’t commit to much more on the publicity side than mailing out galleys to a standard media list, you’ve decided to give it your all, to go ahead and hire an outside publicist.

But as you research firms and see the 5-figure price tags for most campaigns, a lump forms in your throat. Your advance was modest. You know you can’t begin to estimate how much, if anything, your book will generate in sales. At the same time, you’re learning that the gist of what a publicist does is build press lists, write elevator pitches, send emails, make phone calls, mail galleys and coordinate interviews when opportunities arise. All of which seems pretty straightforward. You figure that if you had the time and the nerves, you could probably handle much of this yourself.

What’s more, the publicists you’ve interviewed have been honest, explaining that there’s no guarantee about the number of media appearances you’ll get or where they will be. NPR? The Today Show? Highly unlikely, but it’s always worth a try.

Why, then, does the average monthly retainer for a respected PR firm run between $3,000 – $7,000 with a minimum commitment of 2 – 3 months (according to this Writer’s Digest article by Mari Passananti, who has done her research meticulously)? And — especially given that nobody can predict the connection between publicity and sales — what exactly are you getting for this price?

First, quite simply, you’re buying his or her expertise. Sure, you could subscribe to a service like Muckrack and download lists of reporters. You could sign up for HARO and SourceBottle and respond to requests if any good matches come up. But how do you know whom, exactly, to contact on a given list, what to say to them, when or how? Chances are you don’t. But your publicist does, and has many years of experience working with the press along with a solid understanding of the nuances involved: How to get reporters’ attention amid the hundreds of requests they get each day. How to talk to them. How to interpret what they say. What reporters want and need, how this differs from one publication or outlet to the next and what makes a pitch into something a reporter can actually use.

Second, you’re buying sweat equity. Lots of it. PR work is outrageously labor intensive. List-building alone can take entire days and sometimes weeks, and even when the active list-building phase of a campaign is done, a good publicist will be constantly looking for new outlets, new opportunities, new ideas, new names.

The next phase, reaching out to the reporters, reviewers and bloggers on these lists, can take hours each day for many months. Ideally, each contact will receive an email that’s tailored to his or her interests followed by as many carefully-timed phone calls and/or follow-up emails that are needed to get his or her attention — or to decide it’s time to move on. If clients need help getting personal essays into publishable shape, it’s a lengthy writing and editing project, and finding homes for these essays is as complex as querying agents. Most of these tasks have no clear end-point so could ostensibly go on and on and on….

Bottom line: it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to leave no stone unturned. When calculated on an hourly basis, most publicist’s fees are actually quite low.

Perhaps most importantly, when you hire a PR firm you’re paying for peace of mind. If you hire a reputable firm you can be rest assured that the job of digging up as many opportunities as possible for exposure is getting done.

You’ll know, too, that even against odds that are unpredictable at best, you’ve done everything in your power to give your book and your writing career the chance they deserve to cut through the noise.