In my experience, PR budgets can be set in a pretty arbitrary way. A sum of money for a monthly retainer is given and then expectations are squeezed and distorted to fit – a bit like that uncomfortable feeling of stuffing oneself into a work shirt after a healthy few days of Thanksgiving food.
But what if there was a better way, where cybersecurity vendors could determine with greater clarity the budget they need for public relations in the year ahead?
Here, I have shared five things to consider when working out a public relations budget.
1. Start with what you want to achieve with your PR budget
Before you can construct a PR budget, you need a solid foundation fixed in what you want to achieve.
Think about the range of media you want to be appearing in. Then think how often you would like to be seen there. Do you want to keep it tight and just focus on the cybersecurity specialist or IT media? Or are there vertical market publications that you want included in the target list? Do you think you are of a scale or interest that you want to court the national media in the months ahead?
Is there a target volume of media coverage you want to secure? Are there competitors that you want to match or exceed in terms of media appearances?
Answering these questions will help shape your strategy and objectives. And with clear objectives, it’s easier to determine your budget. Whatever your goals, make sure they follow the SMART criteria – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Setting clear objectives from the start can be challenging. In this case, the input of an independent consultancy can be invaluable. Look for a partner agency that will question your plans and help shape them rather than blithely agreeing to anything you’re planning to pay for.
2. Be clear about what you consider to be the PR budget calculation
Next, it’s important to pinpoint exactly what you consider a PR budget line item. At its most basic, PR is often limited to media relations. But there are many other related fields to consider. For example, analyst outreach is similar but distinct to working with journalists. You may also want to encompass event management as part of your strategy.
Likewise, media-related content creation easily crosses over into neighbouring territories, such as drafting awards entries, social media posts, or long-form whitepapers and research pieces. The marketing budget often covers these assets but is also closely linked to PR activity.
Without careful upfront planning, you may find your PR budget falls short. For example, it might not cover extra content or desired social media activities. This forces you to make serious compromises with your budget allocation through the year.
3. Estimate how much you think it would cost to achieve your objectives in-house
To put your external PR budget into perspective, consider how much it would cost to execute your PR activity in-house to achieve your objectives.
Budgeting for in-house PR salaries is one of the main factors here, especially if you want international activity. Effective global outreach requires hiring locally in target countries and accounting for translating and localising PR material.
You also need to account for the resources and time required to manage campaigns and interactions between PR and marketing teams and the cost of content production.
Taking these factors into account can help you assess if external consultancy budgets are reasonable. A less tangible factor to consider is that hiring a consultancy nets you broad access to different levels of expertise that is more flexible than hiring a smaller number of full-time people in-house.
4. Know how much value you place on external expertise
Next, take some time to consider your current in-house skills set and what may be lacking. A big source of failure in PR comes from not understanding (and then closing) the skills gap between what you want to achieve and the skills and expertise that you need to achieve it.
Suppose you already have skilled, creative people on your team, positioned in each region and experienced in local media relations. In that case, you could save some of your PR budget by hiring an agency focused on taking instruction and executing your strategy.
However, if you lack certain skills and experience, then get specific on what elements are missing. You will benefit more from budgeting for a consultancy with higher expertise that you can lean on.
Compare it to hiring a lawyer. If you only need standard, low-level activity you can go with a more affordable choice. If you’re going through a high-stakes divorce and fighting over a collection of Picassos, then extra skills and expertise are worth the investment.
5. Stress test what value you can get for your money
Finally, explore what you can get for your money before committing. Asking a few potential consultancies to quote for the work you want to achieve, will give you a sense of how the market prices the objectives you desire.
Be clear on point four particularly. Consider the level of skills and experience you want to add to the table, and probe agencies that they can meet this criterion . Don’t just look at the $ numbers on the monthly retainer and what they say they can do for you – probe deeper.
When pitching, PR agencies tend to focus on the results that they can achieve, rather than the softer skills of senior counsel and strategic support. To understand that you will need to spend time with the actual team you would be working with – really clarify their understanding of you and the market.
Other Considerations For Creating a PR Budget
I would spend some time with the shortlist of agencies you are considering working with. Proposal documents are very two dimensional. Understanding the capabilities of the people you would be working with – not the pitch team – is crucial.
It’s also worth looking at the team you’ll be working with. Are you receiving a very competitive quote because the team will largely be made up of interns and junior account executives? And if so, is that going to be a problem? A more junior team can work fine if you have a high level of in-house expertise, but likely won’t measure up if you need more guidance.
Some agencies will have a go-to senior team for pitching before switching to a more junior team for delivery. For this reason, it’s worth asking for clarity on who you’ll actually be getting.
If you’d like to discuss how we can help you get more bang for your buck from your PR budget this coming year, you can book a call with me here.