How Much Should You Pay for a Press Release?

A few months ago, I was on the phone with a client at a $10 million company when he casually mentioned that they would be celebrating their 30th anniversary the following week.

“Congratulations!” I said. “Who’s handling your public relations for that?”

Stunned silence.

“Surely you’re not going to miss out on this opportunity for media attention,” I said. “What are you doing to celebrate?”

“We’re having a cake,” he said.

(Downpatrick, April 2010 by Ardfern. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Laugh if you like—I did—but the truth is that many organizations are in the same position when it comes to missing out on newsworthy opportunities for valuable coverage.

Despite the rise of the Internet and the decline of print journalism, a well-conceived and well-executed press release is one of an organization’s most powerful marketing tools. In addition to garnering valuable media attention, a press release can support business development, sales teams, and Inbound marketing. It can attract new partnership and joint venture opportunities, as well as contribute to SEO.

For many companies, the biggest barrier to capitalizing on press releases is logistical—knowing when to write one, allocating the resources to do it, and distributing the press release effectively. All of these challenges can be overcome by outsourcing the task to a marketing or public relations agency, or by hiring a skilled individual internally or on a freelance basis.

When done correctly, outsourcing the press release function can yield significant ROI. But it helps to know just how much you should actually pay for a press release.

Anyone who has looked casually into this question has probably discovered that the answer varies wildly depending on who you ask.

 The answer, according to the Internet.

To understand how much your organization should actually pay for a press release, it’s helpful to understand the factors involved.

In the old days, a press release consisted of a single page of text formatted in a simple, direct manner with the iconic FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE in Times New Roman at top, along with the date and location. Journalism students learned the art of writing press release content in a “reverse pyramid” with critical information at the beginning and less-critical information further down. At bottom, the press release contained a name and phone number for media contacts, and three centered hash marks to indicate the end of the document. 

Click for your complete guide to writing a killer press release.[1]

Today, the single-page format is still the gold standard, though it’s now acceptable to add a logo, letterhead, and other brand elements. Links can be included, depending on the audience. Often, press releases are sent in the body of an email, and may contain images, social media buttons, and multi-media elements.

With so many potential elements, it’s not surprising that the cost can vary widely, but it’s not these bells and whistles that impact pricing most. Instead, it’s quality, scope, and how you pay that matter most.

The core of a great press release continues to be clean, crisp writing that grabs the attention of its intended audience. People often make the mistake of thinking that because a press release is short and to the point, it is easy to write. But, as anyone who builds software or engineers systems understands, simple is hard. 

A well-crafted press release is clear, direct, and communicates a great deal in a very small amount of space. It will be tailored to a specific audience, such as trade magazines, local media, or potential partners. 

At the very low end ($5 on Fiverr, for instance), do not expect much. Save Fiverr for less critical investments, like taunting your old college buddy with a message written in peanuts by a hamster.

For $50, you may be able to find an early-career freelance writer who can prepare something presentable. Be prepared, at this level, to provide the topic and angle for your press release, and to manage the writer closely. You’ll also be responsible for your own distribution. This is a good choice for organizations with more time than money to invest.

For $250 and some trial and error, you can probably hire an experienced, professional writer who will deliver a decent product with minimal fuss. Generally, at this level you will still be responsible for generating the topics and executing on distribution. This is a good choice for an organization that doesn’t mind having their hands in management of the writer, and who has the time for the trial and error in finding the right level of quality. 

A range of $500-2500 is standard to retain an experienced, skilled press release writer. At this level, how much you pay will be based on the strength of the writer’s portfolio[2], expertise in your type of business (B2B versus B2C, technical versus non-technical, etc.), and the quality of understanding for your audience. Services such as distribution and news monitoring will add to the cost, putting you nearer the high end. Somewhere in this range is a good choice for most established organizations.

Some agencies charge $3000 and up per press release. At these rates, you should expect to retain a highly seasoned, professional PR writer who understands the audiences you’re targeting, specializes in your industry, and has demonstrated skill in sharp, clear messaging that attracts attention. Rates in this range will probably include turn-key consultation, news monitoring, and distribution.

While quality writing is an important key in a successful press release, it’s not the only thing that matters. Identifying the right news, developing a distribution network, managing the media relations, and many other factors impact how much attention a press release attracts. Of course, adding these and other elements to the press release service adds to the scope and therefore the cost of the service. Here are some services that may be worth the additional investment for you:

  • Monitoring for news. Knowing what constitutes a newsworthy event is a skill in itself. It requires media knowledge and active attention to company activity. Without someone performing this duty, it’s easy to miss events such as anniversaries, executive hires and promotions, acquisitions, new ventures, new lines of business, and other opportunities to garner valuable attention.
  • Creating and maintaining a media kit. Journalists are busy people, and appreciate contacts who don’t make them work harder than necessary. A media kit with leadership bios and head shots, company boilerplate, company history, and other relevant information can increase your odds of good coverage.
  • Additional complexity. Sometimes, a press release includes simple company information that can be collected in a single conversation. Other times, it may require interviews with multiple parties in order to identify the right angle, gather the right quotes, and put it all together in a compelling manner. Multiple interviews and research add complexity, and the more complexity, the more you can expect to pay.
  • SEO optimization. Press releases provide SEO value in at least two ways, even without optimization. First, when published to the site, they add content. Google likes content. Second, they generate inbound links when picked up by bloggers, media, and news streams. Deliberate SEO optimization can supercharge these benefits and may include keyword research, strategic incorporation of keywords, and inbound link generation.
  • Legal and/or Regulatory Compliance Consultation. In some industries, the need for regulatory compliance can significantly increase the cost of producing press releases. Check with your legal department if you think this may apply to you.
  • Multiple versions. Press releases are incredibly versatile, and to reach their highest potential, it’s often beneficial to tailor several versions. You might want one targeting local media, one for trade publications, another for bloggers, and yet another for the sales team to use during sales conversations. The degree of customization for each version will impact how much extra cost is involved.
  • Distribution. While PR Newswire and similar services can take a press release a good bit of the distance, for best effect most press releases should also be distributed to a variety of other outlets, including industry bloggers, trade magazines, business sites, and local news contacts. Expect to pay extra for consulting on distribution methods, as well as for the distribution itself. The more complex the distribution, the higher your cost will go. You can help keep distribution costs down by doing channel research internally, and providing a list of media you want to target.

In this case, “how you pay” refers first to paying hourly or on a flat rate, and second to whether you’re working a la carte or on retainer. In short, a flat rate on retainer is the most cost-effective way to pay for press releases.

Hourly Vs. Flat Rate

While a low hourly rate can be attractive, it often means your writer doesn’t know how to scope the project to give you a flat rate, and may indicate lack of experience. An inexperienced press release writer may still produce quality work, but will generally take much longer to do so than someone with experience. 

An inexperienced writer may still be a bargain if cash flow is a concern, but be sure to negotiate for a flat rate to avoid paying for their learning curve.

A La Carte Vs. Retainer

It takes time for a writer or an agency to get to know your company, your industry, and your various audiences. While it may be attractive to pay for a single press release rather than an ongoing monthly fee, a retainer allows your writer or agency to get to know these factors deeply, and to spread the cost of ramp-up. As a result, you will generally pay significantly less per press release on a retainer basis, and ultimately can expect better results.

Most organizations fall somewhere in the $500-2500 range in terms of what they should spend, based on the factors above. That’s still a broad range! Here are some questions to help you determine what level of investment will return the best value.

  • What is the value to your company of local media coverage? Do you currently get new business from advertising in local publications? How much do you currently spend on that advertising? If local media is an important marketing channel for your organization, and if you already spend a few thousand dollars or more on it per month, then you will probably get strong ROI from well-crafted, well-targeted press releases to your local media. Plan to invest at least a couple thousand dollars per press release with distribution. On the other hand, if local media coverage would be a mere vanity item and/or your organization is just getting started, that price point may not make sense for you. In that case, look for a lower price point.
  • What is the value to your company of trade publication coverage? If your reputation among your peers is important–for instance, if you engage in affiliate business–you may already advertise in industry publications. These, and trade publications for any verticals that you target, are often hungry for content. Plan to spend a thousand dollars or more per press release with distribution to this market only. If you want your press release provider to research trade publications for a particular industry, or if you’re targeting multiple industry verticals, expect an additional charge.
  • Is your sales team responsible for closing large deals over long sales cycles? If so, press releases provide them an opportunity to touch base with prospects, in a highly credible manner. Some of our clients tell us our press releases play a major role in helping their teams close multi-million-dollar sales. Plan to invest at the high end of the scale to ensure your press releases reflect the quality of your brand. If, however, you don’t have a sales team, or if your sales process requires very little nurturing, then you probably have no need of press releases for this purpose.
  • Is your organization in aggressive growth mode? If your company is growing quickly, whether through acquisitions or other means, then you probably have stockholders, partners, prospects, and other groups who expect to be regularly updated. Press releases are an invaluable tool for this purpose. Hire someone who can keep their finger on the pulse of your industry, suggest press release opportunities, and turn high-quality work around to your team quickly. Plan to invest near the high end.

When I found out my client with the 30th anniversary had no plans to publicize, I held them hostage until they agreed to let me do it for them. We pulled together an updated media kit, with a press release at its center. We included a collection of historic photos from their early days, as well as updated, modern representations of their offerings. They provided us a list of trade publications they wanted to target, and we provided the local media contacts, plus distribution. We also wrote a customized version of the press release for one particular media outlet that requested a finished piece, which they printed in its entirety.

The campaign yielded tens of thousands of dollars worth of coverage in local and trade publications, a return many times higher than their investment. How much did they pay for that? Well, it would be a breach of client confidentiality to tell you that, but you can download our standard media relations rate sheet by clicking here[3] and filling out the form at the bottom of the page.

If you’d like to try your hand at writing press releases yourself, or if you just want to get better at it, check out this soup-to-nuts guide to writing killer press releases[4]

Or if you’re looking for someone to take it off your hands, we know someone. It’s us, and we’re running a special on press release retainers through the end of 2015 (Hint: If you qualify, you could get a whole lot of service for $500/month). Message me to schedule a consultation.

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