Article | 11 Mar 2019

What's a realistic PR budget for startups & SMEs?

Posted in PR and Communications, Freelancer, Top tips, Tools & Advice, Learning, Startups, Client,

If you’re new to the world of PR, working out how much you should invest can be pretty daunting. As an SME, you’re unlikely to have the big bucks to afford a full agency, which is why freelancer support can be the ideal solution.

But even with freelancers, there are still lots of questions around what level of seniority and expertise you need, how much time and support you require, and for how long you should be investing.

Here we try to answer all the questions you may have about setting PR budgets, so that you meet your objectives successfully, without breaking the bank in the process.

What are your objectives?

The first question you need to ask yourself is why you want to do PR. Do you have a one-off announcement to make, or a particular event or piece of research that you want to promote? Or are you looking for something more long-term to generate a steady stream of coverage over the coming six or 12 months?

Clarifying your goals first and foremost dictates whether you run a shorter, more intense project, or whether you hire a freelancer for a regular amount of time – say one or two days per week – but for a longer period.

Project or retainer?

Both projects and retainers can work well, however, bear in mind that, either way, you need to allow time at the outset to get your freelancer up to speed with the business – sometimes known as a ‘discovery phase’. By opting for a retainer, you therefore benefit from this upfront investment for a longer period, while enabling your freelancer to develop a deeper understanding of what you do over time.

As a compromise between the two, another option is to frontload your budget for an initial launch campaign, and then flex down to a lower level fee to maximise ongoing opportunities.

What is the scope of your campaign?

While thinking about your objectives, you also need to consider the scope of what you’re looking for from your freelancer. For example, are you looking for help with just media relations, or will you also need somebody who can help you to develop content, such as blogs, reports and white papers? And what about social media? These will all impact the kind of freelancer you hire, the time you need, and the amount of budget you need to invest.

What can you afford?

The next step is to have an honest think about what you can afford, so you have at least a rough idea before speaking to any freelancers. The figure you land upon will of course entirely depend on your business. But once you have an idea in your head, and have defined your priorities, you’re in a good position to know where you should be focusing your funds. If you genuinely have no idea how much you have to spend and what you should be spending it on, you may find it useful to hire a freelancer for an initial project to scope this out for you.

What is a reasonable budget for a project?

To make an impact with a distinct project, you really need a minimum of three months, to give you enough time for the initial discovery phase, development of collateral and content, and then any media outreach. Any less time will mean a more intense campaign, however you will also be giving yourself and your freelancer a tight timeframe in which to deliver results. In terms of fee, a minimum investment for a three-month project would be around £5,000 in total, allowing for around two to four days per month from your freelancer.

At the top level, if you want to run a highly sophisticated project involving research, events, stunts and photography, the investment will of course be significantly higher. Your freelancer will need time to carry out a large amount of organisation, plus you will need to allow for third party expenses on top. The costs for something like this are really limitless, however you’re more likely to be looking at around £20,000 to £25,000 for a distinct project.

How much should you allow for a retainer?

When it comes to retainers, the absolute minimum you need is around two days of your freelancer’s time each month – so a monthly fee of roughly around £800 to £1,000 – across a six or 12-month project. This allows for a low level of reactive pitching, and a limited amount of proactive pitching. Bear in mind that this budget wouldn’t allow for the development of any sophisticated ideas or campaigns and is unlikely to allow for any writing of articles or press releases, as these can be more time-consuming.

If you’re looking for something more impactful, for example, if you have regular news announcements to make, if you would like your freelancer to write contributed opinion articles, organise product reviews and samples, or generally be more proactive, then this will take more time. For this level of activity, you are likely to need between one and three days per week of your freelancer’s time, amounting to a budget of between around £1,600 and £8,000 per month.

What level of seniority do you need?

In all the above examples, the other factor that will affect your budget is the level of seniority of the freelancer that you work with. Freelancers tend to charge by the day, with most professionals charging between £250 and £400, or up to £500 or even £700 for real specialists working at a senior level.

What you look for depends on how much senior level expertise is required for your project, for example do you need help developing a high-level strategy, or dealing with difficult and sensitive issues. You are also likely to pay more for more specialist sector expertise, or specialist skills such as copywriting or brand positioning.

How can you help keep the budget down?

It can be easy to forget that any time spent on meetings, calls, reporting and other management activities, will come out of your freelance fee. So, you can ease your budget by trying to keep these to a minimum.

Having said that, you can also help your freelancer enormously by taking a collaborative approach to PR. The more input they get from you in terms of insights, comments, opinions, timely responses etc., the more they have to work with and the less time spent developing ideas and creative campaigns.

No easy answer

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to setting a PR budget, as every client’s needs and objectives can vary dramatically. But hopefully this guide gives you a good place to start in terms of the minimums and maximums, and different factors that come into play.

Once you’ve thought it through and have a rough idea of what you should, and can spend, the next step is to create a brief on The Work Crowd and have a chat with a few freelancers who look like a good fit. They will be able to advise you further on the specifics, but by having an idea in your head beforehand, you’ll ensure you make best use of their time.  

If you still have questions around budgets, The Work Crowd team is always on hand to help. Simply drop us a line at or give us a call on 020 3828 8440, and we can chat through your needs and advise on next steps.