Good PR isn't cheap. Nor is it free. If you can't afford a legit PR campaign, then chances are you might not be ready for it... but at the same time, it's also extremely difficult to elevate yourself or your band without some good PR behind you. It's a classic "chicken or the egg" conundrum.
Bands often ask me about how to get PR, and I often say that gigging, local buzz, and management must come first. Some balk at having to take those steps or say that they can't afford PR, but I've seen many bands figure out a way to get scrimp, save, and pay for management and PR – you just have to figure out the financials. It's another chance to get creative. I had one artist-turned-producer say this about those who balk about these elements: "If you want it bad enough, you'll find a way to get it."
But how much you pay for PR, like many aspects of this crazy business, is not standardized nor is it subsidized. I'm also not going to share my own rates or speculate about other publicists' rates, since most don't, won't, and shouldn't publicize them. (Oh, the irony, right?) A publicist will happily discuss rates and budgets, but those are subjects for a private conversation and are a confidential matter, as they should be. So, no, I can't really give you a pie chart or a formula about how it shakes out and breaks down, but what I can give you are some general guidelines so you can plan a budget, know what to expect when approaching a firm, and prevent you from getting rolled.
But please know this going in: each and every PR firm or rep will have their own prices and deals that they may or may not want to cut.
1. Temper your expectations
Unsigned bands that want PR should realize that most PR firms are not going to take $300 a month for a full campaign. (And to be clear, it's not going to take $350, either). Servicing tour dates, music, a press release, and information to the media? Sure, that range may work. But extended blanketing and pavement-pounding follow-ups? It's just not economically feasible. That type of campaign will be four figures, not three, and the price will be commeasurate with effort and expectations. Unless you're a celeb, it won't mean $10,000 a month – but again, it doesn't mean under $1,000 either. Negotiation is part of the dance.
Campaigns require elbow grease, education, and repeat follow-ups. That requires time and effort, and a PR person's time and efforts. If there are basic placements and some online buzz serving as the goal, then some PR people will do an intro campaign for a pretty affordable rate and see where it goes. But nothing is dirt cheap. So know that.
2. Even label PR isn't free
If you're signed to a label, you'll have in-house PR which appears to be "free," but it's really factored into your deal. However, an indie firm is often required, requested, desired, or part of the contract due to a previously existing relationship or the manager wanting a dedicated, small operation focusing on building the band's press kit and profile. Depending on goals like TV, magazine covers, or mainstream looks, this is usually several thousands of dollars. If it's just tour press support, it's usually a streamlined rate. If it's just creating a general, early buzz, it's also streamlined. Expectations are the variables here.
3. A mutually beneficial relationship might be best for you
If you can't shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars, then why not try to team up with a developing firm or publicist, so you can grow together at an affordable rate? The hunger and drive that you each have can feed one another and lead to some pretty awesome results. I've seen it happen.
4. Respect and understand the business behind PR
When seeking out PR representation, know going into it that it's not going to be bargain basement or a bro deal either, unless there's some pre-existing relationship in place. Don't expect to be "owed" anything or be given a sweet deal unless you've earned that right. Don't insult a business person with a rich and deep reserve of contacts by expecting them to just "hook you up."
So, those are the most important things to know when it comes to budgeting for music PR for the first time. All of those points – as with every point I make in every article I write for this blog – are based on things I've personally seen, heard, said, and done with bands and labels.
Amy Sciarretto has 20 years of print and online bylines, from Kerrang to Spin.com to Revolver to Bustle, covering music, beauty, and fashion. After 12 years doing radio and publicity at Roadrunner Records, she now fronts Atom Splitter PR, her own boutique PR firm, which has over 30 clients. She also is active in animal charity and rescue.