NOTE: The 2017 Marketing Pricing Guide and its predecessor from 2015 inspired a full bi-annual effort to offer insights into what marketing costs across a range of disciplines and executional needs. Please see the main Marketing Pricing Guide menu to see updated information from 2017 and 2019 surveys.

What does marketing cost? A lot of people ask that question. I know because the most visited page on my website is a post call the 2015 Pricing Guide to Getting Marketing done. But 2015 was two years ago. What has changed? What’s the same?

More importantly, how much do I need to spend to get marketing done?

So I’ve revised that marketing pricing guide with this. These expectations are based on my experience navigating the marketing world as a consultant, senior vice-president at a digital marketing and public relations firm, brand-side vice-president overseeing much of the marketing efforts and consulting with agency partners and consultants, understanding and working with many software companies in the marketing space and having relationships at all levels — large, medium and small businesses.

Marketing Pricing Guide - Prepare your budgetKeep in mind there are varying degrees of scope and involvement needed by each individual business. Each project changes the parameters, so these numbers are just a guide, not the response to an RFP. As indicated in the first version of this marketing pricing guide, you may need everything from a strategist to devise a plan, manage execution, measure, then optimize your efforts. Or you may just need a copywriter to help you with some blog posts.

Also, there’s a vast difference between a designer and a web developer, a copywriter and a community manager, a public relations consultant and an advertising creative. So understand that by “marketing” we’re talking about a vast array of communications tasks, professionals and capabilities.

As I said back then, at the end of a full needs assessment you may find that you need 10 different marketing consultants/advisors/agencies to help you do different things optimally. At that point, it becomes a question of priority and budget.

But based on what I know, here’s what you can likely expect to pay for various marketing services. Please! Add to the list with your experiences in the comments.

Marketing Research

No marketing effort is optimally efficient without some degree of market research. Yes, much of this can be collected from your own internal knowledge of your customers, target audience, competition and industry. But the more you know, the smarter your marketing decisions.

Still, market research can range from an informal customer survey you build that costs only time, to a full-on consumer research study commissioned to get specific on understanding an audience.

What You’ll Pay: For a custom research study, expect anywhere from $20,000 and beyond. Secret shopper programs are also great research but are also custom and will run you in the thousands of dollars, typically. For the online version of that – conversation research – a good one will run you $3,000 -$5,000. (And yes, my day job is doing this, so please do drop me a line!) To drop a question or two in a national survey (think Gallup Poll), you’ll pay $1,000-$5,000, depending on the sample size, scope, etc. Of course, you can also develop your own questionnaire and send an intern to the mall for whatever it is you pay the intern. Just ask the mall’s permission to do it first.

Agency Partners

Agencies can be broken down a million ways from Sunday. There are ad agencies, PR firms, digital agencies, SEO shops, web development firms and even printing companies. The awful part of agencies is that most sell themselves as far more than what they are truly good at. It’s their job to say, “Yes! We can do that!” When they hang up, they often then say, “Oh shit! We have to go find someone who can do that!”

Most traditional advertising agencies and PR firms suck at digital. They make up for it by farming out the digital work to digital marketing or web development shops and marking up that work. So, you pay more. But you also get a partner who is hopefully going to ensure the work is consistent and has strategic ties throughout each consumer touch point.

PR firms aren’t as bad, but many do sell themselves as running the gamut when in reality they just pitch media and outsource everything else, again costing you more than you should pay. The truly integrated agencies and firms will have known practice leaders in specific disciplines and well-staffed departments that focus on PR or social or digital or mobile, etc.

(For the record, I refer business to a number of agency friends and partners, but only based on my own assessment of who would be a good fit for them. Yes, I sometimes have referral agreements that pay me a little commission for that point, but I’ve never recommended an agency to anyone based on anything other than I thought they’d be a great fit for the need. If I don’t have a good fit for you, I’ll tell you. Contact me if you’re looking.)

What You’ll Pay: The best way to think of the consultant/agency world is by hourly rate. The “blended rate” is a nice benchmark to ask for in an agency. This is an average hourly rate you’ll pay for access to anyone’s time who works on your business. You may get the services of a $50 an hour proofreader right along side a $250 per hour global strategists, but you’re going to pay a blended rate for both of, say $125.

The blended rate depends on a lot of things. It changes by depth and breadth of the agency, the scope of work they’re being asked to perform, the geographic market they’re in and perhaps even the industry you’re in. A good, experienced, professional advertising agency in a medium to large market is going to have a blended rate between $100 and $200 per hour. In Louisville, $125-$150 is a solid blended rate for agencies like Doe-Anderson, Scopecchio, Power Creative – the bigger agencies in town. In New York or Chicago, the BBDOs and TBWA\Chiat\Day’s of the world are probably going to be more expensive … closer to $200 per hour.

In my honest opinion, if you’re paying more than $200 per hour for an agency, you can find a better deal out there in smaller markets where overhead, real estate and champagne in the break room aren’t issues.

This means, though, that you’re paying that for a team of people to work on your business, not that you’re going to pay no more than $125 per hour for a 40 hour work week. You might pay $125 per hour for a 40 hour work week for 12 people! So depending on size and scope of your marketing needs with that agency, expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $50,000 and up for larger scopes, per month. And that’s just for the staff member’s time and expertise. You’ll also have to budget for production costs, media buys and the like.

But many agencies will also price out your work based on the project. This “project-based pricing” is still typically based on a blended rate. They’re just guessing how many hours they’ll spend accomplishing the goals. Build a website? Think $10,000 or so from a small web development firm and for a blog or simple site. Go up to hundreds of thousands for a big, global site with e-commerce and database tie-ins and so on.

Advertising campaigns are also full of hidden costs. You’ll pay $5-10K per month for a couple months to develop a campaign with medium to large agencies, then you’ll have to pay the production costs — collateral printing, talent for the TV commercial, audio editing fees … A national TV spot might cost you $1 MM just to produce. That doesn’t count the purchase of the air time to actually have people see it.

Local market TV production is far cheaper, but if you have a good ad agency involved, they’re going to insist you invest in quality which will drive your price up. The good news is that it can also drive up the reaction, conversion, etc.

And for you brand managers who think you’re clever and want to engage an agency on a revenue share or pay-for-performance basis? You’re just ignorant to the realities of what marketing partners bring to the table. Whether the campaign works or not, agencies still have to pay the dozen people working on your business and the overhead associated with them. When you’re dealing with more than one person’s work, that’s just not practical.

And don’t let the prices above scare you. The smaller the agency, the smaller the market, the lesser the experience, the lesser the per-month cost. But also, the fewer people and lesser time spent on you.


[focusright]If you want to pay less than $20 per hour for something, outsource it overseas and hope the quality doesn’t suck. Otherwise, pony up. It’s your marketing, not the neighbor’s kid cutting your grass.[/focusright]

While there is a gray area between agencies and consultants for the boutique and 2-3 person consulting shops, you can assume they’ll be somewhere between what is mentioned above and what I’ll cover here. The independent consultant can be a boon for your marketing efforts. Typically, you’re hiring a sort of strategic or tactical lead for your project or programs. You’re paying for their expertise and time to actively work on your brand.

What you’re not paying for – and will thus be billed through for, should these be required – are the other people or disciplines you’ll need to pull it all off. A strategic consultant isn’t likely to design your brochure or website. They’re going to hire someone to do that for you with their supervision. So there will be additional costs.

Certainly, you can hire a person to just write your press releases or design your brochures, but we’ll cover them in the Do-ers section below.

Think of a consultant as another brain on your team to help you make decisions, manage or lead projects and coordinate what you need done. Everyone else is a do-er (rather than manager or thinker).

What You’ll Pay: Again, depending on the market, experience, scope, etc., you can expect anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour. There are a few exceptions, of course. If you have a subject matter expert with significant national, global or enterprise experience, you may see an hourly rate more in line with agency rates. My independent consulting rate is $175 per hour. I’ve used a PR consultant in a mid-tier market before who charged me $85 per hour. That’s pretty close to what you’d need to be a modestly experienced, good consultant in Louisville. For bigger markets or experience levels, inch closer to the $100 to $125 range.


Sometimes you just want someone to write your blog posts, respond to people on Twitter without much thought to strategy, turn your sales deck into a brochure for customers and the like. When the task is more tactic than strategy, you can find people out there to do the work.

From community managers to graphic designers and copywriters to media relations pitch artists, the marketing world has dozens of this sub-set of consultants. They like doing the work. They’re good at it and with some direction they can be very good for you.

What You’ll Pay: $20 to $75 per hour, depending on experience, size and scope. If you want to pay less than $20 per hour for something, outsource it overseas and hope the quality doesn’t suck. Otherwise, pony up. It’s your marketing, not the neighbor’s kid cutting your grass.

Software Costs

Marketing technology and software costs are an entire category of their own. My man Ian Cleary even catalogs them over at his place. G2 Crowd is another great resource for finding the tech to work for you.

To get your head wrapped around the marketing software segment of your budget expectations, think of all the things software might help you do:

  • Project management
  • Asset management
  • Internal communications
  • Budgeting, invoicing and finance
  • Content management
  • Publishing
  • Social media management
  • Website management
  • Website analytics
  • Social analytics
  • Email marketing
  • Customer relationship management
  • Marketing automation
  • Market research
  • Social listening
  • Customer service management
  • Human resources management
  • Digital media management
  • Layout and design
  • Video production
  • Audio production

I could go on. It’s ridiculous to try and quantify all that is out there and all that is possible. But the point of this is to know what you’re going to spend, so here goes:

Most of the above list of softwares can be had for either free or low-cost. But you get what you pay for. I can use< for free to do social listening, but it’s not supported, hasn’t changed in seven years, only goes back 30 days and has rudimentary reporting. (Editor’s Note: It’s now offline and not even working. If I find another free one, I’ll replace the reference.) Then you’ve got advanced listening platforms like NetBase, Crimson Hexagon or Sysomos that range from $2,500 to $5,000 a month just to get started, you may have to pay 12-months in advance and really are intended for large companies with complex listening needs.

And that’s just social listening.

The filter you should put software through is pretty simple though: How much time does this software save to accomplish what which can help me drive revenue and how much revenue can I produce with the investment. Getting close to an answer there will help you know what you can afford to spend.

I personally wouldn’t spend more than $100 per month per person/user license on things like CRM or social media management software. Email marketing can be had under that price range unless you get into sending tens of thousands of emails per month. Marketing automation software is going to be pricey because it can replicate lead gen and lead nurturing automatically, so expect $500 a month or more to start. As for measurement, the venerable Katie Paine says 10 percent of your marketing budget should be spent on measuring your worth. I’ve never had a problem with that level. So for each $1000 you spend, drop $100 on some analytics software or analysis to show what you did (and what you can do better).

What Did I Miss?

Certainly, this is a broad view and not 100 percent complete. There are specialists and specialty agencies and even high-level consultants I’ve certainly left off. I’m sure more than one person in the consultant or do-er bucket may take umbrage with that I’ve carved out here. So, go ahead … what did I get wrong?

For those you’ve worked with at any of these levels, what has your experience been? What do you get and how much do you have to pay?

The comments, as always, are yours.

See the main Marketing Pricing Guide menu to see updated information the 2019 survey.

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