A good PR person understands how to evaluate a media outlet's editorial environment. Here's a simplified example of what that means. There are a ton of magazines out there. Some cover circles. Some cover squares. Some cover triangles. You can determine what subject matters a magazine covers by examining their editorial calendar and reading the publication from cover to cover.
The next step is to identify key reporters that cover the right beat or subject matter. If you are selling a circle product, you not only need to identify all media outlets that cover circles, but also specific reporters the have written stories about circles. A good PR person has a nationwide database that can automatically sort reporters based on this criteria. A typical search will turn up 150 to 300 reporters that cover any particular subject matter.
In order to pitch a story to a reporter, it is important to not only understand a magazine's editorial environment, but also to understand what kind of stories each reporter writes on a weekly basis. This requires at minimum reading the last three stories they wrote.
Most writers write with a formula or pattern. Learning their style allows a PR person to anticipate what kind of questions might get asked during an interview. It also allows a PR person to understand how to pitch story ideas that are in tune with what reporters cover on a regular basis.
The mistake that most inexperienced people make when trying to do PR on their own is failing to understand a media outlet's editorial mission as well as pitching stories to reporters that are irrelevant. Going back to circles, squares and triangles. It is a complete waste of time to pitch a square story to a circle magazine. Readers who make circle buying and purchase decisions have zero interest in square products, thus a square pitch sent to a circle reporter will fall on deaf ears and be deleted.
Imagine how much time it would take to browse through a outlet's media kit, find the publication's masthead & editorial calendar, identify key reporters and then read their last three stories. And then based on all this information write a personalized pitch that is a good match for what they cover. For fun, we'll say this process takes at least 30 minutes. If you are working a media list of 150 reporters that would take 4,500 minutes or 75 hours. And this doesn't include all the follow up once a pitch has been made or the time it takes to build a press kit prior to the PR campaign.
Junior PR people make $35k per year. This breaks down to ~$18 an hour. Experienced pros make $100k or around $50 an hour. Hiring a PR firm should be considered like hiring a full time employee. You get what you pay for.
This should help people understand how much work is involved as well as how much a good PR person's internal hourly rate is calculated. Add a PR firm's overhead to the equation and you'll find that average billing rates hover around $100 to $300 per hour.
Paying $2,880 a month gets you a PR person straight out of college. Paying $8,320 gets you a seasoned consultant. An agency at $100 per hour will charge $16,000 to cover their overhead.
Hope this helps. My number is 512-627-6622 if you'd like to learn more.