Experiential Marketing Insider: Why Promo Agency Pricing isn’t Definitive


As a seasoned Promotional Staffing Coordinator of 7 years, unsurprisingly, the first and most certain question I’m asked by potential and returning clients is “what is the cost?”; to which I am unable to provide an immediate answer in most cases. It’s an answer that will determine the outcome of our business partnership, and yet the topic of pricing has become increasingly complicated due to the saturation of promotional staffing market. To operate within the given marketing budget, most clients are likely asking this same question to several promo agencies. However, it’s as ambiguous as going to five different restaurants and asking “how much is your food?” and just as ill-advised as to go with the lowest bidder.

This is very much an industry where you get what you pay for. Many promotional representatives and brand ambassadors simultaneously work for multiple agencies as sub-contractors. The agency that provides its clients with the lowest bid will, in turn, offer the lowest wages. When wages decrease, so do the staffing pool and quality of staff. The highest-performing staff will likely pursue a higher paying job either by another client, or with another agency. In fact, there are agencies offering beautiful, experienced promotional staff and sending out inexperienced retirees in their place. These are the agencies who have undercut their competition and are now providing nothing more than then first respondent of a classified ad on their clients behalf.

Generally speaking, promo staff prices in Canada are in the $30-$40/hour range (fees included). To best execute your experiential marketing campaign, I will require specific details to negotiate and to provide an accurate quote for your business. Before you book your first promotional agency, here are some essential variables that will influence promo staff prices:

  • Most importantly, please give me an idea of the budget you’re working with. So many times I’ve spent hours liaising with potential clients, trying to come up with a fair price for their request, only to find out in the end that their budget wouldn’t even cover my costs, let alone time.
  • Where is the event? Rate range varies from region to region. Rural areas are far more difficult to staff and often require paid travel.
  • What time is the event? If it requires driving at 3 am, chances are there will be a travel per diem.
    Is it a private event and if so will it be held in a private residence? This doesn’t come up too often but sending brand ambassadors to residential events comes with a lot more hesitation. We usually require a minimum amount of staff for safety reason, pay them slightly more and ask for 100% upfront.
  • What are the uniform/outfit requirements? Bikini-clad roller-skating servers are going to be paid significantly more than street teams in jeans and branded tops. Mascots will also be compensated differently.
  • What is the total number of hours/staff? There is definitely some wiggle room if you’re booking 100 hours but my business and my staff will suffer when I start to discount 10 hour contracts.
  • Are you willing to sign an agreement right now, well ahead of time? If so, I’m happy to negotiate. Last-minute staffing requires tight deadlines and subsequently more work.
  • What payment terms work for you? If a lower-than-average rate has been negotiated, payment will almost definitely be expected upfront and/or immediately following an event.

For on-going agreements such as tastings, demos and street teams, here are some other details to consider:

  • How many shifts/hours/staff per week or month will you be booking? This can be a ballpark answer but this information is imperative when deciding or negotiating a price.
  • Will you require product financing?
  • Will you require training, materials and/or delivery? These are additional costs to be considered.

To provide your business with the best quality of service that suits your budget, a promotional agency needs to compensate our staff fairly. In order to stay competitive, most agencies choose not to disclose general prices on their websites and discuss rates by negotiation. If you are seeking out multiple agencies, it is the best to approach the matter in an ethical and transparent manner. If you come across a competitor offering a similar solution at a close price, please let me know. I’d love to match their rate or work with you to improve the original terms/services. Shopping around becomes detrimental if a client is considering price as their only basis or creating a bidding war – something I’ve seen happen and seen falsified many times in my career. When you have two or more agencies undercutting each other to obtain the contract, everyone involved suffers the consequences.

Please help us find a detailed solution that you will be satisfied with while remaining mindful of the expenditures, pressures, risk and diligent effort we take on in order to fulfill that satisfaction.

Proud to be a digital nomad

If you asked me where I live I’d try my best to find an answer that would make you comfortable but the truth is “home” is not any one place to me.  In July 2012 I made the decision to travel around the world.  Exactly 8 months later, on March 20th 2013, I had turned my previously home-based business into a remote-based business, sold almost all of my possessions and left on the journey of a lifetime.  Since that day I’ve been lucky enough to travel across 3 continents.  I’ve lived in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Bali and spent months on tropical beaches throughout Asia.  The one and only constant in my non-conventional life is my job.


I consider myself extremely lucky to live in an age where technology allows for freedom.  That said many of the people I’ve travelled with were surprised to learn just how much of my time is spent working.  Buzz Promotions was successful before I left but I had no idea if my success would continue to grow, or even if it was possible to uphold, once I left Canada.  On average I spend 20-30 hours per week in cafes working off Wi-Fi.  You will rarely see me on the beach without my IPhone and spare battery.  The truth is my nomadic life, freedom, flying to a new country every few months; these are the things that motivate me.  My job is my freedom therefore I hold it in the highest regard, perhaps more so than I did before I left.

One of the biggest career challenges I’ve faced is the reaction to working remotely.  Of course there have been clients and staff who’ve supported me and I am grateful that they have.  There’s also been a fair share of eye-brow raising, hesitation and non-acceptance.  I’ve come to terms with people not understanding my constantly moving life-style or the ins and outs of a business with virtually no in-person interactions.  Even though I accept these hesitations, I cannot personally relate to them.  With Skype, VoIP phone services, on-line banking, Dropbox and social media I can honestly say I’m MORE connected with my staff and clients now than I was when I was working from my home office in Canada.  Of course I can’t be physically present for events but I make a point of being engaged to the fullest extent from the other side of the world.  Even in Canada, a lot of the time I was dealing with people in other provinces.  It wasn’t until after I left that this became a concern for some individuals which in-turn prompted me to keep everything as under wraps as possible. 10297661_10202593180688612_4707537901734429805_n-300x225

Over the last two years I’ve run into many like-minded people, including several associates from Canada.  I’ve found myself surrounded by opportunities to grow my business and provide valuable information/opportunities to my existing clients and staff.  Recently I created an Australian branch of Buzz Promotions during my time down under.  I’ve scoped out chocolates in Belgium and leather boots in Bangkok amongst many others.  I made a point to reach out to the owners of these small businesses to create a lasting network that literally spans the globe.  I believe these connections are assets to me and I am an asset to them.  This goes for all my existing contacts “back home” in Canada as well.  I’ve decided to use this blog as a platform to inspire and teach others based on my own experience.  If somebody is hesitant to hire me because our physical distance makes them uncomfortable that’s okay.  If the last two years of travel have taught me anything it’s that you should find connections, both personal and professional, that align with your goals, beliefs and opinions.

by Andrea Johnstone