The lines between public relations, content marketing, and in some regards, digital marketing have blurred over the course of the last decade. Now advertising agencies are dabbling in landing earned media coverage, PR firms are creating digital media buying strategies, and digital shops are pitching media outlets for backlinks and SEO benefits.

If knowing what to expect from a PR firm, and the budget you should allot for it, seemed tricky in the past, it's become even more complex in recent years. So what capabilities should you expect out of your PR agency, and what should it cost you?

Budgets, like costs of living, vary wildly depending on location, industry, supply and demand, and the list goes on. For instance, you can typically expect to pay a premium to work with a Silicon Valley or Manhattan-based PR firm that specializes in a thriving niche market like tech or health care.

But does a higher price tag guarantee premium performance? Sometimes, but you better know what premium PR service looks like, and ultimately what you want out of the relationship.

The right relationships

Starting with the basics, you naturally want your PR team to have extensive connections within your industry, as well as complimentary industries. They should know all the key players and, if they don't have the relationships you're after, they should easily be able to develop them.

Don't limit this to media connections, either. Depending on your goals, it might be important for them to have connections to local organizations for speaking opportunities, or government and economic authorities for collaborations, or simply with other industry leaders for establishing partnerships. Determine what your goals are and if the PR team can pull the right levers to help you achieve them.

Another important note here, find out how willing they are to share those connections with you. Some prefer to hold their relationships close to the vest, but you may want an agency willing to be transparent and generous in sharing their contacts.

PR in the digital age

As I mentioned, the landscape of PR and marketing has changed drastically over the last several years --no longer two siloed disciplines. For us, it was important to find a PR team that understood content marketing and how to leverage it to further what they were doing for us on the media outreach side of things and vice versa.

If we're creating a piece of content, whether a webinar, ebook, infographic, long-form blog post, and the like, we want to get as much mileage out of it as possible. A savvy PR agency will be able to identify other opportunities for that content, either for cross posting or pitching out to other media outlets, or leveraging it to land speaking opportunities, interviews or meetings with the right people.

Content plays a key role in nearly everything we do today. From the simplest invitation to connect with a member of a target account buying committee on LinkedIn to the most elaborate, data-driven ebook--content is king. Make sure your PR team has a content marketing pedigree.

Results and returns

Traditionally PR efforts have been a challenge to measure, however, there are numerous tools at our disposal that have made that an issue of the past. Your PR team should work with you to establish meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs), then actively report on the effectiveness of your combined efforts at moving the needle.

Determine the metrics that matter to you, then ask if your PR firm can accurately report on them. For some that may be increased website traffic and more time on the page, social sentiment, or even how many pitches they've sent and what the results and sentiments were around those.

You should expect more than just actionable reports, too. You're paying for public relations expertise--that should include insights and guidance related to the data being presented. Be cautious with anyone who can't clearly, confidently explain why the data looks the way it does and how their contribution impacts it.

Forming a true partnership

A good PR partner will be like an extension of your team. You'll want to have a solid point of contact at the agency, one who will be responsive and who truly understands your brand, speaks your language, and shares a passion for the work you do.

On that note, culture fit is also key. Do they align with your core values? Do they intimately understand your vision and company culture--because that's what it takes to effectively tell your story and get others excited about your brand.

You want a PR partner that truly believes in what your brand is about. If they don't, they'll have a tough time getting others to get behind your brand, which is exactly what you hired them to do.

In most cases, the old adage, "You get what you pay for" rings true. But that doesn't always mean you need to partner with the most expensive PR firm. Determine what is important to you, and that may mean putting a premium on one or two of the areas mentioned.