Startup PR 101: key takeaways

Jonathan Ellis
5 min readSep 15, 2020

On August 26th 2020, Sandalphon Capital and hosted a Startup PR 101 webinar, part of the 2020 programming series, featuring panelists Josh Inglis, founder and CEO of Propllr and Heather Farr Edwards, Senior Manager of Brand & Communications at Reverb. Propllr is a Chicago-based PR and content marketing agency for startups & innovators and Reverb is an online marketplace for new, used, and vintage music gear.

We covered three core topics: 1) what is PR and why is it important to early stage companies, 2) how to build relationships, and 3) what to do and when.

We’ve captured the key tactical takeaways below:

What is PR & why is it important for early stage companies?

Companies use PR to build trust, confidence and awareness with their consumers and in the marketplace. PR encompasses a variety of things including, media relations, which is the bread and butter of most PR firms, award nominations, speaking opportunities, and analyst relations (typically found in the B2B world).

What it’s not: a replacement for sales. PR is best looked at as a layer of “air cover” over all other company efforts. While PR can bring in direct sales, it is best to look at it as a tool to work in tandem with other departments such as sales and HR, to help them do their jobs more effectively. PR can help a sales person get in the door more easily, or a landing page to convert faster. It is important to understand that it doesn’t replace sales so that companies aren’t disappointed by their PR efforts.

How to build effective relationships

Given that the “R” in PR stands for “Relations” it is critical when planning an effective PR strategy, to think about the relationships you will build as more than merely transactional. There are three primary parts to building effective relationships with the press — 1) research, 2) relationships, and 3) relevance (for more a detailed explanation, read Propllr’s DIY PR for Startups and How to Build a Media List).


The best way to get a reporter’s attention is to show them you put in the time and research to understand what they cover. Start by building a list of ~10 reporters that are most relevant to your company and industry. This can include reporters from trade publications, local publications, and tech publications. Utilize keywords and Google News to search and see who is writing about what topics. Search for competitors, and/or complementary businesses. Study your competitor’s press pages to understand the context of certain reporter’s coverage and why they wrote the story. We recommend creating bookmarks for each reporter’s author page, and go in once a week to see what they have written.


Get to know these reporters as people. Become an authentic fan of their work. Read, engage and share their stories. Say “Hi” not “Buy” by sending an email intro that offers to be a resource on a topic they cover, rather than pushing your specific story.


If you put in the time to do research and build the relationship, this third step will come naturally. You will understand what matters to the reporter. Tell them something new — about you (funding) or better, about what they cover even if not about you and your company (industry expertise). Tell them something that’s the opposite of what they think to be true. Tell them something secret/ Give them data no one else has. They are less inclined to cover something that has already been reported on.

What to do and when

Companies should start DIY PR immediately. It is never too early to start building relationships. Even if you are pre-launch, you can begin by reaching out to reporters and “priming the pump” by letting them know what you are working on and that you are a resource for a certain topic. Founders should also start by doing PR themselves, even before hiring for an internal PR role. Reporters like to hear from the founders and CEOs directly. You also don’t want PR to become too disproportionate of the overall marketing spend at a company’s earliest stages. Series A is typically the stage at which companies may look to bring in an external PR agency — once they have strong product-market fit, have built a sales pipeline and have several other marketing activities going on which PR can help support.

Additional Q&A with Josh Inglis

Should you self-publish on Medium?

Yes, go for it. First, the more you write out what you’re doing the better you’ll get at talking about what you’re doing. Second, it’s free, and there’s actually SEO value in doing so. Third, you might also want to post the same thing on your own blog and LinkedIn. Google won’t credit you with content on three sites when it’s all the same, but what we know right now is that they won’t penalize you, either. Fourth, Medium (or your blog or LinkedIn) is a great way to start getting the word out even before you’re ready. I’ve seen companies that use it as a way to talk about product development, sharing what they’re working on, how it’s going, and what they’ve learned.

Should you tag reporters or publications in your tweets?

You could certainly do both, but no one at the publication will notice or engage, so there’s no need to go beyond the reporter’s own handle.

What should you send a reporter after the first email intro?

It depends. Here are some options:

  • Suggest a story angle — “From reading your stuff I thought you might be interested to learn about….”
  • An update on your business.
  • Sharing something insightful you heard that could relate their work.
  • A heads up of news you expect to announce.
  • A case study about your work with a customer.
  • A complimentary email about a piece they wrote.
  • An email digging deeper into a piece they wrote — respectfully filling in gaps that you think were there.
  • Actual hard news you might have that’s relevant to that reporter — funding, partnership, customer win, etc.

What does PR pricing typically look like?

It really is quite a range — part of that is based on the firm and the market, part of that is based on the budget and scope. Freelancers can be had for one-off projects as-needed for $100 an hour or less. They tend to do project work, versus being “always on.” Mid-sized firms live in the $10k to $15k range, and will often start adding additional services and/or pushing more “strategic campaigns” to validate their prices. Very large national firms are looking for clients with budgets that start in the $15k/mo range — their business model requires it. As for Propllr, our average retainer is $7k/mo, and our range is $6k to $8k (our clients tend to be around a Series A+ with product/market fit (revenues) and a marketing team and program in place). For all of the above, if you’re getting a firm in NY or SF, add 50%.

More information

You can access the full webinar recording here.

If you are interested in learning more about public relations and how it can benefit your company or fund, contact one of our speakers below, and visit Onward & Upward, where Propllr shares their PR advice for startups.

Thank you to our 2020 sponsors — TriNet, Signature Bank, Neal Gerber Eisenberg, Calculated Risk Advisors, Objective Paradigm, and Carta — for your support in making MTC2020 and this webinar possible!



Jonathan Ellis

Sandalphon Capital, a Pre-Seed to Series A stage Midwest/Midcontinent-focused early stage VC firm