How Do You Calculate a Startup PR Retainer?

Public relations doesn’t do itself any favors when it comes to budgeting for startups.

It’s notoriously hard to measure.

Its success is often unpredictable.

Spending more won’t (always) bring proportional success.

And those monthly retainers. What are those all about?

In short, startup PR is so mysterious, there’s a smell of witchcraft about it. That’s why Propllr works so hard to be transparent in everything that we do.

From biweekly update meetings with startup founders to a spreadsheets showing clients the exact stage of outreach and notes for every reporter we contact, we aim to make our work easy to understand.

But back to those retainers.

Propllr specializes in startups and works exclusively with innovative, entrepreneurial, growth-oriented companies. Because these kinds of groups budget very carefully and very much value predictability wherever they can get it, we utilize a flat rate fee structure.

This “underpays” us when our activity is way higher than what we expected, but over time it’s a fair deal all around.

So that retainer number. Where does it come from?

When we develop a PR fee structure for a prospective client, we look at the following factors:

1 - The size of the audience and general relevance of your story

Does your startup help people live longer lives? Everyone (almost) wants to hear about that. Has your startup found a way to cost-effectively desalinate water? That could change the world. In both of those cases, you have a big audience and a relevant story.

But what if you have created a better rotor for commercial drones? Drones are cool, so there’s certainly some interest out there, but one would argue that the audience for those stories may not be huge.

The larger the audience, the more competition your startup’s story faces. That means we have to do more work to craft and target the right story to the right people.

2 - The tactics required for success

Some programs - particularly those in the B2C space - require a ton of outreach. And done right, that takes a lot of time, as no good PR firm should spam or bulk-send emails to reporters. It can take one or more working days to send out a new product announcement to reporters and bloggers - if each email speaks to that reporter’s needs and interests.

3 - The complexity of a your story

Sometimes the most innovative startups have the simplest stories. Other times (such as bitcoins or some sort of nuclear-fusion gizmo) not so much. And even when the story is simple, it can require a lot of strategic thought about messaging and positioning, as many startups take counter-intuitive approaches or are turning conventional wisdom on its head. Those need extra work in messaging and positioning, and more time spent educating audiences.

4 - Our expertise

It’s not unusual for someone to tell a service provider, “As long as you get it done, I don’t care if you’re done in an hour.” I don’t know that that’s ever been true, but it does speak to the value of expertise. In our years serving startups in Chicago and around the country (and Germany and Sweden and Canada), we’ve built up a track record in a number of areas, and that expertise helps us add value, which also impacts the fee structure.

5 - Your budget

This seems almost too obvious to mention, but every program has a potential scope - that is, the total possible work we can do to increase the credibility and visibility of a client. But few of our clients have the budget to go “all in.” We work with each client individually to make sure whatever available resources they have are used as productively as possible.

That said, productivity per dollar for PR is a parabolic curve, where the x axis is the fee and the y axis is productivity. If you spend too little or too much, your productivity per dollar will fall. As long as the fees are moving along that sweet spot at the top of the curve, you should be fine.

Whether you work with Propllr or select another agency or your startup, the above factors should help clarify the mystery that is the PR retainer.

And if it doesn’t, let me know - could be another blog post in the making.

Onward and Upward!