Whether you’ve just landed your first big chunk of seed funding or closed your Series A—that’s an incredible accomplishment. Outside investment for your company is a great vote of confidence and catalyst for continued growth. Congratulations!
But as several of our team members can attest to (limping into the office after completing the NYC Marathon last month), while 13.1 may be halfway, the road ahead is even tougher than what came before.
For startups, you can think of early fundraising much the same way. It’s in this first stage where you’ll have to answer tough questions about your business and probably interact with press for the first time. Your leadership and your approach to solving a problem or offering consumers (or businesses or even government) something better will be up for some public scrutiny.
Raising funds validates that you’re doing something right–and it means a change may be coming, which gets press to pay attention. They are looking to highlight what’s coming next, how a new upstart will disrupt the established players in a specific industry or change the user experience for consumers. You want to make the case that your company is best positioned to do one or more of those.
You’ll need to be prepared to share more than just your number. Sure, highlighting the amount you raised will help land placements in startup newsletters, but having a substantive perspective to share can help drive more meaningful mentions and even a feature coverage.
Your founder, internal PR person or agency will need to explore all the elements that make your company unique. Having a strong and compelling origin story is critical. Why did the founder start this company? What inspired them to do it beyond making money? If you feel your origin story is not that interesting—it’s worth spending the time to workshop it, either internally or with an outside partner and jazzing it up.
Was there a compelling personal situation that led to a new idea? The origin of the early technology that led to the creation of the snowmobile is incredibly tragic yet moving. Joseph-Armand Bombardier lost his son to appendicitis in the 1930’s with no way to get him to the hospital during the cold and snowy Canadian winter. It was this tragedy that drove him to innovate and find a way to make a machine that can travel in conditions where it was never before possible–albeit too late to save his son.
You want to build a narrative that appeals to emotions like Bombardier’s story—not numbers and percentages. You’re not leading an earnings call, you’re selling your company’s vision!
Along with your origin story, you’ll need a 30-second elevator pitch. You probably have some version of this from your investor conversations, so you may just need to tighten it up. Some elements of your investor pitch will be useful with media, including explaining how you intend to drive revenue for your new company. Another useful way to think about your elevator pitch for press is through the Problem/Solution lens. How quickly can you explain the problem and your solution to fix it? If your company is serving a very narrow need, you still want to find a way to explain in a straightforward way why the situation you identified is a problem in the first place.
You also likely don’t want to share everything you relayed to potential investors with media, given you should expect that today’s press stories will be accessible in perpetuity. Once you’re set, now it’s time to engage the media. This is where your team needs to think about how your company or offering fits into the existing media landscape. Few companies on their own can get reporters to cover a topic in isolation. It’s a tough media environment and reporters are stretched thin, whether it’s regional papers, broadcast or online blogs.
So if you’re not regularly reading general news, it’s worth carving out time to actually enjoy your morning dose of caffeine and read the paper. At the end of the day, the goal is to get in front of your audience(s) wherever they are. What’s grabbing the headlines in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Bloomberg? How about Fast Company, TechCrunch and Wired? And don’t forget about cable news. As you’re reading and watching the news, think about what media publications your investors and potential customers are likely to follow. Perhaps it’s a very-focused industry trade publication or regional press in a specific city. If that’s the case, you’ll want to make sure you know what those outlets are covering too.
When it comes to breaking news, we think of moments this way. If you have specific expertise relevant to breaking news, that’s great and that sets you apart from the pack, but you need to move fast. You’ll want to get a brief summary of your insights (bullets are great) and a brief bio to media contacts letting them know you’re available to offer commentary. Brevity is key. The clubs you were in during college won’t help seal the deal. Also, do not worry about playing up your company or product. Use the media hook to get the opportunity and you’ll likely have a chance during an interview to touch on what you’re bringing to the market and mention your fundraising success. If a note to a reporter feels too promotional, they won’t respond. They probably won’t even read through the first sentence.
Many of our clients fall under the Day 3 category—there’s no shame there. This is the moment when a story is still in the news but there are no new developments coming in and something else will soon occupy the media space. Breaking down what it all means and what comes next following a major news moment can be a good time to offer reporters informal coffee meetings or background conversations.
Since the majority of media outreach fits under Day 3, this moment is more competitive and it can be harder to break through. That’s why your elevator pitch and creative origin story will be key. Also, strive to offer insights that aren’t obvious and aren’t being said by everyone else.
One of the biggest things we tell our clients is that a successful media program takes time. Unless you or your company already have a big profile for some other reason, there will not suddenly be a wave of reporters eager to hear from you just because you raised a few million dollars.
With that said, you should go full-steam ahead engaging the press following your fundraising milestone. It makes your point of view a bit more relevant and could give media an interesting hook to highlight how your company is poised to disrupt, evolve or grow an entire industry.
You can expect media placements to slowly pick up over the course of weeks and months. While it can seem like an eternity for a new company, this is the reality. Over the past few years, we’ve helped our clients announce over a billion dollars in funding, and from that experience, I can share that some of the best placements have taken months between our first conversation with a reporter and the final publication of a story.
If you need high-visibility quick wins, advertorial and digital advertising can be useful tactics alongside earned media.
Every company has unique communications objectives and is at a different point in their business journey. Whether you’re not even thinking about funding yet, announced your first round or are preparing to launch a new product or rebrand, you want to drive the message about your company and deliver it clearly. Simple, straightforward and consistent—that’s what gets the job done.