One of the advantages of being a leaner startup/ scaleup is agility. When a shock strikes the landscape you’re in, you should be better situated than most to move to higher ground and secure yourself for the opportunity ahead while larger lumbering competitors are still braced.
But when it comes to your communications strategy, you have to acknowledge that it’s dependent on the attention of your audience. And if you’re in what we call “unsexy tech” (B2B), that means your customers might be included in that audience still slowly acclimatising to the new world.
So how do you make the most of your ability to respond quickly, without wasting the effort by being totally out of sync with an audience that’s potentially still adapting?
Here’s some simple guidance based on our experience and what we’re hearing from founders and their customers in the midst of this struggle.
Good content IS thinking (and vice versa)
When you have limited resources, spending time thinking about what material you want to put out in the world could feel like a waste.
But it’s easy to forget that really great content requires really great concentration around a topic, which often brings opportunities for discovery and creation.
With so much of the commercial world on pause, this is a great time for the kind of deep thinking and consideration that creates value across everything from your product, to your go to market strategy, through to your content. Involve your team as much as possible.
It’s all part of the same picture. And some time off the treadmill to truly explore it is something that shouldn’t be wasted.
Reconsider your objectives
By now, it’s clear which deals have gone away for the short to medium term and aren’t coming back. But that doesn’t mean those relationships are gone.
The best organisations look at their sales process as one of developing and deepening relationships, which will eventually make you the obvious choice as a helpful partner. That objective can continue through this time, and indeed has been deepened in many cases by the uncertainty everyone is facing.
It’s time to ramp up your measurement and weighting of process in the start and middle of your sales lifecycle — perhaps including more stages, lengthening them, reconsidering what you have and what’s useful to share throughout.
Use this time to orient your sales team toward using content in these ways for the long game and those skills should pay off just as much when the world returns to normal.
Think about longer term plays that usually wouldn’t be feasible
How many times previously did you spend 6+ months on one mega piece of campaigning content?
People are busy, but this is a great opportunity to build up something large and valuable for when we return to normal times. If you managed to talk to 2x people a week in the next 3x months, that would be a resource of 25 interviews that you could assemble in useful content in various ways.
Think about how you can use the assets like relationships in your industry that don’t go away. Think about how you can create opportunities for exposure and connection among an audience possibly frustrated by their current lack of reach.
As they say, the only better time to start than yesterday is right now. This is a window any smart marketer finds themselves dreaming of in normal times.
Building a startup requires every founder to tackle areas where they have no experience. However, unfamiliarity can make those challenges seem harder than they really are.
A particularly good example is PR and Comms around funding. This might be one of the earliest events that feels like a natural time to approach the press.
The good news is, it’s also really simple to do yourself and you should be able to get as good results as any tech PR agency.
The secret lies in focus and simplicity.
A note about uncertainty
Media relations is a fundamentally uncertain discipline, especially early on. You could get all the technical aspects 100% spot on, and even have a great story — but sometimes fail to cut through on the day because there’s another big announcement or event that sucks the oxygen out of the room.
In situations with uncertain outcomes like this, it’s natural for some people to try and sink more and more hard work into preparation to maximise their odds. Unfortunately, this misunderstands the nature of the beast, and only makes it more painful if the dice happen not to roll in your favour on the day.
The best way to approach media relations is with focus on simplicity, and spread of your bets over time. Send a shorter initial pitch to a smaller group of just the right people. Make it really nice and easy for them to tell you they aren’t interested. Find multiple opportunities to make your introduction and increase their understanding of your business over time.
Your long term goal is to make it a more reliable and resilient process by gradually building relationships with the people whose job it is to write about companies like yours.
Now, how does this apply to your Series A?
The first important step is to realistically grade the “quality” of your story. This involves dimensions like:
- Investors — are they the top in your sector, with great portfolio, significant exits, ex-operators on the team, a platform? Or is it unknown/ pure finance, geographically obscure,
- Round value — Is this a big Series A? A confusing second seed round? A generally smaller “EU” Series A? Especially think about how you frame this with an eye on what you will be announcing next.
- Evidence — can you highlight big new customers, partnerships, breakthroughs in scale, user numbers or similar to support why people should pay attention?
Let’s say your business just raised the biggest cybersecurity Series A in Europe from the top VC in that area to deliver a project for the MOD.
This is a good story, because of how it relates to the strongest independent actors and context around you.
Now, the structure for a good pitch is extremely important. It looks like this:
* FACT 1: Who cares?
* FACT 2: Exhibit A
* FACT 3: Exhibit B
If you can’t get a journalist’s attention with this structure, you won’t get it by spending hours more on a press release.
Let’s go through how to make each section as compelling as possible:
This should be more than “CorpCo raises Series A”. That’s the “event”, not the story.
A good story requires tension. For example: “MaxCo Series A provides alternative to WhatsApp for Government”
That’s conflict, with a hero taking on the “big bad”. Equally you can create tension by challenging the reader’s existing beliefs — perhaps you are bringing a certain eco future forward, or achieving something most don’t think is possible.
Just the facts
The next section must now make good on the headline’s promise. Think of it like a lawroom drama: you’re standing in front of the jury you have put forward your argument, and now you must show the exhibits of evidence that support your case.
Fact 1 must make the headline real. Why would you be able to achieve this mission? What is the bigger picture this is part of?
For example: “MaxCo was established by the original WhatsApp team, to reverse the impact they had on society.”
Fact 2 might show your product’s reach today, geographically and at scale, or reference growth.
For example: “MaxCo tech is currently being used by 10M people, including the British, French and American Governments, growing 200% in the last 3x months.”
Fact 3 could be the “black and whites” — how much did you take, from who? Is there anything else you haven’t used yet that makes you stand out?
For example: “<INSERT BEST INVESTOR NAMES HERE> are leading the round, which raised an angel round from Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama.”
All you need to achieve with this pitch is a “yes” from the journalist. If they are interested, they will ask for more info, which you can provide — and in doing so, create specifically what they need.
Target with care
In reality, there are only a handful of journalists in the world who write about funding announcements.
What’s crucial with any list like this is you don’t just copy and paste it without thinking. Go and read what these people write — if you can’t find an article like the one you are expecting them to write about you, it’s not going to happen.
<< UPDATE SEPT 2022: THIS LIST IS OUT OF DATE, BUT THE ADVICE GENERALLY STANDS…>>
- Steve O’Hear, TechCrunch
- “My best sources don’t just send me their own pitches but act as tipsters for other news that they know I’ll be interested in.”
- “My personal mission is to make the UK/European tech startup industry more open and transparent. But I can only do that with your cooperation.”
- Amy Lewin, Sifted
- “Best by email. NEVER by phone. Please do my homework for me — explain to me what your company does in normal people language — but don’t assume that having an interesting founding story is enough. Why should I cover what your company is up to above the 100s of other startups that will pitch to me this week? What’s really so different, exciting, enlightening? What trends are you a part of?”
- Annelise Musgrove, Tech.eu
- Alara Basul, UKTN
- Paul Sawers, Venturebeat
- Lucinda Shen, Fortune Termsheet
- Iris Dorbian, Venture Capital Journal
- London focus
Briefing under embargo
This is the act of setting a date when the news will break and telling journalists ahead of time. This is helpful to journalists because it gives them time to make the story as good as possible — to interview people if they want to, to ask questions, to perform acts of journalism.
It also gives you a bit more flexibility in getting the story out there.
Your very first email should be along the lines of: “We are X and have a story coming up next week, are you happy to take a look under embargo.” Don’t send them any detail until you have that confirmation in writing.
The announcement itself
It’s worth having a central asset to promote in public. I don’t think it should be a press release. Why would you trap a good story in such a stuffy odd format? Nobody likes reading press releases, not even journalists — and once you have the pitch above, it covers off the key facts so they won’t get lost.
Instead, prepare a post for your website which is effectively the article you’d want someone else to write. Start with the problem and context to set the scene. Think about why this moment matters for ANYONE BUT YOU.
You can quote your investors in here (even better if you can quote from a post they have also published elsewhere.) And think about this linked relationship between the various assets on the day. It’s great if you can share a draft with the journalist and tell them the URL where it will go live, so they could link to it if they want.
There’s a lot more we could talk about… (Exclusives? Only if you have to. Quotes? Make sure they don’t repeat your other points, and don’t use cliched phrases like “excited”.)
… but for now, this should give you a fighting chance if you want to announce your own story.
We exist to question the assumptions that plague other agencies, and build something better for our partners.
Growth is a problem, and the most common solution only adds to it.
It’s easy to become numb to the language companies use when they describe themselves. And frankly, that’s because it’s often generic, superficial and hollow. You scratch below the surface and slip right through the gap.
So when we say Augur is the “entrepreneurial” communications partner, how does it make us a better choice for founders who want something stronger than the status quo?
What does it mean?
Curiosity delivers originality
If you don’t ask something different, you can’t find something new. Good questions create the junction to escape the obvious path and discover true inspiration instead.
When you follow your questions back to a source of meaning, it can inform everything you do next. That becomes the origin in your originality — a much more valuable tool than simple creativity, and one that shapes how you show that you see things differently.
effective, REWARDING, inventIVE
Entrepreneurship is about finding better ways to do things, not just whacking lowball outcomes so you meet a service level agreement.
Through systems like Augur Edits, Augur Unbound and Augur Wire, we are pioneering demonstrably different approaches to communications strategy. If you don’t realign the incentives, your behaviour won’t change and you’re just another agency pretending you matter.
The editor’s perspective
You hire us for our judgement and our honesty. To take a strong position requires confidence, imagination and an ability to explain why.
This means we’ll say no when it matters — but it also means we use vision to suggest the alternative path toward the outcome we all want.