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.