Posts

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?

Perfect pitch

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:

HEADLINE
* 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:

The Headline

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.

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.

So we wrote our thoughts for PR Week to help other agencies explore a better way.

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.

Like many, I ended up in tech PR through ignorance. When I showed up for my first interview, I didn’t know what PR was (something like advertising?) and I didn’t know what this “press release” was that I had 30 minutes to write.

But something must have gone right, because not long after that I found myself nestled in front of a tidy desk for my first day at work — still with no idea what PR was.

The good news was, with social and digital flooding into the industry, it turned out neither did anyone else. I found myself arriving to an industry half in crisis because they could see the old ways were dying and half in blissful ignorance as the rug slid out from under them.

What I also found was that the world had tilted toward the internet I had grown up on. As a precocious youth with a father who worked in tech, I’d wasted hours on forums and newsgroups, totally immersed in the original social web.

So when introduced to Twitter, I still may have not known what a press release was — but I knew this was a language I could speak.

I quickly became the cliched Account Exec evangelising the latest thing: Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google+ (and even a few non-Google projects) — I was the man taking them all seriously. 

I’ve since come to understand this is from the same instinct that makes me sit in the front row at standup shows: I want to try and experience the thing first, by myself, before I let others influence my view.

But as I watched platform after platform collapse, or evolve in disappointing ways, I also learned another significant lesson. From the latest to the ancient, some things that don’t change. Ultimately, whatever the means, people have the same drives, instincts, fears and desires they have had for thousands of years.

And so, a crucial lesson of my career has been: write strategy that optimises for the things that do not change.

This means things like:

  • People trust other people, not brands.
  • They especially trust people like them.
  • They are all trying to achieve something — and if you help them, they may be grateful.
  • Some people just want to be heard (think about complaints on social media.)

The principles of marketing aren’t really changed by developments in technology or new channels — It’s just our ability to fulfill them that does.

People became effective at broadcasting messages and not listening to their customer because really there was no simpler scalable route for some time.

PRs became effective at relying on journalists and publications to help spread their story, because there was no other channel. 

But that’s just not true anymore.

By focusing on the higher, strategic level, by not saying “we’re going to do a social media strategy now” or, god forbid, “a Twitter (or Mastadon) strategy”, we can achieve more.

So when reviewing your strategy, it’s worth asking: have you found a way to appeal to the human habits that stay the same, or just a way to tweak the tech and algorithms to produce a short term result?

I know which I’d rather work on.

We’ve been writing again, this time for Influence, the official publication of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Cash obviously keeps you alive — but if you don’t really achieve momentum on the other three, you aren’t developing an engine that can sustain value for the long term. In many ways, getting that cash in the bank builds a more resilient system to be able to pursue the more important priorities.

And yet, how often do agencies place bets that threaten these priorities for trivial financial return?

Every time they take on a mediocre new client for a few grand in the forecast, they are leveraging a true cost for the team, brand and potential to attract future clients. You not only frustrate and waste the time of talented people, you undermine their interest in your agency and their job at the same time.

I get the idea of owned, earned, paid (and people add shared, but how is that not earned?) However, it feels like it’s phrased so tactically, and without a relationship or journey between the different elements. They are just smushed in a single hierarchy.

In practice, this means it can feel a clumsy way to outline a strategy, sitting each in their silos and making choices about where ambiguous elements must sit.

Instead, we’ve started to use a different taxonomy:

  • Meaning
  • Material
  • Reach
  • Systems

These four areas not only cover the general categories of strategy we put together, they also relate in a way that feels more engaged and relevant.

Defining Meaning can stretch from mission/ purpose, to simply clarifying the pitch or the key themes you want to beat the drum for.

From this source, you can then develop Material  (not “content”, never “content”) which explores those ideas, and captures them in a way that is useful to your strategy (and your audience.)

Having put all that work in, it’s nothing without ensuring subsequent and growing Reach, by developing the audiences and relationships that bring in eyeballs — from mailing lists, to sponsored social, to a handful of valuable influencer relationships.

And underneath it all are the Systems that make it work. For us, principles like Objectives and Key Results, evaluation with Google Analytics and automatically updating dashboards, things like “founder therapy”, which we use to generate interesting article and commentary ideas on a regular basis.

If you want to work strategically, you need to set out your toolset and approach in a way that inherently serves it. This feels like a way to do that, which matures the PESO categorisation for our own purposes. It allows us to think better — and demonstrate more clearly to companies we work with, how and where we will provide real strategic value.

There are many reasons I chose to focus Augur on “unsexy” tech. But one of the key ones is that I believe the nature of PR and marketing is a really good fit for the B2B market.

The incentives align better

In consumer marketing, brands try and reach “most people”. They want big publicity splashes. And most people just want to get on with their lives.

The best they can offer is sometimes a glimmer of light entertainment. But 99% of the time, they are still interrupting normal programming to get it in there.

By contrast, our clients help other businesses make more money. Most of the time, anyone running a business wants to improve how they do it. However, if anything, they are often too busy to make it enough of a priority.

When we target, it’s most often by characteristics like job title or industry specialism. It’s not because we think you are vulnerable to coercion, it’s because we know you’re looking at e.g. translation to help your business grow, and we work with a company that fundamentally does it differently.

We lead with content and insight

B2B Tech really means B2B innovation. It means what’s next. It means the new way of doing things and a potential source of advantage over the competition.

That also means that it’s a constant process of keeping track of where the tech is going next, if you hope to use it to help your business.

We help this happen. And what it means is, if we do use paid or targeted in strategies, it’s almost never to just force information in front of an audience — it’s to surface insightful material that others found useful, for more people.

The time of B2B decision-makers is more valuable than consumers. So you have to use it even more wisely. If you don’t directly hit a need they have, and if you aren’t producing material that strikes that need anyway, you’re in trouble.

The rewards make sense

If one of our clients wins a new customer, that can be worth many multiples of our fees per month. Deals of hundreds of thousands. Pipelines of millions, partnerships that open new territories and opportunities

If we produce any kind of asset that helps bring in more of the right kind of lead or close them once they are already in the process, the impact can be enormous.

In that context, where lifetime value is enormous, our fees make sense very quickly as part of customer acquisition costs.

If instead, you’re relying on some obtuse relationship between coverage in the tabloids and downloads of your app which then convert through in app purchases for 99p, then probably don’t renew, you’re getting into a mess of causality that, frankly, I’m just not interested in.

Where privacy matters

Now, with GDPR coming in, this doesn’t mean privacy is something you don’t think about in B2B. It just means that, if you’re doing it right, you should be ticking most of the boxes of the new policy anyway.

Every incentive aligns to give you good reason not to try and reach everyone but to create great material, that is of ultimate relevance to your small and specific audience — then attract them toward it.

More than consumer, and more than ever, B2B marketing just makes the most sense to me.

From Max’s recent piece for Influence, the official publication of the CIPR:

Augur exists to focus on strategic plans and implementation – above all else.

Everything we do is designed, and redesigned toward that priority. For us, it’s a more important core competency than any specific hands on skill or specialism, and that means there are many types of work and projects we choose not to do.

That means, despite the fact I’ve written for all sorts of publications and our team includes members trained by the BBC, we choose not to sell our time writing. Instead, we use that experience to be a great editor, and consider how an editor would generate great material.

That’s the thinking behind Augur Edits – instead of developing ideas that imitate journalists, we brief them and invite ideas they would normally pitch to top tier editors.

Similarly, we don’t believe the future of this industry is in high-pressure ‘sell-ins’ where you claim your value is being able to smash your way into the news agenda and justify every call and ‘did you get my press release?’ Instead, Augur Unbound is a programme by which we will pitch good stories to influencers, for free, from anyone who really needs it.”

We get it. Everyone in our business wants to be Don Draper.

Big pitch day. Stand up, leaf through the cards, standing ovation.

But then reality strikes. You do the kick off meetings and start trying to implement things, only to find that the “big idea” in your strategy isn’t possible for another year (if at all.) Or that the founders’ real passion isn’t “OPPORTUNALISING ENTERPRISE SOLUTION BEST EXCELLENCE”, but something rooted in the reality of their industry and experience.

For a couple of years now, we’ve been trying a different approach to the traditional pitch. And it’s based around a simple question:

How can a company who hasn’t spent any time with you write a realistic plan that reflects your true strength accurately?

So here’s what we do.

Phase 1: Discovery

After gathering a few top line details, we’ll talk on Zoom or Skype. Having written up interviews for places like tech.eu and Wired, we like to think we know how to ask the right questions.

The idea is to really listen carefully, pin down the specifics of the next challenge and determine what we think might conquer it. It often gives you an opportunity to learn more about us and our experience too.

If we don’t think it’s a match, we can help you find someone who is. Remember, Augur is designed for one thing: companies at Series A upwards, in “Unsexy” tech categories, looking for integrated comms against business challenges.

Alternatively, we might suggest we help out with Augur Unbound, our free service to share great stories from younger companies with key media.

Once we have what we need, we’ll start on the Strategic Spec document.

Phase 2: The Strategic Spec

This is a very simple one pager, designed to take the minimum time possible to create a first outline of what we might recommend, based on our previous experience.

It’s a starting point for you to provide feedback, to start the conversation going, instead of disappearing for weeks in Powerpoint with only the occasional question.

It includes:

  • Diagnosis — what is the problem, as we see it?
  • Guiding Strategy — what is our topline mechanism to tackle it?
  • Example Objectives and Key Results — what’s the goal and deliverables?
  • Estimated Timelines & Resourcing — how long will it take, and cost?
  • Next steps

Beat it up, tell us what you love or hate, tell us what you think of our measurement and evaluation suggestions, or how it may need to fit into other plans.

The result is designed to give you an estimate of how the plan might look, at the top level, if we start working together.

It establishes an agreed rough outline, so you know what to expect if you go ahead with the next step: The Planning Project.

Phase 3: The Planning Project

Now this is the big difference.

Augur will come to your office, spend time with you, interview key members of the team and really dig into what makes your company great. It’s about finding what you believe, holding a mirror up to your most talented people, helping identify the insights you may not even quite be aware of.

We try to find the signal in the noise.

Instead of going away and making up ideas by ourselves, we look to your strenths to build our plan. And we work with your team to identify what’s practical and possible for the first phase and further down the line.

We worth together, with just a little of your time, to flesh out the skeleton of assumptions from the Strategic Spec.

We deliver on questions like:

  • What is your pitch and key campaign ideas you will keep coming back to?
  • Who should you be introducing the company to?
  • Do we have a customer pipeline for case studies and other stories?

Once we’re done, the planning document usually looks about a dozen pages long, full of everything you need to hit the ground running.

It literally gets everyone on the same page with what to expect in the first episode of activity.

And it’s yours. In the past, we have actually recommended to one company that they take the Planning document and run with it themselves. Because it is a paid project, we are not incentivised to try and close you on a long programme, just to justify our costs on the pitch.

The resourcing costs for this project tend to be about half the anticipated monthly total we expect to end up at.

We think it makes sense, and our clients agree.

Don has earned a rest.

I was very pleased to recently be asked to sit on a panel at the launch of the PRCA Digital Report. But it quickly became clear that many of the problems keeping big agencies awake at night are simply not things we have to worry about.

I also couldn’t help but agree with a few familiar faces in the audience that there really is no “analogue” and “digital” PR. Often, Digital is just a word used to replace “new”.

It’s a bit like when people use the word “millennial” instead of just saying “young people”.

So, looking at the findings, what’s not new?

Online media. Once new, now ordinary (special mention to “online press release distribution.”)

Blogger outreach. Once new, now ordinary.

Is it really that hard to see things like making videos and continuing to integrate social into strategy seamlessly becoming normal?

All technology is really just a matter of evolution. It’s about enhancement and adaptation — all words that describe starting with something and gradually growing or changing that thing.

The thing about this is, we can expand into these new areas most successfully by using what we have been great at historically.

Look at two of the fastest-growing budget areas: Video and sponsored social.

Who is better suited than PRs to find stories, interviews, customers, great material that can be used for video?

Who is better suited than PRs to help produce short, focused stories and pitch-like snippets to amplify on social — especially then we have often been the genesis of the great owned or earner material being megaphoned?

If you already do case studies, think about how you can record and flip the output of those interviews in a constellation of different ways.

If you already pitch stories to journalists and influencers online, why not interview them back about the wider context for your own blog?

I’m a firm believer that what made us great at “old” PR will continue to make us great at the new.

Stop asking if you can do something digital. Start thinking about how you can do something new.