Dominic Pollard, director of content and communications at City Road Communications, on how PR can help you raise funds for your tech business.
For many entrepreneurs, securing funding is one of the most pressing challenges they face in the first few years of running a startup. In fact, in April 2018 City Road Communications partnered with UKTN and Studio Graphene to conduct a survey among founders of tech businesses – the research uncovered that finding investment was the second most common problem encountered by early stage companies, with 22% of the respondents saying they had struggled with this task.
It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that tech startup founders frequently put the following question to us: Can PR help my business attract the attention of potential investors? In short, yes it can. But it’s important not to think of it as a direct appeal for funding – PR shouldn’t be viewed as a way to get column inches that read like an entrepreneur’s lonely hearts ad: ‘company x is seeking £y of funding from likeminded investors’.
However, if a PR strategy is executed in the right way then the coverage it delivers can provide significant value in a startup’s bid to secure investment. So here are some tips on how to approach it…
Establish the target
From VCs and angels through to crowdfunding platforms and private equity firms, there is a vast array of options available to tech startups seeking to raise funding. Indeed, an entirely different feature could be dedicated to discussing the pros and cons of each (countless have, of course).
But if the goal of a PR campaign is to ensure potential investors read about the company and, in turn, are more likely to throw their weight behind it then it’s essential the startup knows whom it will be approaching for investment. Doing so will dictate the types of publication that ought to be targeted, and as such this must be the first point to address.
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Tell your story
One of the most valuable uses of PR for early stage businesses is that it is great way of telling their story – it enables them to explain to consumers, businesses or investors why the startup was launched and the problems it is looking to address. This means that creating the right narrative is fundamental to getting press coverage that will attract people towards the brand.
I have stressed it in previous articles I’ve written for UKTN, but entrepreneurs (or the agencies they work with) must focus on why they launched their startup. What were the pertinent problems or challenges that a particular group of people were facing and how does the new product or service stand to solve them. That has to be at the heart of the startup’s communication with journalists.
Opportunities to delve into the technical aspects of the new tech business are few and far between, not to mention somewhat tedious for many readers. But telling an emotive or interesting story about the reasoning behind the startup’s creation is far more compelling.
Ultimately, effective PR to support funding rounds must focus on telling the same story as the founder would tell if they were stood in front of investors. No, in an article they might not be able to delve into specifics about profit margins and projected growth, but they can ensure people understand the relevance of their concept and how it is going to make people’s lives easier or better, and that is the first battle that must be won.
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Establish one’s expertise
It is a cliché within the investment space that “people buy people”. It’s hard to say how true that really is – a lovely person selling a terrible product will, I’d image, still struggle. Yet as with most clichés, there is a grounding of truth in the saying, and seasoned entrepreneurs will know that their character, background, passion and overall persona will play a big part in getting other people to invest in their journey, be that a monetary investment or just hard graft.
PR is a trump card in this regard. Effective PR strategies will put a face to the business – startup’s should not just push out a tired press release shouting about how great its product is, but rather ensure a leadership figure (or figures) is put forward to demonstrate their expertise within a given sector.
It might be through comments on developing news stories in their marketplace, far-reaching interviews, or guest articles they write for publications; but an entrepreneur who has a reputation as a spokesperson in their field – an expert with a well-formed opinion on pertinent issues – will add to the strength of their brand. After all, startups are often synonymous with the individuals who run them, so successful PR for investment-hungry businesses must look to build the profile of the CEO as well as increasing awareness of the startup itself.
Catch people’s attention
Positive exposure for the brand – if it comes in suitable publications – can be hugely valuable for a tech startup. And this value doesn’t just come in the form of individuals reading articles about or written by the business, it also comes in the form of additional material to adorn the startup’s website and social media accounts.
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By including a ‘press’ or ‘as seen in…’ section to its website, a company can add another layer of authority to its operations. Similarly, sharing pieces of press coverage on social media will not only increase the number of people who get a chance to read the article, but it will also reinforce to followers that this business is being taken seriously by those in the know.
And finally, press logos can be added to presentations or documents provided to investors. This is an easy way to harness the value of PR coverage and, again, it will improve a business’ perceived integrity.
The underlying goal of a PR campaign ought to be to increase awareness of a brand, boost its reputation and enhance its credibility. Strong press coverage will invariably achieve these results, and that will be as beneficial to a startup trying to secure investment as it will to an established SME looking for customer acquisition.