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The importance of engaging VCs via PR 

Nic Forster, Head of PR and Comms at Forward Partners, talks about how brand communication is key to growing your business 

One of the questions I get asked most frequently by second-time-around entrepreneurs is, ‘how can I get investors interested in my brand quickly?’ It’s a question which reveals a major concern of many seasoned entrepreneurs: how to secure the ongoing future of their business whilst also building a brand story which resonates.

For me, it’s quite telling that experienced entrepreneurs are looking at their brand and its dual audiences (consumers and investors) from day one. Without customers a brand cannot achieve commercial success, but without investor appeal and suitable funding, it’s inevitably difficult to achieve long term success on a global scale – meaning that both audiences and their interactions with a brand are fundamental.

The challenge lies in the fact that no matter how successful or loved your brand is by one audience, it can leave the other cold if you fail to take them into account within your communications strategy.

The importance of a dual audience view was underlined to me earlier this month when I met with a first time founder who runs a successful UK based lifestyle startup. Her business is revered by consumers nationwide and by the consumer press but has struggled to raise the Series A investment it requires. The founder was frustrated when explaining that, although her business has a fantastic reputation amongst customers, the lack of brand awareness amongst investors has really held them back.

To a point I could empathise hugely – when you’ve poured your heart and soul into building a business, you’ve worked hard to acquire a loyal and active customer base and you’re making sales, there’s a tendency to believe the hype and take for granted that word is spreading about your enterprise or product. However, at the same time it was shocking to me that this business was so reliant on investment from a community with whom it had never actively engaged beyond a series of unfruitful VC meetings.

The story above should serve as a cautionary tale about failing to put the investor community front and centre when building your communications strategy. Never assume that your reputation amongst consumers alone will translate into investor enthusiasm. From the early days of your business, the lifestyle press will help you communicate to customers and the business and corporate press will tell your story to your industry contemporaries, potential partners and future investors.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure you’re engaging investors early.

Define your investor message

From the earliest days of your startup, work on defining your business narrative, and not just your brand narrative. This will enable you to position your business in a more compelling way to business and industry press.

Key questions to pose:

  1. Why did you found the business? Centre this on the mission that you want to achieve or the problem that your business has been designed to solve on behalf of consumers. You should feel comfortable using this pithy sentence (or sentences) if you were trapped in a lift with the Enterprise Editor of the FT. It should speak to the core of your business and why it’s both socially and commercially relevant.
  2. What is unique about you as an entrepreneur? Ask yourself what you want potential investors to understand about your career to date, your vision and your journey founding your business. Consider the most compelling experiences in your career experience to date. If you haven’t held a relevant role before, can you demonstrate your entrepreneurial edge prior to this business? Why should people believe in you and what you are doing?
  3. Be ready to talk numbers but understand that you do not have to talk exact figures where you’re not comfortable in doing so. If you are not in a place where you can discuss financials, (many businesses aren’t or don’t want to), build up a fact sheet of one liners about what the business is delivering, for example in 2016, our total transactional value was up x% on the year, we delivered x% to the UK economy through sales of x, we’ve created x amount jobs in x location. In the early days you’ll rarely be expected to provide black and white figures in the press but you will be expected to demonstrate your success and contribution.
  4. As well as discussing what you’ve achieved so far, be prepared to discuss what your business will deliver over the course of the next 5 years. What are your ambitions for the business in terms of growth and financials?

Define and utilise relevant press

  • Decide on the publications and journalists which resonate with the investment community.
  • Typically high priority titles might include:
  • UKTN and the business & enterprise pages of the broadsheet press (The Times, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Financial Times).

Once you have decided which press to target, engage them in your story early on.

  • Start building relationships with journalists writing about the sector in which you and your competitors opoerate.
  • Email, introducing your proposition, your story and see if they’d be interested in meeting for a coffee, or chatting on the phone.
  • If you don’t receive a response follow up on the phone to assess interest.
  • Utilise industry awards and press affiliated startup awards to build early awareness within business media and investors.

If you’re conducting press interviews whilst also fundraising why not mention it? By communicating you’re looking for your next investment you may just grab the attention of a VC looking to make their next investment.

Shout about your funding

You’ve worked long and hard getting your business to a place where you can achieve funding and the funding process itself has been gruelling. Once the term sheet is signed and the funds are in the bank be sure to announce your good news formally to press, and ultimately to the business community. The current post Brexit landscape means that now more than ever business and industry press are looking for stories to demonstrate that the UK is still open for business and a vibrant tech hub.

So, in summary. In the early days of any startup, it’s easy to focus solely on driving new customer acquisition and building brand awareness amongst your target consumer segment. However, bearing in mind a second audience of future investors and including them in your communications strategy earlier will place your brand in a stronger position when it comes to future fundraising. It will enable you to foster awareness and understanding amongst key industry influencers.