Third-party validation. It can be the bane of a PR team’s existence—a never-ending search for great references who are willing and able to say good things about a product or service to press, to industry analysts, at an industry event, on social media or via product review. It’s especially hard if you’re an early-stage company without a big base of advocates (customers, partners, etc) to pull from or in a market, like security, where customers don’t like to reveal what technologies they’re using.
It’s a mystery then why more startups don’t consistently leverage their venture capital investors for help on the PR front. Most founders will tap their investors at the Seed and Series A stage when the marketing function is nascent and they know they need the help. But asking for help at Series B and later can add a valuable asset to corporate storytelling and keep you top-of-mind with your investors who are doing their own PR at industry events and in the press.
Your investors are not going to do all of your communications for you, but they will support you how they can. And for some larger firms, resources are ample—consisting of multiple marketing or communications partners, plus agency support. Inkhouse has worked with more than a dozen VC firms; our role is to provide support and strategic input into portfolio funding or company launches. And for companies that have achieved commercial and market success, VCs like to boost their association with your brand as it sends a message to other founders and their limited partners that the firm is successful at backing market winners.
Here are a few tips for engaging with your VC investors on PR:
Make PR a normal part of the relationship from the day you get a signed term sheet from each investor. The earlier the marketing team at the firm knows they’ve invested, the bigger help they can be. It needs to happen at a marketing and communications level because founders and investors are not going to focus on PR in the boardroom in the same way. Your agency can help if you don’t have time—Inkhouse has regular conversations with some of our portfolio company’s investors.
The more consistent you are with your engagement, the more top of mind you’ll be with them and the more they can help. If you’re submitting for a major industry award, see if they know the decision-makers and can put in a good word. If you are kicking off a big business press push, see if they’re willing to brainstorm angles based on what they are seeing across their portfolio or if they can open some doors with reporters. Give them examples of outstanding company execution that they can reference in their own efforts.
Getting your investors to contribute a quote to a press release and do interviews around funding is the bare minimum. Hopefully they will write a blog post, amplify social and maybe even have an owned media property too. It’s what you do in between funding announcements that will give you maximum leverage.
Is the partner who invested in you meeting with reporters? Are they speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt? Even if they can’t help with everything, some firms do regular events with press and provide partners a shortlist of companies to mention in interviews. By making the company and founder available to support your investor’s PR initiatives, you get the benefit of the visibility and the association, and they’ll appreciate it.
VC firms know PR agencies, crisis firms and other vendors who do great work for their other portfolio companies. In addition to being a sounding board for you when you need it, they can connect you with resources and help you accelerate or narrow your search.
Many in-house marketing and PR experts at VC firms have a lot on their plate. They can have several—to more than a dozen—partners to support (can you imagine answering to 12 CEOs?). They also help dozens or even scores of portfolio companies. Value and appreciate their time, and put a lot of stock in their expertise. They bring the same ability to take a step back and trend spot that your investing partners do.
When was the last time you chatted with your investors? With 2022 planning in full swing, it’s a great time to re-engage.
Jason is president of Inkhouse and spearheads agency growth from the San Francisco Bay Area. His singular mission is to debunk the myth that people can't be happy long term on the agency side of PR where he has spent more than 20 years working with companies in venture capital, technology and consumer.