January 20, 2023
You've just closed your funding round and you want the world to know. Now what?
Let’s be honest! Startups rarely have newsworthy stories to share. Unless you have a truly disruptive technology that’s gonna change society for good, like OpenAI, or you’re an eccentric and half-mad celebrity founder like Elon, the mainstream media won’t care much about your latest feature release or the fact that you are launching your service in the Netherlands.
In that sense, your startup is like your baby. The first time it burps might be a big moment for you as a parent, but it’s not necessarily a newsflash for everyone else.
It’s not to say that startups can’t attract media attention at all; you just need to be conscious that the world is full of self-promoting founders with big ideas. The average business journalist receives dozens of pitches daily, so you must be creative to stand out and take your chances well.
Whether you’re at the seed stage or have just raised a record-breaking Series C, funding announcements are usually a startup’s best chance for press coverage. An investment is tangible proof of your success; it shows that someone believes in your vision and that you have the results to show for it. That gives you a rare opportunity to get featured in top-tier publications to discuss your vision and present your product to a large international audience.
On top of that, there is a feedback loop mechanism in PR. Press attention generates press attention if you know what you do. A well-executed funding announcement can be used as a launch pad for a continuous and long-lasting relationship with the press.
Naturally, we’re led to the mandatory rhetorical question that usually concludes the first part of any decent blog post: What makes a good funding announcement?
Let’s try to answer it.
What’s your story?
The internet never forgets. Once your story is out there, it sticks, so you must nail your core story from the get-go.
Good stories are centered around some likeable characters. We usually relate more to other human beings than to abstract concepts like companies, so don’t be afraid to use yourself in the story.
Every compelling narrative has a drive. The characters are driven forward by a higher purpose. The same goes for yours. Your raison d’etre must be rooted in a broader context.
One of the greatest storytellers of all time once said that a good story concerns something unusual. So does yours. It’s significant and concentrates on how you differentiate from the rest of the market.
And last but not least, a convincing story contains action. It shows how you change the world around you. There must be a clear before and after.
So many startups go out with a technical press release and a dull boilerplate instead of taking the time to shape their core narrative, so it feels relevant, relatable and captivating. That’s a shame.
“Working with an agency can make your approach more structured and strategic. Getting a journalist hooked on your story is one thing, but an agency can help you tell your story and get your message across in a much more strategic way,” Phillip Adrian, COO in Proper.
It’s the numbers, stupid!
As a rule of thumb, the bigger the round, the more coverage. Journalists are looking for credibility in your pitch. Founding a company is easy, and the startup community is full of charlatans with grand visions and small results. At least, that’s how journalists see it. They want proof that you are the real deal.
Ideally, they want to see numbers: user stats, growth rates, and revenue in your books. Significant investments, famous investors and customers willing to go on the record to praise you also make a difference. That’s especially true for early-stage startups, whereas more established scale-ups usually can be more oriented towards future plans.
How to think like a journalist
PR is somewhat transactional. The journalist has the audience and the platform. You have the story. Essentially, you are exchanging a good story for a platform.
That said, journalists are independent and work under certain journalistic codes of ethics. Most journalists are fine being pitched to, but they do not accept being bossed around and told what to write. They won’t promote you or allow you to be too salesy. They will be critical and ask tough questions. It’s their job, and it’s exactly what makes PR such a credible channel. That’s important to have in mind when speaking to journalists. You may have hired the PR agency, but you haven’t hired the journalist.
Furthermore, most news journalists work with some fixed criteria for a good news story. The story must be significant and relevant to the audience. Journalists also like it if the story contains conflict and sensation, something dramatic and surprising. And finally, the story must be newsworthy. Most outlets are competing for stories. That’s why you must time your announcement correctly.
The way we usually approach it is that we identify your preferred publication and preferred journalist, and then we pitch your story exclusively to them. We like to use an embargo date: if they agree not to publish anything before that date, they get exclusive access to the full story. However, it’s always a good idea to show some flexibility about the embargo date and to let the journalist know at least 10 days in advance.
In general, remember that in most cases, you probably need the journalist more than they need you. Be kind. Always.
“A journalist's inbox is full of pitches, so by writing "Funding announcement" in the subject line and sending a generic press release, you'll most likely end up without a press story. You have to tailor your pitch to each individual journalist. What is your hook? Can you tie your story into a trend? A bigger purpose? Nobody is interested in a pure product story - even though you have a great product. Instead, you must find story elements that speak to the surrounding world,” Laura Louise Bjerregaard, Marketing Lead in People Ventures.
Use the attention
Running a startup is a bit like playing a video game. The journey is divided into different stages, and each stage has its own separate challenges that you to complete to unlock the next level.
Use the funding announcement to set the stage for the next stage and to support your business goals for the near future.
Do you have steep revenue targets to reach? Then you might want to promote your product and offer some kind of investment discount to create some urgency for the visitors that inevitably will land on your website.
Are you looking to hire a lot of new talents? Then promote your business as a nice workplace, and don’t forget to mention that you are hiring.
Maybe you want to enter a new market? Tease it before and use it to drive local PR in that specific market.
Whatever you do know must always point towards the next project. That’s how you keep the journalists, and their audience entertained and wanting more.
“Before embarking on a media campaign, it's crucial to have a clear understanding of your goals and how they align with your business objectives. Not only will this ensure that your efforts are focused and efficient, but it will also enable you to capitalize on the spike in attention paid to your company. For example, if your goal is to recruit top talent, highlight the exciting growth opportunities within your company. If you're looking to attract more funding down the line, emphasize your strong financials and impressive traction. And if acquiring new users is a priority, focus on the problem your company is solving and how your product is uniquely poised to address it,” Ida Åsle, Director of Platform in byFounders.
Can you execute a funding announcement yourself? Probably.
You can probably find a good template for a press release online, draft a text without spelling errors and get some journalists hooked on the story. Huge late-stage rounds basically announce themselves, and if you have a good PR specialist in-house, you might even be able to execute a flawless campaign.
“A PR agency can help you a lot. And if you don't have connections to a lot of relevant journalists or anyone in the media industry, it's helpful to use an agency to sell your story,” Laura Louise Bjerregaard, Marketing Lead in People Ventures.
However, we (obviously) believe that both early-stage startups and scale-ups can benefit a lot from working with a branding and PR agency. Not to go full-on call to action on you, but it’s our experience that it pays off to work seriously with your brand narrative before you take the stage.
We also believe that you get better results from knowing exactly which journalist is interested in your story. A proper network won’t harm you, either.
Lastly, we are confident you can utilize your funding announcement to build a long-lasting relationship with the press if you do it correctly.
We’re biased, of course, but that’s just our opinion.