Especially in Tech, most founding teams do not prioritize PR & Communications in the beginning, as they are focused on their technology and building an outstanding product. While your product should always be priority number one, having a solid communications strategy and being able to tell your story is also crucial for multiple reasons:
- It allows you to get in touch with potential customers
- It opens up doors for future financing rounds
- It helps you define your roadmap and next milestones
You could have the most superior product - if no one hears about it, then no one is going to buy or invest in it. This is why you need to develop a communication strategy and build up a PR network early on in order to leverage the advantages of having a certain reach later on.
Building up a network of editors
Since Frank is a person of interest in Germany, partly because he was on the German version of the ABC-Show Shark Tank for 7 years, we have been able to build up a broad network of editors. For the past years, we’ve been positioning Frank as the number one expert for Technology & innovation in magazines, newspapers, and TV-Shows. We stay in touch with a group of editors that we know are passionate about these topics and are always happy to get Frank’s views or opinions on certain matters. Building up relationships with editors means not only reaching out to them when you have something to tell but also checking in on interesting topics, supporting with information even if it doesn’t have an immediate benefit for you, and most importantly, communicating honestly and openly. Frank has very strong and clear opinions on certain topics that he is not afraid to share in an interview, whereas most CEOs tend to resonate with fail-proof, cookie-cutter answers that have been scripted and approved by PR experts and have been used over and over again. From our experience, it is much more effective to build up fair and transparent relationships with a handful of editors than it is to try and please everyone.
Pitching a story to an editor
Building up relationships with editors of course doesn’t mean that you get to place stories whenever and wherever you want. It means getting to know the people you work with, so you can better anticipate whether they would be interested in a certain piece of information. You have to keep in mind that PR isn’t only about pitching stories that serve the company’s good. It’s about telling the stories that the people want to hear. It can be tough to make that distinction when your startup or the company you work for has become the center of your life and when you’re in a certain bubble, like most of us are. But it’s always a good idea to take a step back and ask yourself if this is really of value to the editor you’re pitching to.
When we pitch a story to our network, we determine which editors might be interested in it, keeping in mind the topics they usually write about, if and when they’ve written about a certain portfolio company before, and whether the timing feels right. Then we contact them directly and personally, not via a broad send out. Because no matter how well your press release is written, you have to remember that editors get sent dozens of those and that their time is as valuable as yours. We always try to find an angle that could work for the media outlet we’re contacting - be it a matter that has recently been discussed in the press or a topic that is always relevant like climate change or sustainable mobility. Then we tweak our press release accordingly, by changing up the headline and setting a certain focus.
You will want to create a press release that takes away from the editor as much of the research work as possible - but not the creative work. Editors don’t tend to copy & paste entire parts of a press release, so instead of sending out an overly detailed copy, explaining how great and unique our portfolio company or their product is, we break down the most important information and the facts that are relevant for the editors to write their own piece on it. To ensure that they have the time and assets to write a unique story, we always try to reach out to them at least 2 days in advance and almost always offer individual statements or interviews with Frank and the founders.
Getting visibility as a startup
Of course, Frank’s popularity helps a lot when pitching a story to editors. We understand that as a startup, getting visibility can be tough at first. It is a long process and requires a lot of patience and time to build up a relationship with selected editors, position yourself as an expert in a certain industry and grow a following on social media.
In this process, we try to support our portfolio companies where we can. For example, if Frank gets invited to speak at an event that is relevant to one of our startups, we will make sure that they get a booth or a speaking slot at that event. If a magazine reaches out to us that addresses the market of one of our portfolio companies, we are much more likely to accept interviews, trying to place them in there if possible. Apart from traditional media outlets, we maintain valuable partnerships with several universities, research institutions, and accelerator programs, where we also occasionally participate in events or give webinars. This helps a lot in building up an expert network, finding the right sparring partners, or simply getting to talk to the right people about a certain project or issue. It also opens up another opportunity for recruitment processes and pushes the overall visibility of our own brand and our portfolio companies. Again, building up fair and mutual partnerships is always about adding value for the other party as well, which brings us back to our investment philosophy: adding value to our portfolio companies in our respective fields of expertise.
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