Checklist: What do I need for effective seed-funding communications?
✅ Company Press Release
✅ Company Press Email Alias & Company Contact Telephone Number
✅ Email Distribution List of journalists & outlets
✅ Post on company blog
✅ Linked-In Company Page
✅ Team & Product Photos
✅ FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Goals: what do I want to achieve? Who is my target audience?
- If this is your company’s first announcement, the goal will most likely be to introduce your company to the media and to journalists covering both tech and the wider industry or market segment your business seeks to occupy.
- If you or your company have already garnered media coverage, this opportunity can be used as a further proof point of your company’s promise and why your company is worth paying attention to.
- Other important aspects include 1.) follow-on funding 2.) alerting talent that your company is gaining momentum and an exciting company to work for, and 3.) getting partners or key clients on board to work with you.
- Depending on your product, market positioning, and market environment, there may be other tangible goals for which you may aim.
- One helpful approach to crafting a communications strategy is to think about the stakeholders or audiences that will be impacted by your product or solution. From basics to the granular:
- Is my product for consumers or businesses?
- Are there any specific industries that are relevant for my product? If so, are there trade media that cover this topic?
- If B2B, do I have any big-name clients or partners? And does my solution impact end-consumers downstream?
- If B2C, is my product for a particular generation, for example, millennials? Or any other specific demographics or market segment? Females, minorities, high-earners, low-earners, or data scientists, for example. Are there any media publications or communities that are relevant to the end-users of my product?
- Am I launching my solution in a particular city or region? Is there local press that could be interested?
- Does my solution necessitate approval or buy-in from regulatory authorities or any other interest group, such as labor unions? Are there any professional organizations or other actors in civil society such as NGOs that would be interested in supporting my solution?
- Invest some time understanding what publications write about companies in your stage of development (likely Techcrunch, Gründerszene) or market segment (if you are a Fintech or Foodtech, there are many trade publications and blogs, for example)
The importance of “relevance”: how do I generate interest in my company?
—> (Hint: Numbers and Name Dropping)
- Relevance is the key question any journalist asks herself when pitched a story. Is this relevant for my audience? Understanding how a story or event can be considered relevant and, thus newsworthy, is critical.
- The tech ecosystem in Germany and Europe continues to grow, funding rounds are growing in volume, ticket sizes continue to go up as well. There are over 120 Unicorns in Europe by some accounts. This is all great news for founders. But it also means the bar for measuring what can be considered relevant is constantly being raised and the environment gets noisier all the time - seed rounds with relatively small ticket sizes are increasingly difficult to place on the agenda of many news outlets.
- Food for thought - journalists at Tech Crunch and other media outlets, for example, get up to hundreds of pitches every day. Many of these are spam, but even correcting for that, there can be a hundred legitimate-sounding funding stories hitting a journalist’s inbox every day.
- Numbers are important, however. If journalists have never heard of you, the most important factor will be total funding size, funding stage, and the investors who are backing your company. In most cases, the amount, stage, and the backers are the most significant “news” you will want to lead with. If you have a very prominent backer, this might help secure coverage. Bill Gates investing $1 million in a company nobody is familiar with will be easier to pitch than a $10 million round without him. But good VCs and Angel Investors can be relevant as well. Many journalists focused on tech and the startup scene understand that funding-stage matters when looking at the numbers, whereas a journalist who focuses more broadly on business, trade or local news might not.
- Beyond the bare facts of the funding round, other data points can be useful as well. These include:
- Your company has already acquired a big-name client or partner (if so, make sure you are allowed to use their name in your press release)
- You’ve collected data on your customers or your market segment (via a beta-version of your product that has already been released or through market research or any other analysis) that can provide insight into consumer behavior, business trends or similar.
- Your solution addresses a political or socio-economic issue of immediate importance that is topical in the current news cycle (ie. Ukraine, Covid, Quick Commerce, etc.). But be warned - news cycle “fatigue” can set in quickly.
Storytelling: thinking clearly and simply about your company and its relevance
- Because there is so much noise, your story beyond the numbers is important too. You have probably already heard about the power of “storytelling” for marketing purposes, but good storytelling is an essential part of a company’s overall strategy. “Companies that don't have a clearly articulated story, don't have a clear and well thought-out strategy” according to Ben Horowitz. You’ve already had to pitch your company’s story to investors, so use your fundraising narrative as the basis for developing a storyline for your company
- Introducing what your company does in a way that anybody can understand is key. If you cannot distill the product into one sentence, then a journalist describing your company for the first time will have a hard time too (and probably won’t understand what you do anyways). Avoid jargon, unnecessary technical detail about your solution, or hidden assumptions about why your business is important. Spend some time getting it right. Simple is smart and not as easy as it looks.
- One common strategy to create clarity is creating a comparison to an established company that is widely known. “We are the Airbnb of X” or “We are the Github of X”. Be very careful. This approach might be helpful pitching your story, but do not rely on it for your storyline. You need to establish your own voice and do the work to clearly define what your company does.
- There are a variety of narrative techniques or structures that make for great stories - the most common for a young tech company is something like this:
- Status quo - Define the unmet need, gap or problem
- Inciting incident - Explain how you arrived at your product or solution
- Rising Action - Explain what your product or solution does
- Resolution - Explain how your product solves the original problem and why that’s your company’s mission (see Pitching the Promised Land)
- A good exercise is to develop different versions of your company’s storyline to unpack it with increasing complexity:
- How would you describe your company and its solution in one sentence?
- How would you do it in two sentences?
- In four sentences?
- And in eight sentences?
- This exercise is good for developing your company’s boilerplate, which is the high-level background description about your company that you will put at the bottom of every press release.
- Avoid superlatives such as “revolutionary”, “path-breaking”, “unprecedented” - describe what the company does and use facts to support. Here’s a great example:
- Once you’ve got your mind around your company’s storyline, it’s time to dive into the press release.
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Writing a good press release: lining up the pieces
- There are many ways to write a good press release, it really depends on the company, the product, and the audience.
- As with your storyline, avoid hyperbole, exaggeration and marketing-speak. Journalists have low tolerance for what many regard as BS - back up claims with data and evidence.
- Start with the headline - it’s the first thing a journalist will read (and maybe the only thing). This should be focused on the funding information and what the company does - Company X closes $X million seed round to enable XYZ
- Create 1 -3 bullet points with the most important information at the very top. -
- Funding round led by XX, YY, and ZZ
- Early adoption suggests YY / Company is already working with BIG NAME
- Investment will be used to XX
- The structure of the main text should flow according to your bullets, lead with funding info and what the company does, then mention any big names or numbers related to early market traction, then transition to what the funds will be used for.
- Try and keep the main text of the press release to one page of text. Don’t use any non-standard capitalizations such as ALL CAPS or anything that cannot be copy and pasted into a story. (Every journalist will do this…that’s why no marketing, or flowery language…that won’t make it in.)
- Note: quotes should be useful to the storyline and provide real information, such as proof points or facts that support why your company is important. Avoid hyperbole. Do not say “This company is a game-changer.” Say “This company has figured out how to do x and y well, that’s why we think it could be a game changer.”
- You should have a quote from the co-founder/CEO. This should be from a single person. If there are multiple founders or no clear CEO, pick a person for a quote. It’s perfectly fine to have quotes from multiple people.
- Also use quotes from investors and business angels. (Ask them to provide a quote or make a suggestion that fits your story.)
- Investor Boilerplate
- Company Boilerplate
- Link to company blog post
- Contact Details
- Name, Email, Phone number (be ready to speak to a journalist at any time after the press release is published and answer their questions)
- Ideally it’s a good idea to keep a Press Release to 2 pages, but if you have multiple investors and lots of boilerplate it might not be possible
Writing a company blog post
- This is your opportunity to go into more detail about the company, it’s solution, and your mission
- This is less for the journalist and more about attracting talent, getting prospective partners’ or customers’ attention, and that of follow-on investors
- It’s still wise to avoid hyperbole, but this your opportunity to showcase all of the interesting things your company has to offer in more detail
Pitching & Exclusivity
- After you have finished writing m your press release (and have finished your blogpost or are finalizing it) it’s time to pitch for an exclusive. This isn’t necessary per se, but it is highly recommended.
- What’s an exclusive? Beyond writing stories that are relevant for their audience, journalists like to be first to the news. This is called a “scoop”. Journalists are incentivized to write exclusively about a subject before anyone else does. Editors also like scoops because it helps a news outlet maintain its relevance as a news source. (And Google news reinforces this…the story first published on a subject leads the rankings.)
- An exclusive works like this - you identify a relevant journalist for your news and offer that journalist access to the press release before anyone else, i.e. before you have officially published it by sending out in a mass email. If a journalist agrees to an embargoed press release, then they get the press release well in advance of everyone else. (For our purposes, usually a week or more.)
- Offering a journalist an exclusive increases the likelihood that a journalist might agree to write a story based on a press release. The journalist knows they will have a story before anyone else, and hence be rewarded by the extra attention it will garner. Plus, they will have more time to write a story, which will mean they will most likely give it more thought and attention than if they were reacting to a press release that has been released to the public at large.
- How does it work in detail?
- You pitch the story informally to journalists asking if they are interested in covering a story exclusively and stating when you would like to publish the story the following weeks. This can be done via email or telephone (always try to get someone on the phone). Don’t send the press release, send a synopsis, disclosing the basics - seed round, “reputable VCs and business angel X”, but not exact funding number
- Most journalists won’t respond, but if someone is interested, they usually respond promptly.
- In that case, you should agree to an embargo time, such as a Tuesday or Wednesday at a particular time. (7am CET, for example, so that when you do send out a mass email of the press release to everyone else, it can get picked up by other outlets).
- Then write that embargo time in big, bold letters at the top of the press release and send it to the journalist. The journalist should know what the embargo time means and will get their story published on time.
- Then you will send out the press release to everyone else on your list all at once at the stated embargo time from a company press email address.
Playing the Numbers
- If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. You will often need to pitch 10-15 journalists, if you want to max out all possibilities. That’s why there are many PR/communications agencies and freelancers who do this kind of work for companies.
- Of course, it’s great to have a story in Handelsblatt or FAZ or another major paper. TechCrunch or Sifted are also great publications for a seed-stage company that have a lot of reach. That can really help with talent acquisition and name recognition. However, Gruenderszene and Tech.eu have quite a bit of reach as well, especially on social channels like LinkedIn where a significant portion of your target audience is likely to be active.
- Then there are the indices such as Startbase and EU Startups that act as startup funding disclosure sites (meaning they don’t discriminate and often publish your press release verbatim). They also qualify news sites and help with ranking on Google.
- For social media purposes, having a feature on these platforms can be just as effective in the early stages helping to build momentum and attention for your company.
- It’s important to weigh the likelihood of coverage in top media outlets versus the upfront invest and what you can achieve by setting your sights more realistically.
- I would always recommend shooting for the top, such as Handelsblatt and TechCrunch, but being satisfied if it’s Gründerszene and Tech.eu to even the disclosure sites.
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions document
- Besides the press release and the company boilerplate, an FAQ is one of the standard tools that communications professionals deploy to manage relations with the media.
- A FAQ is a catalog of answers to all of the possible questions a journalist could ask about your company and your business. It comes in handy if your company has to navigate through controversial terrain or a crisis, where media attention on your company and your business model is high.
- It shouldn’t be necessary to most companies in the early-stage funding rounds, but there are circumstances when it could be wise.
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