It has been a good time to be an early stage tech firm these last few years. Low interest rates have given investors access to more capital and allowed them to bet on early-stage businesses with significant potential. But rocketing inflation is making lending less appealing. With the Bank of England raising the base rate by its largest margin in more than three decades, the era of cheap money is coming to an end.
What does this mean for comms?
There was a time when a sizeable funding round announcement and a shiny new valuation could reliably bring in national coverage for scale-ups disrupting their respective industries. Armed with stats on positively exponential levels of growth and investment, founders and business leaders could realistically expect to fill their diaries with interviews on the company and what the injection of capital meant for them.
But what happens when, like now, there’s simply less investor money going around? While VC funding in the UK has dropped significantly, the average start-up loan has also fallen in value by 138 per cent, with the number of start-up loans halved compared to 2019. Without this reliable pipeline of corporate news – whether announcing funding, growth, hiring, or expansion to new regions – what can fast-growth firms do to stay front of mind in the media?
A big advantage that start-ups and scale-ups have over more established businesses is that every founding story is unique. Without company news to fall back on, it can form a key part of the media narrative. CEOs and company leaders are also often founders too, meaning the press can get under the skin of the ‘why’ behind the company as well as the ‘what’ of corporate growth. Establishing a compelling, personal story helps journalists to better understand the business and provides a more consumer-friendly lens.
The vision for the business is a key part of this. Often the business model is designed to disrupt the category and make fulfilling a customer or consumer need faster, better or cheaper than existing products and services. The media love new ideas and these are as in demand in tough times as good ones.
In fact, there are several slots that cater specifically for these kinds of stories – from BBC’s ‘The Boss’ to The Times’ ‘How I Made It’. These allow for more personal angles, which can be more relatable and help a scale-up leader establish themselves with a broader audience. At a time when businesses can’t rely on eye-catching valuations and funding rounds to stand out, personal hooks are crucial to catching a journalist’s attention.
Case studies are a key pillar of any PR programme, particularly in the B2B world. But they are particularly important for smaller brands yet to establish their media relationships. Sharing interesting customer work helps journalists create a more rounded story and doesn’t come across as self-promotional as a company profile pitch. And, where a journalist might previously have used an impressive valuation as shorthand for identifying start-ups worth speaking to, leading with a recognised brand name can help get a foot in the door instead.
Approaching journalists in this way can also help widen the base of media contacts to approach. For example, if a technology company can reference a case study of an NHS Trust or healthcare app they work with, they can consider telling their story to healthcare journalists they may not have spoken to before.
Third-party endorsement is always valuable. Where possible, asking a customer if they are willing to be put forward as a joint spokesperson can make the angle more compelling and reliable for a journalist, who may sometimes be reluctant to speak directly and exclusively to the company selling a product or service.
Becoming a go-to expert for a journalist is a PR dream come true for most business leaders. But this usually means contributing bold opinions they can’t get anywhere else. Build out a list of upcoming topics and themes which journalists are likely to be interested in over the coming months that align either with the core business model or issues the business cares about – whether an upcoming policy announcement or a new industry trend.
For a very established business, a CEO speaking publicly can sometimes be enough to garner coverage. In contrast, it can be more difficult for leaders of growth companies; without the ‘proof’ of a corporate announcement to show market momentum, why should journalists care what you say? That’s why it’s vital they position themselves as THE experts on topics that journalists regularly cover anyway.
A good way to check if an opinion is interesting enough is to consider the opposing idea. If the alternative is completely ridiculous, it’s unlikely that stance isn’t going to be of interest to media – after all, everyone already agrees with it. Instead, find an angle to make those thoughts stand out a little more; is there a way to differentiate it? That’s not to say spokespeople should become controversialists just for the sake of getting into the press. Instead, it means being more considered about the value they want to add to the conversation, and the issues they and their business stand for that go beyond self-promotion.
High-growth companies are about so much more than just growth. The absence of large, frequent funding rounds doesn’t have to be a barrier to media traction for them, but an opportunity to refine messaging and build out a compelling story for the media that doesn’t rely on news. That way, when those funding rounds do come through, journalists should already be familiar with the brand and its spokespeople, and know what it stands for.
Written by Hannah Cronin, Account Director, Business & Technology