Wired published a thought-provoking opinion article in 2015 comparing the news cycle around startups to a 12-hr clock. Indeed, tech in general and Silicon Valley in particular has received significant criticism over the years for promoting hype over reality, resulting in fraud (Theranos), implosions (WeWork) and failed IPOs (too many to name). VCs also get their (fair) share of blame along the lines of “herd mentality” and “FOMO.” Indeed, the so-called hype cycle featured below is the aggregation of what happens to individual companies.
All that said, media exposure is like nuclear energy or capitalism, done correctly it is extremely net positive. PR for the sake of PR is a recipe for disaster but PR for the sake of a purpose is definitely an asset for an entrepreneur. Below are five key principles to keep in mind.
1) The Consumer Angle — Food delivery? House rentals? Getting into a taxi? DoorDash, AirBnB and Uber are archetypes for the consumer company, where being noticed positively is existential. Some would even argue that all news is good news but most marketers would agree that in this day and age your net promoter score NPS is your brand. So if you are a consumer company almost disregard the other four principles and embrace PR, it’s part of your business model.
2) The VC Angle — Are you raising a round or considering raising soon, say within the next three months? Then there is a strong argument for getting exposure in the types of places where investors pay attention. For general attention go TechCrunch but if you want a better signal to noise ratio, focus on publications that are specific to your industry. If you are looking for a model to emulate, YC companies are the kings of this strategy, with definite credit to their mentors. YC companies have it almost down to an art to publicize themselves in anticipation of a demo day and essentially soft-circle their first institutional round.
3) The Partner Angle — This justification for doing PR is probably the one with the highest standard deviation. Publicizing that you are working with a partner to gain the attention of others is usually effective when the market is fragmented. If it’s an oligopoly chances are your PR will signal to others you have chosen a side, locking yourself from working with everyone. This is especially critical if you are an integrator i.e., your value is highest the more partners you have. In most cases if this is your key motivation for PR then best to let your partner actually publicize you rather than incurring the time and expense of doing it yourself. And if a public endorsement is not possible at least make sure to get a private one, which can be especially useful during VC deep diligence.
4) The Buyer Angle — You probably don’t want to ever publicize you want to get acquired unless you are in a very desperate position or a uniquely strong position. Best is to use the PR to create the narrative to get potential buyers intrigued. Think of it as your business card to get a meeting, not the agenda of the meeting.
5) The Competitor Angle — Yes PR can definitely be a weapon of intimidation if you achieved an outside milestone, say raised a huge amount of financing or even better, crossed a certain number of customers or revenues. Wield the weapon carefully though because this kind of PR blurs with hype and paints a red bullseye on you. Your company culture may also be impacted negatively because it can generate negligence to real competitive threads and arrogance at worst. But if you want to do this right look no further than Facebook which marched through a decade before going IPO essentially crushing everyone in its path.
Thanks to Doug Parker for his feedback. Originally published on “Data Driven Investor,” am happy to syndicate on other platforms. I am the Managing Partner and Cofounder of Tau Ventures with 20 years in Silicon Valley across corporates, own startup, and VC funds. These are purposely short articles focused on practical insights (I call it gl;dr — good length; did read). Many of my writings are at https://www.linkedin.com/in/amgarg/detail/recent-activity/posts and I would be stoked if they get people interested enough in a topic to explore in further depth. If this article had useful insights for you comment away and/or give a like on the article and on the Tau Ventures’ LinkedIn page, with due thanks for supporting our work. All opinions expressed here are my own.