Ilona Hitel, MD & founder of CommsCo explains how a good communication strategy is key if you’re looking to exit your business.
If you’re a scale-up company, with a hot technology idea, you are likely to have an exit strategy or investment agenda. Google startups or tech investment and you will see the market is awash with deals and funding news.
Yet while most business leaders are well-equipped to manage the financial and legal aspects of IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, a lot of companies are failing to make comprehensive PR plans part of a winning strategy, which affects recognition, and in turn, can impact valuation.
The importance of brand building in PR terms is often overlooked – despite its undeniable part to play in securing an optimum sale price. Why? Perhaps one of the issues is too few senior comms representatives at board level. In my experience, many small to medium companies appear in the media only when they secure investment, and after this news event, cease any form of external comms, which warrants ongoing articles or mentions.
Boosting profile is essential to driving attention from investment, partners and market analysts. It needs to play a supporting role to the corporate strategy, and there are definitely some quick wins to consider when building the value of your business in the market.
Start at the beginning
Your investment strategy should start at the very beginning – what is your differentiation story in the market? What is your competitive advantage? Once you are happy with your position, you need to produce joined up communications across all channels. This should run throughout your comms to all internal and external audiences and play consistently throughout all of your messaging.
An accumulation of positive coverage in the years and months leading up to an exit will strengthen your business’ brand recognition and perceived position versus the competition. Perception is key and regular coverage in tier one national, tech and vertical press will give your audience a sense of upward momentum and continued success. Developing a thought leadership position, perhaps through research or simply by being outspoken on the issues affecting your market, will elevate your brand and enable you to better compete against larger players with bigger marketing budgets.
Create a brand figurehead
Most often, this is the CEO, but not always. When choosing a spokesperson, the most important thing is to select a knowledgeable and visionary thought leader who understands the customer story, the ‘why’, and can be a positive embodiment of the brand. Someone who makes compelling comments and isn’t scared of controversy at times, or at least can talk to the bigger picture. Company value is as much about trust in the management team as it is the product offering and proposition itself.
Shout about your successes
Promote your customer wins, especially any flagship brands. Enter your company into relevant industry league tables and award listings and be sure to share big milestones (1m users, first to market, high-level board appointments) as you build towards investment or acquisition. Wire significant announcements to achieve maximum reach. Don’t share news of refreshed websites or sales appointments, and make sure you build a compelling story whenever you go out to the media.
Consider your stakeholders
It’s important to remember all of your stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers and media too. Your reputation will rest on how well you communicate and engage with these audiences, and your employees’ roles as brand ambassadors will be more important as you create momentum towards a corporate event. Linked to all of this, your social media strategy should be intact too. In our experience, some key journalists go directly to company Twitter profiles to get a sense of an organisation – your investors may be doing this too.
If comms isn’t high on the company agenda, not only might you be invisible amongst the competition, you may not be ready for a crisis that could have a direct and critical impact on value if high profile enough. Depending on your customer proposition and service, this normally warrants a separate strategy of its own.
However, get your PR comms right and you create a company which can appear bigger than its actual size, creating a positive perception wherever you might be found. Your profile will be part of any investor due diligence and it’s important to make sure it creates an entirely positive part of the overall plan.