PR is the secret sauce for startup investment: here’s how and why to stand out

Nick Braund, founder at Words + Pixels PR, explains how new businesses can capture a potential investor’s attention in a competitive digital age

Trying to raise investment for a startup without PR is a bit like rowing a boat with one oar. Technically it’s possible but it’s a lot of hard work, and you may well go round in circles.

In my 13 years of working with some of the world’s most exciting new startups and scaleups, publicity is more of the speedboat in the harbour. The way I see it, you don’t need flashy campaigns or enormous budgets on your side to compete with the corporate superyachts. Instead you can cut around the rest with speed and reactivity on your side.

I was recently joined by Chris Smith, managing partner at Playfair Capital for a PRmoment webinar to discuss how exactly new ventures can compete with the behemoths and have their time in the sun. The challenge is knowing how to stand out in smart, cost-effective ways - and why doing so is the key to investor belief and engagement.

Here are five headline takeaways from our session, to help startups gain investor attention in an increasingly rich yet competitive sphere.

PR validates investor decision making

When you pitch to an investor, the very first thing they’ll do is search your public profile. The process is less sophisticated than you might imagine. Just like the rest of us, high net worth individuals will likely do a quick Google search to see what comes up.

A few good pieces of coverage will work magic here, allowing a rapid temperature check on a new company that investors are coming to cold. It makes an unproven product or concept that bit more desirable; a signpost that says, “this is a business that’s going places”.

The effort you’ve taken to get the word out and drum up attention demonstrates good business acumen, too. It shows investors that you, as founders, are confident that you’re going to create an impact with your product or service. You’re passionate enough about what you do to shout about it in a public domain, and - implicitly or otherwise - take on competitors.

If we take this argument further, we can think of a positive profile as a shop window for your startup, in which you get to showcase your brand personality, ambitions and data to reel in investor interest.

Spotlight the voice behind the brand

Investors buy into the promise of a startup rather than a readymade success - and for this reason, it’s really important to have a strong story behind your brand. Creating founder profiles is a crucial part of the PR equation because investors get to hear directly from the people fronting any given business on what makes them special and unique. It’s a chance to unveil your brand personality, allowing investors to glimpse the inner workings of what makes you and your business tick. For example, edtech startup Cypher was founded by Elizabeth Tweedale, after she became frustrated with the lack of accessibility in coding - particularly for girls. Exploring the personal story behind her kids’ coding camp concept gave it instant credibility and gravitas.

It’s worth noting that a founder’s profile can also be a good place to present early-stage success metrics, or plans for potential partnerships. And the strategy can be expanded as your startup grows, to profile other experts in your business. This shows off the full range of experiences and viewpoints in the C-Suite you’ve created. In the eyes of investors and the media, it takes you smoothly from one-man band to a fast-growing challenger full of talent.

Position yourself as a disruptor

As a startup, you have the natural advantage of agility on your side. New companies can flex and experiment in the way that their larger, more established competitors cannot - and in PR terms, this translates to innovative flair.

Journalists will always be on the hunt for a new angle, so your job is to fill that gap by playing on what makes your business exciting and different. This, in turn, will capture the imagination of investors eyeing up growth opportunities.

Video conferencing platform Whereby, for example, builds on the success of market stalwarts with a web browser tool that can be used by anyone and anywhere - without the need to download an app. It also features subtle touches such as rounded screen edges and a lighter colour palette, to soften the aesthetic and reduce video call fatigue.

Emphasising these innovations through media coverage will be immediately attractive to VCs. They have a proven track record of market demand in video conferencing, with an offering that enhances what’s currently available.

Use in-house data to create original stories

You don’t necessarily need huge budgets to create waves in PR. In fact, some of the best stories can be generated from within. Mobile gaming app Stakester, for example, used its own data to figure out how many calories are burnt in a two-hour gaming session, then spun the results into a national media story.

Many startups and scaleups will have inbuilt tech aptitude in their armoury, so it makes sense to mine this for original angles to feed a story idea. At the same time, you illustrate to investors that people are using your product, and your data is strong enough to prove or disprove certain behaviours or attitudes. It’s a great source of real-world validation.

Cutting through the maelstrom of noise in a digital age isn’t easy as a startup - but with a little ingenuity on your side, it’s more than doable. It’s also the best way of drawing in investor interest, giving you wind in your sails for unparalleled momentum and growth.