Steve Forbes once said that “Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business”. And in today’s world of digital media, that advice extends to a company’s founder too.
Cult of the person
The cult of the personal brand has gripped the business world in recent years. A quick search on Amazon generates over 3,000 results for books on the topic, and experts like Mark W. Schaefer and Seth Godin have written seminal works on personal brand.
In public life, we see compelling examples of the power of personal brand every day - Marcus Rashford’s campaign to provide free school meals, or the Stormzy University scholarship, for example.
But there’s not been many attempts to link a strong personal brand for business leaders with cold, hard commercial outcomes. So, we thought we’d try and do just that a report looking at startup and scale-up financing and media profile.
Invest to impress
According to our research with media intelligence platform CARMA, startup founders and CEOs that invest in their personal media profile secure greater levels of investment when fundraising.
The latest Coverage to Capital report, looked at 64 startup unicorns in the UK, defined as privately-held companies which have achieved a valuation of more than one-billion US dollars.
For this, we analysed more than 65,000 media articles and over 10,000 LinkedIn and Twitter posts to offer a comprehensive study of the media profile of these businesses and their founders. Here’s what we found:
- The most-followed CEOs on social media secure greater investment: Unicorn companies whose founders have the largest number of LinkedIn followers secured over £763 million total investment on average. That’s over 20% more than the average total raised - £632 million - across the UK’s entire unicorn cohort. The same trend was true on Twitter albeit resulting in a smaller difference of 5.4% - with the most-followed CEOs raising an average of £666 million in funding in total.
- LinkedIn is the social media platform of choice for startup leaders: Just 6% of CEOs and founders at UK unicorns don’t use the business networking site, compared to 42% who don’t use Twitter. The ‘most social’ CEO on LinkedIn was Gymshark founder Ben Francis (367.5k followers / 93 posts), while Improbabale’s Herman Narula (10.1k followers / 97 posts) was the most active CEO on Twitter.
- Earned media profile also correlates with fundraising success: Of the 20 UK unicorns with the highest volume of media coverage, 15 of them had CEOs or founders who were the most prominent in earned media. Boohoo’s John Lyttle was the most profiled CEO across print and online channels (718 mentions/£59M raised).
- The most media-savvy CEOs appear in nearly a quarter of company coverage: The leaders of top tier unicorns - which raised an average of £1.4 billion - were featured in 23% of their company’s press coverage on average, compared with just 13% of leaders at mid-tier unicorns - which raised an average of £350.9 million - and only 14% of low-tier unicorns - which raised an average of £130.8 million.
The findings are clear. If you want to raise more money for your business, success starts at the top. The prevailing wisdom that a founder or CEO has a key role to play in ‘storytelling’ for their business holds true, and then some.
With the environment for startup funding now more challenging than it has previously been, founders - and their PR teams - need to be thinking about ways that they can stand out.
That means talking publicly and consistently about your goals for the business, articulating what separates you from the competition and investing the time to develop a personal brand that will help you demonstrate credibility and domain expertise - both to potential investors and potential customers alike.
A sample of 64 companies was used in this research, representing most unicorns currently operating in the UK. CARMA conducted a back search on media coverage generated by each of these companies and their CEOs or founders over the past year. The analysis spanned the period from 1/5/2021 to 30/4/2022, looking at over 65,194 media articles from over 3,200 online media sources. The LinkedIn and Twitter profiles of both the unicorn companies and their CEO or founder were also analysed, including a total of 824 LinkedIn posts from CEOs or founders, and 6,105 company posts over a six-month period. A total of 323 Twitter posts from CEOs or founders and 2,859 company posts were analysed over a one-month period. To learn more, download the full report here.
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