In two previous articles for O’Dwyer’s, I’ve looked at why venture capital firms need to use public relations to stand out in a crowded market, as well as why content marketing is the ideal vehicle to achieve branding goals. As the VC landscape has evolved since that first article was published, it has only become more important for firms to invest in a compelling PR strategy.
The bull market of the last decade has introduced hundreds of new players to venture capital, creating an environment that is attractive for investors and entrepreneurs but challenging for firms looking to stand out from the pack. The balance of power has shifted: while the past saw founders selling themselves to VCs, the current marketplace requires VCs to effectively market themselves to entrepreneurs seeking “smart capital.”
The looming specter of a recession could lead to a shakeout in the industry, with only well-built firms surviving what could be a drying-up of capital. The fact of the matter is this: more than 500 venture capital firms are seeking a cut of a limited economic pie. It stands to reason that not every VC is built to last. But regardless of whether or not a reduction in the number of VC players is imminent, it is crucial for firms to solidify their brand and develop a forward-thinking PR strategy.
Investing in expertise
If there’s one thing venture capital understands, it’s the importance of drawing a good return on investment. By spending the time and money necessary on a smart PR and communications strategy, VCs can reap the outsize benefits of a strong and persuasive public identity, allowing them to focus on what they do best, finding new entrepreneurs and maximizing the return on their capital investments.
What’s the best strategy for developing a brand in 2020 and beyond? It starts with a digital story. Both VC firms and entrepreneurs alike now have the tools at their disposal to do their due diligence online, and an ineffective online presence becomes an immediate weak spot for either party looking to stand out. Your most important public-facing touchpoints—your company website, LinkedIn page, and even the LinkedIn profiles of your executives—should each tell a clear story of who your firm is and who you serve.
A strategic and consistent PR campaign ensures that your firm’s story is fresh and relevant, including a healthy dose of smart content marketing which is both informative and, most importantly, current. Writing a blog about how “A.I. is coming” or talking about “pivoting to video” will only show that your brand is out of touch and relying on buzzwords.
Effective VC public relations aligns the firm’s marketing with the industries it serves, with particular emphasis given to the VC’s visual identity. A recent Wall Street Journal article highlights this trend: if a VC serves creative industries like fashion and luxury goods, their visual brand should match that aesthetic in tenor and tone. Likewise, if your firm works exclusively with fintech, you’re going to want to develop a brand that exudes precision and agility. Your visual brand becomes an even greater challenge if you work with more than one industry: clever aesthetic choices can ensure that you’re making the right first impression regardless of the entrepreneur, while visual elements narrowed to one industry could shut you out of other opportunities.
Perhaps the most important element of VC branding is consistency. As you expand your touchpoints across multiple platforms and publications, you’ll want to ensure that you’re conveying a single, clear message. Develop and create thought leadership that dovetails with your industries and your image, anticipating the next big thing and delivering actionable information. The benefit of establishing your firm as an industry leader can’t be overstated—just ask Andreesen Horowitz if they regret investing in branding and content.
Leveraging the analytics boom
As we move into 2020 and beyond, VC public relations will also need to integrate more and more data for effective performance. If you are making the effort to develop content around your business, you should go the extra mile to understand how your content is working. What are your followers paying attention to? What content is driving the most engagement? How are you stacking up against your competitors? And how else are you leveraging your content beyond posting it online? Data analytics can help you to experiment with different platforms for sharing your thought leadership. Today’s startups and entrepreneurs are all over social media—you need to be, too. This is another area where your marketing efforts should be in harmony with your potential partners: you are more likely to catch the eye of a tech startup on Instagram than LinkedIn, so cover your bases accordingly. And if you don’t have your finger on the pulse of every 21st century social media feed, that’s perfectly fine, as long as you’re engaging the help of someone who does.
Data can also be used proactively. What insights can you garner from past posts to further enhance your content creation? Gauge your content strategy’s success over time using metrics that can guide you towards future topics that really connect with your audience. Well-designed data analysis makes your thought leadership responsive, ensuring that each new piece of content delivers a greater return on investment than the one which came before. On the other hand, a misguided or half-hearted data effort will likely provide little to no useful insight.
Three key takeaways
Play to your strengths: Don’t try to be all things to all people. Identify your niche and become the leading voice in your area of expertise.
Mirror your audience: Make a good first impression with your visual identity and content. Persuade your target industry that your firm is a perfect fit.
Know thyself: Every new piece of content should be followed by thoughtful analysis. Create, analyze, adjust, repeat.
With more competition than ever before, time has run out for venture capital firms to wait for entrepreneurs to come to them. VCs must invest in PR and adopt a well-informed, forward-thinking strategy if they want to win in 2020 and the years to come.
Todd Barrish is President and Founder of Indicate Media, a B2B tech and financial services public relations agency located in New York City and Philadelphia.