Todd Barrish
Todd Barrish

It’s no secret in the public relations world that it’s been getting harder to attract media coverage for startup funding rounds and corporate product launches. Part of the reason for that is because of the growing swarm of PR professionals relative to a dwindling number of journalists, along with an increasingly crowded tech investor space where every startup and venture capital firm is fighting to tell its story.

But it’s also important to recognize how the dominant media narratives don’t always align with the sunny Silicon Valley perspective of “everything is going great” and “technology will fix the world.” As Jessica Lessin, Founder of the tech news publication The Information has pointed out, journalists have the responsibility to report on issues such as the role that technology plays in exacerbating social and wealth inequality, along with the implications of new tech products and services for individual privacy and freedom. A growing number of customers and investors are also increasingly aligned with social responsibility narratives and eager to hold tech companies accountable.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '21 Technology PR Magazine
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That means companies and VC firms need to ask themselves a serious question: how do their tech products, business models and investing philosophies fit within broader narratives about the social responsibility of tech founders and investors?

Organizations that can proactively align their brand with social responsibility in both messaging and practice will be far better positioned from a PR standpoint to attract positive media attention. Those that don’t will find themselves more hard-pressed to earn desirable media coverage, or even forced into a defensive PR crouch by news reporting that shines a spotlight on an organization’s social responsibility deficiencies.

Don’t get left behind

Those organizations that are slow to embrace socially responsible practices run the risk of being left behind from both a business and PR standpoint. A growing number of companies and investors are adopting environmental, social and governance criteria, while some startups have built their organizations around such criteria from the get-go.

A 2021 global survey by Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week found that 85 percent of business executives saw the COVID-19 pandemic as a “wakeup call for sustainability,” and a majority of those executives expect to see financial benefits from investing in ESG activities within two years. Similarly, a majority of major institutional investors surveyed by J.P. Morgan said they expect the pandemic to have a positive impact on ESG investment momentum within the next three years.

The impact goes beyond mere sentiment. Investors and customers are increasingly rewarding companies for aligning with ESG criteria—and shying away from those companies that are seen as ESG risks. An S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis found that ESG funds outperformed the S&P 500 during the first year of the pandemic, even as flows into sustainable investment funds in the U.S. more than doubled between 2019 and 2020 to reach $51.1 billion.

Many VC firms haven’t yet integrated ESG criteria into their investment philosophies and portfolios, but a growing number are jumping on related investment opportunities such as in the clean tech industry. Venture capitalists and tech companies that can confidently say they have implemented a progressive ESG framework will have a powerful and positive story to tell when pitching news publications.

Embrace your role in a bigger story

Even if an organization has a winning pitch about its socially responsible hiring and operational practices, a crowded field means that many companies and VC firms will still find it difficult to consistently earn media coverage, let alone earn a glowing profile of the company or founder. But there are ways to win media coverage more often than not once organizations realize it’s rarely all about them.

That fact is that many tech journalists want to write stories with a bigger scope beyond covering a specific organization’s funding round or product launch. A pitch that can help journalists to see how an organization’s latest announcement fits within the broader narratives and trends is more likely to succeed.

For example, many tech companies and VC firms still struggle on diversity and inclusion in their hiring, promotion and investing decisions. But even those that can boast of having a more diverse leadership, workforce or group of founders among their portfolio companies may not be guaranteed media coverage for something like a series B funding round.

Instead of simply sending out a pitch about a new startup that raised $20 million and happens to have a founder who’s a woman or person of minority background, consider taking a big-picture approach. Start by highlighting the statistics that tell a story about the lack of diversity in the tech industry and among founders who receive VC funding. Explain some of the challenges that women and minority founders face within this context. Then you can paint the founder’s story into the bigger picture.

The takeaway

There are undoubtedly opportunities beyond media coverage to tell your organization’s story, especially through content marketing. But the good news is that embracing a socially responsible stance positions your organization to play a supporting—if not also starring—role in many positive media narratives moving forward. In the midst of both a global pandemic and a climate crisis, there are few better stories to tell than the story about how your organization did its part to make things better for everyone.


Todd Barrish is President of Indicate Media.