Fundraise announcement is a once-in-two-year opportunity to get all eyes on you. You’ll do other announcements as well, but they will not get the same interest as a funding announcement. So, why would you not put in every effort to get maximum attention and grab as many eyeballs from VCs, potential employees, customers, and more? Why will you miss it?” - Sairam Krishnan, Marketing Head, Atomicwork (Blume Fund IV co)

The news of fundraise is the most important opportunity for founders to communicate their story, talk about the problem they are solving, and showcase their proposition. However, many founders/founding teams don’t take advantage of it as a marketing moment or lack the know-how to get maximum mileage from this milestone event

In this deep dive, I answer key questions to help you leverage your fundraise announcement and tell your company’s story. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ll cover.

  • Why invest time and money in your fundraise announcement?
  • How to amplify the reach of your fundraise announcement?
  • What content assets do you need?
  • How to create a memorable narrative?
  • Common mistakes to avoid.

For this article, I spoke to Bilal Mahmood, a seasoned PR leader who has worked with 700+ founders on funding announcements, and Sairam Krishnan, marketing head of Atomicwork, who led Atomicwork’s seed funding announcement and has executed many similar announcements in his earlier role at Accel.

Let’s go.

Why invest time and money in your fundraise announcement?

Underscoring the importance of your fundraise announcement is crucial - it's not just about your startup getting $xM from a VC.

It's a once in 2-to-3-year opportunity to put your startup’s story in front of people. Your funding round provides you a wedge to differentiate from hundreds of other companies telling their stories.

Bilal: “Founders ask if they should spend time or money on this. My answer is yes, especially if they have started or are on the cusp their commercial journey (traction, customers, revenue etc). Being featured in the media helps secure contracts, with hiring and generating investor interest for future rounds.”

Sai adds, “There are few opportunities for a founder to share their story at a time when people are listening to you. If you miss it, it's your loss. When you put out your fundraise PR, suddenly thousands of people look at you.

If I put a dollar value on that, it's a $100,000 opportunity. If you mess up your fundraise announcement and later want to grab eyeballs when launching your new product, it won't work. You'll spend $100,000 to get the same attention you could have easily grabbed when you raised a round.”

Bilal brings in the perspective of how journalists react to fundraise news vs. product launch.

Bilal: “This is when a journalist will care about you. There's a third-party vote of confidence (i.e. investors) in your company today, and they believe something big will happen. Compare this to a product launch announcement three months down the line. Unless you are a company of public interest,  please don’t think journalists will stop their lives to write about it, my friend, no one will care.

Bilal also breaks the myth about fundraise announcements helping VCs.

Bilal: “Founders sometimes choose not to make a big splash about the news because they think the fundraise announcement is about VCs promoting themselves. But truth be told, journalists don't really care about the VC. They are more interested in your business, not the VC.”

Start at the end and decide what type of attention you want

Before making your announcement, outline clear objectives to determine everything downstream - messaging, content assets, and channels. As a marketing leader at your startup, discuss these with your founders and set well-defined objectives before the announcement.

Sai: “There are two ways to think about this. One is that any attention is good. The other is, I only want ICP attention. Do you want to spread the word that you are building a kickass company in this space, or clearly ROI from the investment made in fundraise effort? This is the most important decision. You need to be clear and ensure your founders are too.”

Once you nail down your goals, you should decide messaging, content assets, and channels.

Sai: “If I'm ROI-driven, I want to ensure my fundraise announcement reaches our buyers, who for us are IT leaders. Then, the messaging will change. For instance, for Atomicwork, I'll say, Atomicwork takes on ServiceNow. That's the primary message, signaling that we're challenging this large incumbent company. That's when the IT leader will be interested.'

On the other hand, if I'm writing for awareness, the money raised is important. So, I’ll say, Atomicwork raises $11 million. What we do and what we are building comes after that.”

And no, you can't have both. You have to choose. This decision determines the success of the announcement campaign.

What content do you need for a fundraise announcement

Once you decide on your path and message, you decide on what content assets to put out. The bare minimum is a press release, and companies release founder interviews, employee videos, and even skits/songs by employees. It's bound only by your creativity and effort.

And then there’s the question of how to release this content. Should it be released all at once or spread over a month? How much time does it take to create the content?

Let’s decode these one by one.

Create a news bonanza

Sai suggests packing everything in a tight period of 1-2 weeks to create a non-stop stream of content about your company instead of spreading it out over months.

Sai: “What has worked for me in the past five-six years, is to think of the announcement as a news bonanza where you blast all types of content from the rooftop in 1-2 weeks. There’s an urge to spread your content over a period of say two to three months thinking that with every release, your story will get a bump and you’ll get more eyeballs. But since your brand isn’t well known, it doesn’t work. If you suddenly show up in everyone’s feed - news, social media, WhatsApp - for a few days, people will take you more seriously and get more interested in you.

Your news bonanza needs a hero content piece and flanking content.

Find your hero content piece

Your announcement needs one hero piece. It could be your press release, a blog post, a founder or employee-made video, or something else.

Why is it important to decide on a hero piece?

The founder/marketing leader’s time is in high demand in a young organization. Fixing the hero piece upfront is a forcing function to make it the best representation of your story. This doesn’t mean you do a poor job on the other content pieces, but you can settle for an 8 out of 10 on them, while the hero piece has to be an 11 out of 10.

Sai: “You need to pick one of these and everything should point to this piece. For us, it was the company launch blog post on our website, so everything else led to it, making social media crucial for directing people back.”

Create flanking content

Once you've chosen the hero piece, plan content pieces around it to amplify your announcement.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list.

  • A video from employees or the founder about the problem you're solving and what makes you unique
  • Media feature/interviews
  • A creative video with employees/actors performing a song or skit
  • Founder going on podcasts to talk about the company
  • Reposts of media coverage on social media
  • Investment memo on your investor's website
  • Articles by founders or employees on non-company websites (like your investor’s website)

Sai suggests creating a landing page for your announcement with all the content assets and linking it everywhere.

Sai: ”People want to click and go to places. So make it navigable with a media page where people can see an interview and then they can look at other content pieces to fall down the rabbit hole.

I’ve come across some interesting content pieces for fundraise announcements. Here are a few.

Bring it all together

Getting the content ready is half the battle. The other half is threading it into a bonanza. The real work starts after the fundraising announcement. Here’s Sai's suggested news bonanza content calendar.

Sai: “We announce on 25th March. It's a blog post on your company’s website. This is when media outlets start reporting about the fundraise. People see you everywhere. Congratulatory messages, social media feeds fill up, etc. But your job has just started.

"Now, launch phase 2. Release a video on 27th March. Video is the lowest hanging fruit and people tend to consume it a lot more.”

“Follow up with a strong social media campaign to reinforce your company’s story by sharing the media coverage.”

“The founder should appear on as many podcasts as possible in the same week or across two weeks. Share them on social media. Aim for video podcasts because people like to see faces now.”

This maximizes the number of exposures to your audience, registering your company’s story in their minds. By not just harping about the fundraise and creating useful/entertaining content about it, you’re making yourself more memorable.

Then, you launch phase 3. Here’s Sai's explanation.

Sai: "By the end of the first week, people get tired of your messaging. You need to make them sit up one more time. If phase one and two are the one-two punch, then phase 3 is a prolonged two punch.

What should you do in phase 3? Juice out all the attention you grabbed in the first two phases.

  • Release a report to establish yourself as the leading voice in your industry.
  • Launch a company podcast with 2-3 star operators/founders from your buyers’ industry.
  • Long-form pieces by founders about how the company started and what they learned.
  • A media feature about the founder’s journey if they're a second-time founder.

Work on the fundraise announcement should start 1.5 to 2 months in advance for everything to fall into place. Prepare 8-10 pieces of content apart from the hero piece for the two weeks after the announcement. Ideally, you should block 80% of your marketing team/lead's time on work related to the announcement for these 2 months.

Sai strongly suggests creating a checklist.

Sai: “Creating an announcement checklist is very useful. It has three parts: pre-PR, during PR, and post-PR. This checklist takes two weeks to prepare and helps determine your readiness. Are you even ready with your prep to release your announcement on so and so date? This is two months of work leading up to the PR date.”

The checklist aligns the marketing team, founders, and the rest of the organization before the fundraising announcement.

Sai: “I sat down with Vijay and walked him through the checklist. This is what needs to be done. That's why I need three months for the PR. Can you commit to carve out this much time? We have a small team so they can't work on anything else during this time. Are you ready to make that trade-off?”

How to run the press release

Even if the press release isn’t your hero piece, it's crucial for the fundraise announcement. Your goal is to get into big-ticket publications and then rally a long tail of coverage from it.

Should you work with a PR agency or fly solo? Here’s Sai's take.

Sai: “If you have direct contacts with newsroom journalists, you can share your story directly. However, most marketing folks don’t have such connects, especially with a 1 or 2 member, early-stage team. This isn't the time to send cold emails to journalists on LinkedIn. It's a high opportunity cost situation. So find an agency within your budget, pay them, and get the job done. Don’t try to be frugal now.

Bilal suggests a 2-3 week sprint to get your PR across the line.

Week 1:

This phase starts 2 to 3 weeks before D-day when you work with the PR agency to create a backgrounder note and a press release.

What’s the difference between a press release and a backgrounder note?

Bilal: “A backgrounder note provides detailed information to journalists and typically consists of seven to eight common questions.“

“The backgrounder questions usually cover your origin story, the challenges you're solving, the problem statement, your customers and use cases, success stories, competition and how you differentiate from them. It also covers revenue, growth rate, profitability, and expansion plans. This is your opportunity to state your narrative.”

Why two separate documents?

Bilal: “The press release has a news angle and some context i.e. we've announced a funding round and here's some context as to why this business and its funding round are important today. The backgrounder provides deeper narrative that can’t fit into a two-page press release.”

What else does a journalist need?

Bilal: “I encourage founders to create a press release, backgrounder note, and media folder with pictures. Once you've got all that, you're set in week one.

Sai suggests founders take inputs from their investors to strengthen the release and use any distribution help they can provide.

Sai: “Make time for VCs to review your press release. They see many PRs so they can help with what works/what doesn’t. Don't act too precious, get their expertise into your press release.'“

“Also ask them to send it to their network. Many know certain journalists very well and are happy to market you. Be shameless and ask, otherwise they won't know if you want to reach specific journalists.”

Week 2:

Week two is all about pitching.

Your agency contacts the journalists and says this news will be released on x date. Do you want to meet the founders? They start lining up Zoom, mail, or in-person interviews.

Bilal suggests giving journalists at least a week's lead time before D-day, especially for international publications like TechCrunch or Forbes. Although the number of press releases has increased, fewer journalists are covering them. So, giving adequate lead time keeps you in good standing with them.

Remember to embargo the release until the day of the release. Most journalists will respect embargoes and not leak your fundraise news. It may still leak, but we will address that separately in another section.

If you lack media interview experience, talk to seasoned PR execs or your agency to prepare for journalist interviews. Though you've pitched to investors to raise funds and to customers to close deals, journalists are different. What worked before won't work now.

Bilal: “Journalists are different. They're not looking to be sold to. There's no quid pro quo. You're convincing an independent third party why you're the greatest thing since sliced bread, but in a measured way. Many aren’t ready to be questioned by journalists, so they exaggerate how good they are or focus on technical features and lose the journalist’s interest.”

Pitching to international media

Bilal advises keeping each publication's nuances in mind when pitching to the US media.

  • Techcrunch may ask more questions via email or invite you for a Zoom call. So you've got to be ready for both scenarios.
  • VentureBeat will usually email more questions.
  • Forbes will always invite you for a Zoom call.
  • Insider will sometimes want a call, but they always want to see the pitch deck.

As a SaaS company selling in the US, hitting a critical mass of US media coverage is crucial for credibility.

Sai: “You’ll most likely get Techcrunch with a solid story. But you have to have at least two more pieces in the US press for them to sit up and take notice. We had Wall Street Journal and others reach out because Forbes had picked it up. Techcrunch had picked it up.”

Week 3

Week three is about execution. On day one, you should see media coverage in all the publications you have briefed. Here’s where your PR agency should step in for the long-tail coverage.

Bilal: “That morning once pre-briefed media coverage has landed, I would send the press release to a wider media list of circa 3-5k journalists, depending on their vertical, region, etc. They get the announcement and can choose to write about it that day or week, creating a long tail of coverage.

Later that morning, I'll put it on a newswire to syndicate your press release to 200 websites, which is good for SEO and backlinks, but nothing more.

Review the media coverage and share it on your social media to increase views. Readers want your story from a reputable publication as much as they want to hear it from you.

An indirect benefit of this is that journalists who covered your story feel good seeing their efforts amplified, which can help when you reach out to them in the future.

Don’t miss the newsletter opportunity. Most publications have newsletters read daily by hundreds and thousands of readers. It's the most valuable piece of digital media real estate today, and you should definitely hustle to be seen in it.

Bilal: “Fortune has the Term Sheet newsletter, Wall Street Journal has the VC Pro newsletter, and Axios has the Pro Rata newsletter. They're influential and land in your inbox daily. And if you're short on time, you can skim to see the deals of the day. If your deal is one of them, you'll be top of mind for that reader.”

Finally, don’t let people forget the great coverage you received once the news buzz is over. Display the logos of publications that covered you on your website. This is more useful for B2B companies than for B2C companies, as the logos signal reliability and trust.

Creating a compelling narrative

There's no cookie-cutter way to build a good story. Here are some dos and don’ts of storytelling.

  • Don’t make it too formulaic.
    • Bilal: “The press releases from India are very templatized sometimes. They state the funding and investors, add a paragraph about the product or platform, a quote from the CEO, and a VC quote. It's impossible to differentiate these companies.”
  • As a tech company, don't fill your announcement with technical details.
    • Bilal: “The journalists don't care about your product, integration, runtime, or Snowflake certification. They don't care about any of that stuff. You need to grab attention through the problem you are solving from the lens of main street.”
  • Look at it from the reader’s lens: what are they looking for? How can you excite them about your company? Remember that the fundraise announcement is just a wedge for you to tell your company’s/product’s story.
    • Bilal: “They want to see what the company is doing? How is it helping businesses drive better outcomes? How is it helping consumers? Explain why you are important in the industry today.”
    • Bilal: “Layer down some context. Talk about how the platform works. Introduce the CEO quote, talk about why this is a big problem, add Gartner stats, introduce the VC quote, and end with your vision statement, period!
  • Journalists in the US media, such as TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Axios, and Forbes, prefer a company's journey over the amount of funds raised.
    • Bilal: “Why is this important today and in what context? And that's often missing in press releases from startups, not just India, but across the world. They're very much simplified or they go over the top to make your product seem like wizardry.
  • If you're releasing in multiple geos, have someone make it accessible to global readers. For example, if your announcement mentions football, change it to soccer to release it in the US.

What if you raised a smaller round?

If you’ve raised a $1M or smaller round, it can be tough to get journalists to write about it, especially if there are larger fundraise announcements at the same time.

You can address it to some extent by adding more juice to your story.

Sai: “You need to give the story some juice. You’ll need to say what makes your company exciting, who are you are taking on, what industry you will disrupt and more. If that masala is not there and you just want to say we raise $1 million, that's not going to happen because that's not news anymore. Second time founders are raising larger rounds. You can’t compete for attention with that.

Another way to tackle this is to offer an exclusive story to ET or Mint. They're more likely to feature the story prominently if it's an exclusive.

Dealing with news leaks

Eager journalists may break the fundraising story before the official announcement. Startups make ROC filings when they receive funds to issue shares. Journalists can check these filings and break the news before you're ready.

What do you do?

One way is to plan your announcement alongside the ROC filing.

Bilal: “The best way to handle the situation is to plan with the CFO when the funds will come in and the filings will be sent to ROC. The announcement should be made on the same day the filings are sent, not after. That's the day we announce. Some investors don't want announcements until they have their share certificates, then you have to explain the situation to them and get them onboard.

However, this may not always be possible. Sai suggests being prepared for a news leak before the announcement with an action plan instead of scrambling at the last moment.

Sai: “I sent an email to my founders two days before the launch with a step-by-step list of what happens if our announcement is leaked.”

The first step is not to panic. Even if the news has been leaked, you still have many other ways to tell your story and lead the narrative.

Once the news leaks, other publications will pick it up and reach out to you for sound bytes. Keep these founder bytes ready. Also, keep your social media announcements ready that you can shoot quickly in case of a leak to take charge of the narrative. Then, follow your planned content release cycle.

Try to contact the publication and ask if there’s a way to remove the leak and republish it at the time of your planned announcement. As part of this negotiation, you could offer the founder’s time for the article or a video podcast.

You can also preempt it by tracking which publications typically leak funding announcements, proactively contacting them, and offering dedicated access to the founder’s time to prevent the leaks.

How to measure success

As the article title suggests, a fundraise campaign's goal is to get you attention. Hence the success of a fundraise campaign boils down to - did you get the attention you wanted?

If you want ecosystem attention, you should see how the influential people in the ecosystem engage with your announcement—VCs, founders/CXOs, journalists, thought leaders from your industry, etc. How many interacted on LinkedIn, RTed on Twitter, and reached out via WA/mail to founders? Is there an increase in job applications, website visits, and social media engagements?

Sai: “If you're getting 500,000 views across all social, that's ROI! But people who don’t understand marketing won’t get it. No one buys anything, let alone a SaaS, by just seeing it once. You’ll see it on your social media, then go to the website, attend a webinar, download a whitepaper, maybe read the technical documents, etc. In this modern multi-touch buying cycle, getting 500,000 views is the first punch. You also need a second, third, fourth punch, but that doesn’t mean that the first punch has no value.

On the other hand, if you're only targeting ICP attention, like IT leaders in the US, don’t measure the campaign success by the views you get. Given the smaller cohort, you won’t get 500,000 views, but every view will be high quality. Evaluate the depth of engagement - how many people browsed through multiple content pieces and the number and quality of leads.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a fundraise announcement is a crucial opportunity for startups to tell their story and grab the attention of key stakeholders. To make the most of it, founders should set clear objectives, create a compelling narrative, and plan a multi-phase "news bonanza" with a hero content piece surrounded by flanking content. Partnering with a PR agency, pitching to journalists strategically, and amplifying media coverage through owned channels are key tactics. While leaks can happen, being prepared with a contingency plan can help maintain control of the narrative.

Ultimately, the success of a fundraise announcement depends on getting the right attention, whether broad ecosystem awareness or targeted engagement from ideal customers. By crafting a memorable fundraise announcement, startups can capitalize on a rare chance to accelerate their growth trajectory and open doors to new opportunities. Don't miss this valuable marketing moment - make your fundraise announcement count.