Young growth companies find no shortage of advice on nearly every aspect of building a business – from early investors, consultants, management books or the business press. But on the road to a potential IPO, one critical aspect is often overlooked: communications. This can be a painful lesson.
Success attracts attention. It’s easy to lose control of your message and quickly find your brand being defined by others. When the spotlight hits you, it is vital to be ready for your close-up.
Today, nearly everyone is a sophisticated consumer with discerning tastes for the brands they choose. This is as true for B2B decision makers as it is for consumer product shoppers. Even with compelling products or services and skyrocketing sales growth, it’s no longer OK to put up a static website and forget about it. Or to be casual in your preparation for interaction with analysts and news media. Here are five communications essentials leading up to an IPO:
Get your simple story straight. If your offerings are technical or arcane, describe them in plain language that anyone can understand and colorful anecdotes that are authentic and avoid hype. Make your story about solving your customers’ challenges, not how you created your product. Define your own competitive differentiation and make sure it will stand up to scrutiny. And don’t just write it down; make sure your team can live and breathe it.
Make sure your website is fresh. This is where you can make your business look significant and proven. To use an old boxing term, punch above your weight class. Your site should be dynamic, vibrant and social. It should speak not only to customers and prospects, but to potential investors, analysts and the media. If it looks like 2008, it probably is. Regardless of whether or not you are a technology company, your site must make it clear you are modern and your offerings are fresh and innovative.
Practice diligently for public exposure. Before you actually experience it. This includes executive media training and practice interviews, new expectations for employees on social and traditional media engagement, and as an IPO becomes realistic, private mock earnings announcement processes with real numbers, rigorous Q&A and tight deadlines.
Establish a “new normal” cadence of public communication. Step up your communications with your external constituencies — customers, prospects, partners, media, analysts, communities. Signal that you are a noticeable presence with ambitious but realistic goals by communicating and influencing the market in the months leading up to the filing process. Be sure to partner with a communications advisor who can not only understand your products, culture and business model well enough to help you tell your story, but also one with the experience, judgment and integrity to guide your preparation.
Build a dialogue and then relationships with influencers. Every industry has independent influencers, be they analysts, journalists, bloggers or other thought leaders. Make it clear you are building a sustainable business by avoiding a transaction mentality that expects immediate positive coverage directly from the interactions.
It’s all part of building a business for the long haul. And it’s a more critical part than many entrepreneurs realize.
(This blog appeared in Bulldog Reporter.)