Capital Raise Outcomes

It’s impossible to ignore the dismal status of IPOs right now. But investor advisors from PwC to Morgan Stanley are reminding startups – this will eventually change and startups need to use this time strategically. As startups embark on their journey toward an initial public offering (IPO), they face many challenges and considerations.  Investors want to know that companies are reaching the widest possible audience and protecting their reputations, making cybersecurity and ESG  indispensable imperatives in the Pre-IPO PR roadmap.

While fundraising, growth strategies, and market positioning often take center stage, it is critical not to overlook two essential communication and PR components today’s investors are emphasizing their significance in building trust, mitigating risks, and ensuring long-term success.

Safeguarding Valuable Assets: Cybersecurity

In today’s interconnected world, cybersecurity is no longer an optional investment but a fundamental requirement for startups. As businesses increasingly rely on digital infrastructure, the risks associated with cyber threats have intensified. Investors, stakeholders, and customers are acutely aware of the potential damage from a data breach or a cyberattack. Therefore, startups must prioritize cybersecurity as an integral part of their pre-IPO roadmap, including the crisis communication plan.

Implementing robust cybersecurity measures shows a company’s commitment to safeguarding valuable assets, including intellectual property, customer data, and sensitive financial information. By conducting regular risk assessments, developing comprehensive incident response plans, and adopting cutting-edge security technologies, startups can instill confidence in their investors and inspire customer trust. A strong cybersecurity posture can serve as a competitive advantage, differentiating the startup from competitors and reassuring potential investors about the company’s ability to protect its digital infrastructure.

ESG: A Paradigm Shift in Investor Expectations

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors have emerged as a defining criterion for investors, signaling a significant shift in market dynamics. Startups must recognize the growing importance of ESG considerations and integrate them into their pre-IPO PR roadmap to attract sustainable and responsible investment.Communicating ESG can be volatile, so it’s imperative to incorporate seasoned Pre-IPO PR pros.

Environmental Responsibility: Startups must demonstrate their commitment to minimizing their environmental footprint. Adopting eco-friendly practices, promoting energy efficiency, and embracing sustainable business models are crucial in aligning with investor expectations and addressing climate change concerns.

Social Impact: Investors increasingly demand that companies prioritize social impact and contribute positively to their communities. Startups can emphasize diversity and inclusion programs, ethical supply chain management, and social responsibility projects to showcase their commitment to social values.

Governance: Good corporate governance practices are essential for startups as they navigate the path to IPO. Establishing a robust governance framework, including transparent decision-making processes, strong internal controls, and effective risk management, not only safeguards the interests of shareholders but also signals a commitment to ethical business practices.

By embracing ESG principles, startups can attract socially responsible investors who value sustainable growth and positive impact. Integration of ESG considerations also mitigates potential risks, enhances the startup’s reputation, and fosters long-term resilience.

Regulatory Compliance and Risk Mitigation

In the pre-IPO phase, startups must proactively address regulatory compliance and risk management to instill confidence in potential investors and avoid legal pitfalls. Regulatory frameworks surrounding cybersecurity and data privacy constantly evolve, necessitating startups to stay abreast of legal requirements and industry best practices.

Compliance with regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is crucial to avoid costly penalties and reputational damage. Startups must implement robust data protection measures, including encryption, access controls, and regular audits, to ensure the security and privacy of customer data.

Startups must conduct thorough risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and implement risk mitigation controls. By proactively addressing cybersecurity and ESG-related risks, startups can protect their reputation, foster trust with investors, and secure their future as successful public companies.

What is a Purpose-driven strategy? It’s the natural evolution of four converging cultural changes; the first is when social, cultural, and environmental issues became more visible and urgent, followed by consumers who expect brands to connect with nonprofits or social impact, driven by a lack of confidence in government to solve big problems, and finally, institutional investors evaluating environmental, social governance (ESG). Purpose puts a movement and impact first; the defining commitment of purpose is when it takes precedence over profits. Purpose-driven companies believe when society, the environment, and our collective well-being are doing well—businesses do better too.

Purpose-Driven Strategies have Three Key Pillars:

Employee and Systemic Engagement, Externally Virtuous, Meaty Measurable. 

These pillars of purpose require a company to be engaged in a systemic way, are independent of sales, and the impact should be both audacious and measurable. While purpose-driven strategies may give way to recruiting advantages, brand valuation, and competitive advantages, those are not the driving outcomes behind purpose. Purpose-driven PR is not the driving motivation behind purpose-driven implementations. The defining commitment of purpose is when it takes precedence over profitswhen internal culture is SO strong, so empowered, that decisions at all levels are made with a purpose in mind.

These Purpose Driven Strategy distinctions are important—because consumers—AND Investors are savvier than ever: They see through cause marketing campaigns with little authenticity. They’re alert to saying one thing, but doing another -greenwashing is so common it had a name.  Distrust in governments continued to decrease, while expectations of businesses continued to increase.

Purpose-driven strategies differ from the historical ways brands engaged with movements and nonprofits.

The Difference Between Purpose-Driven and Social Impact

Although used interchangeably sometimes, purpose and social impact are different. What exactly is purpose-driven strategy? It’s a deep, sustained engagement for change by which the company recognizes its own impact, including internally, at the corporate level. Social impact is 100% external and very often involves inspiring a stakeholder community, like customers, to work together for a sustained period. For this reason, businesses usually engage in social impact in partnership with nonprofits.

The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Philanthropy

The difference between purpose-driven strategies and philanthropy is based on the level of engagement the company commits to. Traditionally philanthropy was a broad term used to describe when a business contributed to a cause – anything from a social nonprofit to funding a building or a program at a college. This giving required very little else from the company outside of the donation. Companies often use philanthropy to attract other monied investors or achieve other strategic goals, but on the surface, having a philanthropic donation very often aligns with a marketing campaign or a PR campaign. Philanthropy also usually had little to do with employees and customer activism or interests.

The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Corporate Giving

That gave way to CORPORATE GIVING –programs. The United Way is an outstanding example of corporate giving, this is when an organization encourages its employees to unite behind a single cause to create a greater donation scale. At this stage, companies get more involved as multiple departments such as PR, or HR to create systems and messaging around corporate giving. Companies whose employees give a lot receive recognition in the community. Corporate giving gave employees the opportunity to easily give to an organization; some corporate giving programs allow employees to choose a cause that was important to them, but in the most traditional sense, the executive team partnered with a nonprofit to create a corporate giving program.

The Difference Between Purpose Driven Strategies and Cause Marketing

CAUSE MARKETING are initiatives that tied sales to a corporate donation  – started in 1983 when Amex donated a penny to restoring the Statue of Liberty every time someone used their card—cardholders grew 45% and card usage increased by 28%. By 2013, 76% of consumers thought it was OK for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time. Before we knew it, there was a cause marketing campaign everywhere we looked, from pink ribbons to yogurt lids. Enterprises like Hersheys even had internal positions that combined marketing & corporate social responsibility.

If you’re interested in implementing purpose-driven strategies at your company, check out our free guide to implementing purpose. 

Ask anyone who works in the cannabis industry: it’s different from any other industry. It’s not “just another CPG” product. It’s a highly regulated, heavily watched, extremely volatile industry. Our firm handled the first cannabis product recall in California, and we can tell you it’s not like other product recalls. We’re deeply engaged in the cannabis industry through our NCIA leadership and we proudly spearheaded the Best of 420 Clio Cannabis last year. The cannabis industry, which started in 2012 when Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use, has a history and patchwork of regulations even though it’s an emerging industry. Navigating these waters takes strategy, foresight, and the ability to read the tea leaves, which only comes from experience – that’s why hiring a cannabis PR firm matters.

 

The Cannabis Industry is Not The Green Rush

The ACTUAL gold rush was famously unregulated; it was a bonanza of rebels who swarmed government lands with impunity. Or the tech industry, whose ground-breaking innovations in media, medicine, and technology happened without major government oversight for decades, giving time for some of the world’s most profitable companies to take root.

The cannabis industry is on fragile ground. Even the most basic of business tools, the bank account, is challenging to secure for plant-touching cannabis brands. Unlike the surge of other emerging industries which merged into hypergrowth businesses, from the very first, the cannabis industry has been highly regulated. No startup industry has managed so many regulations, taxes, and hurdles early in its growth.

Why does this matter when hiring a cannabis PR agency? Because there is a more significant responsibility to consider and more to lose for cannabis brands. Anytime a bad actor lands in the cannabis industry, legislators can point to the irresponsibility of that single company as representative of the entire sector – fair or not. Cannabis brands must take the reputation of the whole cannabis sector seriously. Cannabis owners have the opportunity to be cultural leaders, and that’s a heady but consequential task that a cannabis PR agency knows how to handle.

If the cannabis industry is to change its federal legalization situation, then it must take the reputation of the cannabis industry seriously; that’s why hiring a cannabis PR firm matters.

 

Building a Brand Matters More in Cannabis

There are only a few ways for cannabis brands to differentiate because of the limitations on cannabis brands. Therefore, cannabis brands must use the marketing and communication tactics that are open to them, strategically.

While a cannabis connoisseur may be able to detect the subtleties of your flower’s terpene profile, the average U.S. consumer is still blissfully unaware of what a terpene is. It’s essential to meet your consumer where they are and celebrate their lives through the articulation of your brand. People are rarely drawn to a brand because it educates them; educational content has its purpose, but as a cannabis brand, you must know its purpose and place more than other consumer brands. And when I say brand, I mean every touch point from cannabis packaging to website. If your website looks amateur, then it doesn’t scream luxury or lifestyle; it screams “cheap, and uncommitted.”

Don’t kid yourself into thinking your digital presence doesn’t matter because traditional e-commerce isn’t available to cannabis brands. The fact is, search is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can leverage, and PR and content are critical to successful cannabis SEO.

It’s more important than ever that brands articulate clearly WHO their customer is. This is true of all consumer brands – but for the cannabis industry, where it’s even more challenging for the consumer to differentiate between brands, it’s even more critical that you tell them. No successful brand is everything to everyone right away. It took decades for Coca-Cola to be a brand that crosses generations and lifestyles, and even with that, Coca-Cola is continuously adding new products and new campaigns to reinforce its connection to segments of its audience. No cannabis brand has the history or the budget to operate the way the world’s biggest brands do – and that’s OK. You can’t be ubiquitous, but you can be niche.

But being a cannabis company doesn’t make you a cannabis brand-a brand you must build. And PR is a vital tool for emerging industries and ambitious brands for a reason.

Today’s cannabis brands have a multitude of strategies for their future. Some want to create generational family businesses, some want to be acquired, and some want nothing less than world domination. All those things are possible when you build a cannabis brand and that’s why hiring a cannabis firm matters.

The role of the CEO is ever-changing and one of the most notable evolutions is the expectation that a CEO be a visible leader. Some of the world’s best-known brands just wouldn’t be the same without their visible CEOs or founders. Ambitious companies from startup through IPO can take some cues from these leadership examples. With everything that a CEO has on their plate, why would they focus on thought leadership? Thought leadership checks off the optimal business outcomes from PR from increased brand value to easier recruiting, from investor awareness to consumer adoration, the reasons ambitious CEOs stay visible are clear:

  • 60% of decision-makers will pay a premium because thought leadership shows deep thinking and other virtues important to them.

  • People who follow both a company and one or more of its executives are twice as likely to purchase from that company.

  • 71% of decision-makers agree: thought leadership is one of the best ways to get a sense of the type and caliber of an organization’s thinking.

  • 81% of consumers say CEOs should be personally visible.

 

Today, CEOs of public companies and private companies alike are finding creative ways to keep their company in the news and remain the face of the brand. Savvy leaders are looking for ways to weigh in on social or business issues that impact their customers or clients. Leaders are driving purpose and speaking about it openly, they’re weighing in on newsworthy items, and they do it without ever pitching or selling their products or services. The Wall Street Journal won’t be a brand’s shill, but it will cover remarkable ideas and perspectives – and CEOs tend to have those. Dollar for dollar, the time invested in thought leadership PR pays off handsomely.

Steve Jobs: Thought Leadership Pioneer

An early leader in thought leadership strategy was, of course, Steve Jobs. With his signature black turtleneck and visionary ideas, he kept both Apple customers and the media hanging on his every word.

We may never know why Jobs, who was famously persnickety, embraced a more public persona, but the outcomes were undeniable. Because Steve Jobs stood in front of the press, he was instantly more credible when he delivered high-flying ideas about how his newest Apple products would change the world. Jobs’ presentations always had a restrained flair of showmanship, but showmanship nonetheless.

Another advantage for Jobs? After Apple ousted him-HIS OWN COMPANY-being the face of the brand made him indelibly connected to Apple. Firing Jobs would have been much harder to do the second time, but because he embraced thought leadership, there was also less reason to do so – Apple products did very well. To this day, Jobs is inextricably tied to Apple’s brand.

Richard Branson: Innovating with Public Failures

Richard Branson’s key message is crystal clear: innovation. Branson walks the walk. several times, Branson took to the skies in a hot air balloon, risking his own life to set world records and at the same time, creating opportunities for people to talk about Virgin Airlines. This stunt paled in comparison to the ultimate flight into space he took with Virgin Galactic.

According to LinkedIn: [Branson is] popular with everyone from entrepreneurs to HR professionals and in industries ranging from tech to construction. The only continent where he doesn’t have a single follower is Antarctica. This kind of broad-based appeal is almost unheard of, but Branson has pulled it off because he has one other secret to success: authenticity. He is actively involved with his own press.

At one point in his native England, Richard Branson was famous for being famous. The press actually heckled him for his publicity stunts – but they never failed to cover them and Branson took it all in stride, knowing that his stunts appealed to consumers who would appreciate the distinct spin Branson put on the Virgin brand and its products. Branson also weighs in on topics popular with his audience, like income inequality and universal basic income, which he called for in 2018. Should UBI ever come to be, Branson will be able to say he was the first CEO to advocate for it, and if it never does, it’s not his fault. It’s a brilliant PR move.

Thought leadership is more important today than ever before, and yet there are PR landmines for CEOs everyone where. Don’t rush thought leadership, be strategic and purposeful. Positioning yourself as an expert is best done in stages as it takes time to find the right cadence and the right rhythm. Be prepared to spend some time developing your own personal brand in conjunction with your thought leadership PR agency. Taking the time to develop your own brand will create authenticity and trust – both essential elements of a successful thought leadership strategy.

 

For all Branson’s attempts to make history, there is one founder here who did it well before he did.

Sara Blakely: From Scrappy Sales to History Maker

From the start of Spanx, Sara Blakely took complete control of her reputation, and she knew what set her apart could be a differentiator for the brand, too. From startup to IPO, PR was always on Blakely’s mind.

One of my favorite Blakely stories is when she bought Olivia Newton John’s famous Grease pants at auction. Her target market, feeling slightly nostalgic for the days when they could have rocked those pants, celebrated the move – even as it was an extravagance, it was one that made her relatable to her target market. She got a ton of press on it, and she never even had to talk about Spanx – the press did it for her every time they said “Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx,” and the purchase was so on brand, it was difficult to ignore the brand. But that move was only one of a thousand steps Blakely took to control the narrative. She positioned herself as a thought leader by leaning into her differences as a woman CEO. She told, retold, and retold the story of how she founded Spanx without apology for its humble beginnings.

Blakely’s willingness to be the face of Spanx paid off with the ultimate metric: she is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

 

Whether your goal is to make history or maximize achievement, thought leadership for CEOs have never been more important than it is now. You’ve already done the hard work of becoming an expert – why not leverage it?

 

Sara Blakely didn’t become one of the most admired female CEOs without taking her public image seriously. Blakely credits her publicity-savvy approach to her grass-roots success that launched a billion-dollar exit.

Sara Blakely became notable for being one of three female founders to exit in 2021. In 2012, she made headlines as one of the first female billionaires when Spanx was valued at over $1 billion, because she retained 100% ownership, had zero debt, and to that point had never spent a dollar on advertising. Blakely wasn’t lucky. She is smart and from the start, dialed into earning trust and word of mouth. Blakely was so PR savvy she patented Spanx early because she saw it as a marketing lever. She knew actions can translate to media coverage. Consistently, Blakely refined and perfected three key strategies she credits to her success.

Tell Your Story Relentlessly



One thing Sara Blakely did immediately is take control of her own narrative. Sara knew: if you don’t tell your story, someone else will.

CEOs who take a personal interest in their brand’s success always generate better coverage. Blakely never took the “fake it before you make it” stance in the press. She took her failures and turned them into stories about resilience. Her career-focused and ambitious customers could relate to her humble fax-machine sales beginnings. Blakely famously said she’s “game for anything,” and it’s the company who has to reign her in.

Blakely celebrates her female strengths, recently claiming she ran the business from “intuition, vulnerability, and empathy,” which recently led to an acquisition by private equity firm Blackstone in November 2021.

From the start, Blakely refined her story, kept it authentic, and told it over and repeatedly. She never deviated from her why, and she never glossed over speed bumps or failures. That’s why, despite her elite success, women the world over related to Blakely. Her approachability gives her another lever to pull, she can celebrate her wins and women celebrate with her.

 

The Not-So-Overnight Success of Product Placement

“We always had PR and grassroots marketing at the forefront of what we did. It was getting the word out any way we could: speaking engagements, sampling,” said Spanx CEO Laurie Ann Goldman.

In the halls of famous breakthroughs, The Oprah Effect is perhaps one of the most celebrated. With Spanx, when Oprah included them on her list of favorite things, for many women, it was the first time they’d heard of the product. But Sara Blakely had been sending celebrities, stylists, and female icons Spanx samples from the very beginning, and she wasn’t cheap about it. Blakely sent full gift baskets, with enough product to make sure every celebrity had enough to get through the week, no matter how intense their appearance calendar was. By the time Gwyneth Paltrow said on the red carpet that Spanx was her post-baby-body secret in 2003, Spanx was already a well-known insider secret. “Word of mouth and the media are so much more powerful and believable, so that’s the route I went,” said Blakely.

Blakely knew: place your product consistently, earn the trust of celebrity influencers, and it pays off. It looks like an overnight success, but in fact, Blakely had been doing product gifting for years, and she did it with class.

 

Absolute Customer Clarity

Blakely knew: if you’re for everyone, you’re for no one. When she first started sending celebrity gift baskets, she targeted Oprah because she was open about her weight challenges, and Kim Kardashian because of her famous booty. Despite her success in famous retailers, direct-to-consumer sales are at the heart of the Spanx expansion, making up 70% of its sales, which means Spanx has to develop deep relationships with their target customers.

If you look at Spanx coverage over the years, Blakely was disciplined about keeping to her “why.” Customer clarity allows Blakely to stay focused on her “why,” which is a much more appealing story than a product story.

Blakely’s approachable voice is another key to the brand’s relatable success – she talks to her consumer the way they talk with their friends, from packaging to interviews, she just gives us enough to relate to her. Even her extravagances seemed relatable to her target market. You never hear about Blakely’s car or vacation homes. Instead, you hear about relatable splurges like when she bought Olivia Newton John’s Grease outfit; clothing her target market clearly remembers, and one that showcases a spectacular derriere.

Employing these three CEO publicity strategies doesn’t guarantee a billion-dollar business, but it does guarantee that you will get noticed. Everyone from consumers to venture capitalists and private equity firms like to know there’s a story there, and potential for brand affinity. The Spanx brand couldn’t have become so iconic without these three remarkable publicity strategies.

This contribution originally appeared on Entreprenuer.com