I was on a webinar presented by Morgan Stanley and PwC about preparing for an IPO – and something struck me – there was optimism, and the organizations were signaling their faith in the return of IPOs, soon. 2023 has been an IPO graveyard, but as one host said, “One thing we know is markets change, and so it will also be for the low point of IPOs.” Their advice? Prepare now. Preparing for an IPO is a daunting task for any startup, and the focus is often on due diligence. Yet communications and PR are critical to public offering preparedness. What do pre-IPO companies need to do from a communication standpoint?
Bankers know that when you pitch them for your IPO, the company has a verified financial model and total addressable market (TAM). And founders know investors are looking for the next $1 billion brand. This makes your company’s reputation extremely relevant. So when you’re looking to stand out to investors, nothing shows social proof quite as well as media coverage. Media coverage can go on the road with you and helps you stand out to investors. Confident, media savvy CEOs give investors confidence; it shows you can handle a very different role as CEO of a public company.
Thought leadership is vital to reputation building. During this growth stage, executive visibility is more relevant than ever. Since a solid thought leadership program takes time and strategy, we recommend starting a thought leadership program at least 24 months before a desired IPO.
Create a Compelling Narrative
Many founders mistake the pitch to investors as the corporate narrative. The two are cousins, but different. The narrative should resonate with key stakeholders, investors, and the public, highlighting the company’s mission, accomplishments, and long-term vision.
Know the Difference Between IR and PR
IR (investor relations) and PR (public relations) have important but slightly different roles in a company’s growth pre-IPO phase. Investor relations focuses almost solely on analysts covering topics your potential investors care about. Meanwhile, PR is targeted towards a broader set of journalists, and the public at large. They can and should work together. For example, both should play a role in any press releases. IR will ensure due diligence is met and ensure the investor messaging is correct, while PR will want to ensure the brand message is consistent and the media targets get the information they need.
The best time to manage a crisis is before a crisis. Before you go public, and get caught up in all the details of going public, plan for a crisis. How you handle a crisis will affect your brand, and god forbid you to have a crisis during your roadshow or quiet period. Your crisis planning should include many scenarios, from the employee, to property, to product, and, yes, cyber security. Every one of these scenarios could require different stakeholder involvement and point persons. Your crisis planning should include table top exercises and the executive team should review crisis PR plans at least once yearly.
Investors want to be part of companies with the broadest investor audience, and ESG (environmental, social and governance) is part of that, especially since some brokerage firms and mutual funds are offering investment products that employ ESG strategies. Larry Fink, Blackrock CEO, and co-founder, said ESG is “capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you, the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper,”.
From a PR perspective, ESG and even purpose-driven brands have special sensitivities, and it’s important to have a coherent plan and PR strategy for these talking points for all your stakeholders, from investors to customers. ESG is not just for the “woke” – investors see the writing on the wall and have for some time. Also, buyers beyond GenZ see the importance of ESG.
Audit Your External Communications
Ensure your website and any owned media meet all regulatory requirements – including executive bios, blog posts, and social media. Look at this moment as your last chance to shower before prom. Your website and social media should also be robust and brand consistent. You want everyone to see you in your best possible light, and the most accessible way for new friends to get to know you is your website.
The press is not the enemy, but they aren’t here to be your BFF either. Talking to the press live and learning to work with the media under various conditions, including in person with lights and mics, is a skill. While you may have undergone media preparedness before interviews, now is the time to take on a full media training program for your CEO, executives and spokespersons, including anyone who attends public events (like trade shows) on your behalf.
Expect media training to take several days of intense hands-on training and review. Since all relevant stakeholders will be together, it is also a good time to review and practice your crisis plan too. Since media training is a skill, conducting this exercise well before IPO is recommended.
The Big Show
Your company will never again go public. This is one of the few indisputably great news moments. Someone (not the CEO) must ensure the moment is documented and promoted. Do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s true – not every company makes the front page of the Wall Street Journal when they go public, but it is news – and someone will care. Using this opportunity to connect with journalists is key; it’s a great time to fill up the trust bucket in the eyes of journalists.
Prepare for the moment with some notable key messages and brand-worthy must-airs. Run through your must airs and make sure you are prepared to answer questions that might come your way. Have your day meticulously planned with your communications in mind and watch the accolades roll in.
Effective pre-IPO PR planning is crucial for companies aiming to go public. By crafting an interesting narrative, engaging media and influencers, developing investor communication strategies, building a strong online presence, managing crises, leveraging thought leadership opportunities, and engaging internal stakeholders, companies can establish a positive brand image, attract investors, and generate enthusiasm around their IPO.