Navigating the Pre-IPO: Strategies for Effective PR Engagement

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A man who is smiling because pre-IPO strategies for effective PR engagement worked.

An IPO is arguably the most important phase in a company’s history. Befitting its importance, preparing for an IPO should happen years in advance, especially from a reputational point of view. The last thing you want to do is wait until three months before your quiet period to improve brand awareness and credibility. Keep in mind that few IPOs make national news, so to support your IPO, you’ll want to have an established reputation. And if the company hasn’t engaged in PR yet, then it’s especially important that you plan a solid runway. Consider these three pre-IPO strategies for effective PR.


Plan Pre-IPO PR in Advance

To truly maximize your opportunities, plan the pre-IPO phase at least a year in advance.  Once in a while, I hear people say they don’t want to start PR too early, but the reason that’s short-sighted is that you can never improve your brand reputation too much. Being present in the press may bring other advantages, but certainly, a storied history helps with IPO. It gives journalists and analysts the confidence of validation.

It’s impossible to truly control the timing of earned media coverage. What a PR firm with IPO experience will do is proactively recommend ways for you to create news that matters for customers and/or potential investors. To maximize pre-IPO strategies for effective PR engagement, think of everything through a PR and newsworthy lens in advance.

Where Will You Be?

Pre-IPO strategies for effective PR engagement may also require activations. Sponsorships, partnerships, or conference placements may be important from a branding standpoint. Finalizing these can take up to a year. Plus, you will want to plan activations ahead of these opportunities and tie them back to press opportunities. Conferences and tradeshows are often journalist hotbeds, so the planning behind this is critical. What will be the storylines and news items, and how will they be worthy of coverage? Also be thinking about the ramp up to these conferences, how will they tie into your business calendar. Are there products you can announce at a major conference? Is there a key message that should you underscored for a future announcement? What needs to happen to a booth or collateral to support this message?

What’s the Earned/Paid/Owned Content Mix?

The media cycle is like a train: we’re not in control of it, but we can buy a ticket to ride. What you CAN control is your own content. There is a plethora of paid and owned options available to a pre-IPO company. Developing an editorial calendar, and sticking with it, is perhaps one of the most powerful things you can do to empower your message, and build your reputation. Here again, timing is critical, and planning is essential.

Investor Relations and Pre-IPO PR: Separate But Collaborate

Investor relations and pre-IPO PR are not the same. Investor relations are essentially PR for a single target market: bankers and active investors. It’s a very specific type of PR. Some PR agencies handle investor PR, sometimes your banker will want you to work with a specific investor relations firm. Truthfully, it’s my opinion they should be separate but collaborative. The reason for the separation is there could be slightly different messaging priorities from mass media vs. investor media, and while they can and should be synced up, they shouldn’t get in one another’s way.

An example of what happens when PR and IR don’t work together: we once worked with a company whose IR was pretty free-wheeling. Now, understand, it’s not the pre-IPO PR strategies can’t be fun, but an executive PR professional will look at everything through a trust lens and a larger reputational impact for journalists along with other stakeholders. Back to our story, the IR firm issued a press release, the company approved it, but it used very creative language to hide the details of an announcement. The language was so opaque, a journalist at Fortune declared, “I will never trust anything from their PR firm again.” Well. That changes things, doesn’t it? When we saw the press release as it was published, we immediately started asking questions, but the damage was done. I am confident we could have helped them thread the needle in a more trusting way and one that wouldn’t permanently damage their reputation with a journalist.

Unlike the general public, and maybe even some investors, journalists tend to have very long memories. Once a journalist has black-balled a company, they will carry that with them to every outlet they publish at – and in today’s world, where many journalists work for multiple outlets, that damage can be extensive.

Pre-IPO Thought Leadership

Frequently, if your company is IPOing and they aren’t already a household name, and the CEO is unknown, a solid pre-IPO PR strategy is thought leadership. After all, the investor needs to trust the CEO. The ROI of CEO branding is evident in hugely successful IPOs like Spanx’s Sara Blakely, Steve Jobs and Marc Benioff of Salesforce. How much would you spend to have a billion-dollar IPO?

Really digging deep into a thought leadership point of view can instill confidence from an investor and general public perspective. But it’s not as easy as putting the CEO on CNBC. A prepared and strategic thought leadership approach is absolutely required for pre-IPO thought leadership. Does the CEO and/or spokespersons need intensive media training? What will be the point of view, and what will it take to get your point of view placed?

Pre-IPO Crisis Planning

There’s nothing like a PR crisis to throw off an IPO timeline. If you haven’t already, now is the time to prepare for one. The first 24 hours of a crisis are the most critical, and if you’re prepared, the outcomes are dramatically improved. Whenever you see a CEO stumble during a crisis, that’s because there wasn’t a crisis plan for that type of situation. That’s the importance of preparedness. Think of crisis PR planning like an insurance policy.

Pre-IPO strategies for effective PR engagement take time. It’s never too early to prepare for an IPO. Creating brand awareness has a multiplier effect throughout the entirety of the company’s existence. The more solid your brand, the more it’s worth to both customers and would-be investors.