How to Create Pre-IPO Momentum Through Public Relations

By Kevin McLaughlin

An effective, “lightning-in-a-bottle” pre-IPO campaign that results in ample media coverage and steady mentions for months to follow is never as random or happenstance as an actual lightning strike. Rather, that pre-IPO campaign success comes as the result of strategic planning and execution. This is true whether it’s six months or two years before your company formally informs the SEC (and the world) that it definitively plans to enter the capital markets as a publicly traded company.

A successful pre-IPO PR program should firmly assert the company’s positioning in the market, reinforce its mission and trajectory, establish its competitive differentiation and advantages, boast the benefits and value proposition for its customers, showcase its growth and swelling enterprise value, and raise the profile of its leadership as much as the organization itself. 

If this is something you want for your company, then you need to understand that your pre-IPO path can and should be paved with a strategic PR plan and well-packaged earned media placements, setting you up for a market debut that will feel like you have captured lightning in a bottle. Here’s how you can create that momentum:

Assess Your Company’s Canon

Other people’s perception can become your reality, so it’s critical that you assess your pre-IPO public perception and adjust if necessary. Take a step back and audit the public information that has formed brand your reputation and history, including:

  • Market position 
  • Pioneering innovation
  • Competitive advantages
  • Milestones
  • Enterprise value
  • Underpinning financials that have been shared

Then determine if this accurately reflects who you are and how you want to be perceived when you choose your bankers and officially enter a quiet period. At that point, there is no course correction. It is too late to seed the market with new ideas or more accurate information about the current state of your company, the size of your total addressable market (TAM) and your current trajectory. If you don’t take steps to correct or update your company canon, you will inevitably fight the current with investors and media as you forge your way to capital markets.

Plot Your Path

You can make your pre-IPO journey smoother by plotting your path with well-packaged and well-placed stories. But first, you need to account for the market landscape, and how neatly you fit in or how drastically you stand out. Consider the following factors: 

1. Mission: You need to ensure you have clearly, succinctly, memorably and believably crystalized your mission for a broad audience. Ensure all stakeholders — not only your C-suite, but also your marketing, sales, operations, development, customer service/support departments — all agree on the mission. It needs to be holistic, accessible, and easily, quickly, and clearly conveyed to an outside audience.

2. Market fit: How does your company and wares fit into the mix? To assess this, consider:

  • Press coverage: How is the press talking about the market (your segment, your industry, your competitors)? Does your company appear on lists and in roundups (e.g., CNBC Disruptor 50, Forbes Cloud 100, etc.)? Has the press included your company without solicitation, or have you initiated each mention? Do you appear in reports, vendor assessments (e.g., Gartner Magic Quadrants, Forrester Wave reports, etc.), market sizing/forecasts, etc.?
  • Awards: How do your awards stack up to peers? Have you put financial or other growth data out there? How are you being sized up?
  • Trade shows: Are you appearing where you need to be? Is your absence from events known? Where are your competitors and peers showing up?

3. Valuation: Without a recent funding event, it is often hard to publicly establish your valuation. It is often to the company’s advantage to keep this private, along with the underlying financials. However, valuation can be a key part to earning inclusion and mentions as an attractive, pre-IPO company, even if capital markets timelines may be vague or uncertain. Consider if there is a natural event (e.g., funding or sales of private shares) coming that will allow you to update your valuation or if there is a way to manufacture/conjure a reason to discuss valuation.

4. Investor relations: How does Wall Street see your industry? How do analysts evaluate your comps? With that in mind, how would you stack up now? What can you do in the meantime to better position your company? 

5. Industry influencers: Also strive to understand the players in your industry that wield the greatest influence on media coverage and market perception. This could include other companies (peers and competitors), press, and industry and Wall Street analysts. By understanding each player and the role they play, you can better determine who to engage with and what they need to know about your company. For example, what are other companies doing to earn attention or praise? And should your company emulate what they are doing, or is there a gap you can fill?    

Build Your Momentum

While you can expect some overlap, you should parse out your “business as usual” campaign plan from your pre-IPO media momentum plan. For the latter, approach it through the lens of an investor audience, seeding the market with key data points, metrics, milestones, successes, and other positive business outcomes that appeal most to this audience demographic. Also include the following elements: 

1. Messaging map: With the insights gleaned from your assessment and planning, and with this media set in mind, you must first establish a messaging platform designed to extol the attributes of the company that investors will care most about. When engaging with them in interviews, capitalize on the opportunity to drive your agenda. In other words, don’t take a purely linear approach to Q&A. Rather, establish three to four clear, consistent, key message points to drive home for each interview. 

2. Influence the influencers: You need to build and engage with a segmented media list. Your campaigns must be tailored for each audience, with investor appeal in mind:

  • Media
    • Beat reporters at mainstream business and investor media
    • Broadcast media (data reports, market education, newsjacking with executive commentary)
    • Trade press 
    • Regional press 
  • Investor community: It has become increasingly well known that institutional investors want to get to know a company and its leadership well before the company embarks on a road show. Now is the time to become as familiar with them, as you make your company familiar to them. This can often lead to inclusion in pre-IPO lists and analyst notes, which further validate the company and amplify awareness among the investor community. This also enables you to begin and nurture relationships which may be critical later, as these same analysts/banks initiate coverage of your company when public.

3. Cadence of news: Aim to show progress, map back to the master plan for growth and market leadership. 

4. Product/service prowess: Assert the differentiation and advantages of your products and services. Are you a pioneer already leading/shaping your industry? Own it! Showcase your culture of innovation and demonstrate your benefits and value proposition. 

5. The company you keep: Showcase case studies, if not with known companies, then with use cases that can be understood as easily scalable. Show the tangible value through the benefits and outcomes you are generating for customers. Also pursue inclusion in respected lists and rankings. 

6. See and be seen: Whether physical or virtual, be sure the corporate brand as well as leadership are making the rounds at notable events, roundtables, and panels. Create a strategy for each opportunity. Being there isn’t enough; capitalize on the opportunity by setting goals for each event. 

Arrive and Thrive

When the time comes to make your move toward capital markets, the foundation will be well fortified and your path will be clear. This pre-IPO plan will have provided the market at large with the proper information and understanding of your company profile, positioning, and investor appeal, while providing your organization with the momentum, brand strength, and competitive edge to seize the moment. 

For more insight into the individual components to incorporate into a modern PR plan, download our eBook, “PR 101: A Guide for Today’s Public Relations.