There’s definitely a lot of talk about SPACs these days. But the tried-and-true IPO is still the long-term liquidity goal for most tech startups. CEOs dream of ringing the bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, or seeing their face splashed across Nasdaq’s giant video screen in Times Square. Late last month, five high-profile tech companies filed on the same day to go public through traditional IPOs, presumably gunning to get out before the November election.
There is obviously a ton of operational, financial and regulatory preparation that goes into a successful initial public offering. But one aspect of IPO planning that often gets short shrift, particularly at B2B-focused companies chasing relatively niche buyer audiences, is branding and communications. As the head of marketing and communications for a big investment firm, I see this all the time. I believe companies who skimp here are throwing away significant equity value.
Simply put, a highly public financing event like an IPO is an enormous branding opportunity for most companies. It’s a free pass for companies to tell their stories to a huge, global audience and rack up high-level press coverage — both at the time of the IPO and in the future, since many publications (like my former employer, the Wall Street Journal) often focus on coverage of larger, publicly traded companies.
Why do so many companies fall down in this area? I think a lot of it has to do with the broader shift toward data-driven, online marketing and away from branding at many companies. Because highly technical companies in areas like hybrid-cloud computing or DevSecOps (yes, that’s a thing) often struggle in their early days to get journalists interested in their stories, they never make communications a priority inside the company. This comes back to haunt them when, all of the sudden, they’ve filed an S-1 and their exec team has zero experience explaining the company’s story in clear, persuasive terms to a general audience.
But smart companies can avoid this trap. Here are five ways you can get the most branding bang out of your tech IPO, no matter how arcane your company’s business is.
This is honestly the most important point to take away here. Successful PR and communications around an IPO are a result of long-term planning that starts at least 12 to 18 months before you file your offering document with the SEC. Once you think an IPO is in the offing, take a hard look at both your (1) marketing/communications staffing and (2) your existing digital footprint.