As a public relations/communications manager for Creathor Ventures I sometimes wondered how my peers at other VCs in our focus region of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (DACH) interpreted their jobs, which tasks belonged to their job descriptions, which tools they used etc. Being based in Bad Homburg, you don’t happen to run into fellow PR managers too often to have a chat and share experiences, so I turned to this beautiful thing called Internet, set up a Typeform questionnaire and sent it to all those dedicated PR/comms managers or other colleagues responsible for PR/comms that I was able to identify at fellow VCs. The only precondition was that the company would be active in DACH.
To my surprise, 50 VCs returned the questionnaire. Now, although I cannot claim representativeness for this study, I believe the results give a very decent picture of how PR/comms are handled in the DACH VC industry these days.
Here’s what I learned, compressed in an infografic. Below you will find a more detailed report. SPOILER: My peers’ answers seem to stress that only very few VCs can still afford to NOT communicate.
Public relations are a key discipline for VCs in DACH
84% of VC firms in DACH actively engage in PR/comms activities to spread their key messages and promote their brand vis-à-vis their target audiences.
It might come as no surprise that 82% of the interviewees consider PR/comms activities to be important (41%) or even very important (41%) to the overall success of their company. Of course, at least those whose explicit job description is “PR” are a little biased here…
But another stat that supports the hypothesis of PR’s growing importance for VC companies is that half of the interviewees (49%) feel like the VC industry has been professionalized in the last couple of years (only 10% think differently).
Now, you could also argue that doing PR for your VC firm is overestimated and unnecessary, and that VCs should focus more on helping their portfolio companies with their PR strategies. The reasoning behind this argument is simple: If the portfolio companies are successful and the successes are visible thanks to good PR, the VC will automatically benefit from it and doesn’t need any active self-promotion.
I personally believe that the need to proactively engage with or be visible for founders, investors (existing and potential LPs), corporates, other VCs etc. is bigger than ever, especially with more and more VC funds being established (I don’t even know if there were 50 VCs in DACH at all five years ago, now 50 happily answer my questions…). Helping your portfolio companies can be an extra that will help you with your own brand building (see below for more on portfolio company support).
While 60% (us at Creathor included) do their public relations completely on their own, 40% delegate either the entire job (7%) or certain tasks (33%) to a PR agency (68%) or a freelancer (32%). My experience is that if you decide to delegate parts of the work, you need to choose your external partner wisely. It should be somebody who already has a deep understanding of the VC business and is also familiar with the verticals you invest in. If you happen to invest in both tech/ICT and healthcare/life science companies, this can be a tough task.
59% of those VCs that take care of their PR/comms themselves have at least one dedicated PR/communications manager on their team. The rest has the tasks apportioned among the general team (33%) or has appointed an assistant (10%) to take care of business. On average, a DACH VC firm employs 1.15 FTEs for PR/comms work.
But what are we PR managers doing at all when we are not filling in questionnaires about PR? For 83%, media relations are part of their job description, followed by managing social media channels (78%), newsletter creation and speaker placement (67% each). 59% are responsible for organizing own events such as portfolio days, 48% for marketing activities such as sponsoring, ads, advertorials etc. 40% manage their company’s corporate blog. Although I didn’t explicitly ask for it, I think that website administration is also part of many PR managers’ everyday job.
Of course, setting up such a survey and sharing the results publicly is public relations work as well — belonging to the “content creation” category. As many of us know, content creation can be the hardest part of the job as you will always have phases without a unicorn exit, without a super-hot new investment, without the final closing of your next over-subscribed fund etc. But if all goes well, you do have content to share.
Typical content is new investments (97%), exits (at least those you want to share; 78%) and follow-on-rounds (76%), followed by own analyses/deep dives/comments on certain industry topics (61%; e.g. we did a little deep dive on deep tech last year which was well-received).
To publish own content, PR managers rely on the company’s own channels, first and foremost the corporate website (79%) and the corporate LinkedIn profile (76%), followed by own blogs (60%). To spread news further and to generate traffic for the company’s website or blog, DACH VCs mostly rely on LinkedIn (93%) and Twitter (83%). Less than half of respondents use Facebook (45%).
The frequency of postings on social media channels ranges from “daily” (10%) to “once every couple of weeks” (20%), with “several times per week” (39%) and “roughly once a week” (20%) being the most frequent answers.
When we look at media relations, it is fascinating to see the importance of personal relationships with key journalists. 70% say they actively try to keep contact with relevant media representatives through personal meetings (74%) or spontaneous chats at industry events (63%). Personal, face-to-face communication still seems to be very important, even (or even more so) in the age of digital communication (overloads).
Media outlets and events
The media outlets that are most important to DACH VCs differ according to where the respective VC is based — with one exception: TechCrunch, which is basically named by every participant. Gründerszene still seems to be №1 for German start-up-related news, but to a much lesser extent than you might have expected. Instead, a publication that was only launched in January this year has made it into the top 5 of many PR managers: FT-backed Sifted.
As expected, the top events differ greatly as well, with NOAH Berlin/London/Zurich (there will be a NOAH event in Zurich for the first time in September 2020) and Slush receiving by far the most votes. Other (less) regular mentions include Bits & Pretzels, Founders Forum, SaaStock, WebSummit and TechCrunch Disrupt.
For 71%, another important part of their job is to help their portfolio companies in their communication activities. They do this by helping to draft press releases or produce content (88%), introducing companies to journalists or arranging interviews (71%) or by helping with communication strategies in general (65%).
Even if I don’t think that supporting your portfolio companies should be given more attention than promoting your VC itself, good portfolio PR can help with your own visibility as well, of course. It can also be a major differentiating factor for start-ups that have several term-sheets to choose from, and my experience is that portfolio companies almost always really appreciate the help, having only little resources, time and experience with something that — depending on the business and sector — can play a significant role in their efforts to scale.
Whatever route you are taking as a VC — focusing on promoting your own fund/firm OR your portfolio companies OR both — , and even if the job can be challenging or even frustrating at times as the measures quite often don’t yield immediate visible effects on any KPIs (instead a lot of what we do is long-term relationship building with uncertain outcomes), actively engaging in PR and communications work is always a good idea. If you do it right, you will be able to harvest the fruits of your labor sooner or later.
I would like to give a huge thank you to all colleagues who participated in this little study! This is really appreciated, and I hope I can give something back with this report. Click here to see the all results of the survey.
Also, I have set up a dedicated Slack channel for VC’s PR/comms managers to further discuss the results, exchange ideas, form joint initiatives, network with each other etc. If you are interested, you can join here or get in touch with me and I’ll add you.