Capital Markets Corporate

July 26, 2019

The rise of the unicorn proves the need for an early-stage press office


The journey of the superstar unicorn, from seed capital to IPO, is a well-documented and challenging path for any visionary brand. But the need for a proactive and effective press office during the earliest stages of that journey is an often overlooked requirement for success.

Grown-up companies need a thriving press office

Naturally, national media is more interested in bigger firms with more money. Their news and opinions hold more sway, and investors and analysts are drawn to a business as their funding increases. At the same time, increased funding is often used to drive customer acquisition within firms. So, as the customer base grows, those firms come under more scrutiny as their responsibility to treat customers fairly and deliver suitable products increases.

As such, the bigger firms need a press offices that can manage this effectively, handling a growing number of reactive requests from national media, and equally being able to produce effective proactive plans to continue to share a business’ key messages and manage valuation scrutiny as the business’ bottom line increases.

Instinctif wanted to examine this phenomenon. We analysed the monthly UK national press mentions of six notable fintech unicorns through their funding cycles and unsurprisingly found that as they raised more money, their national media profile increased rapidly (Graph 1).

unicorn funding media mentions

Graph 1: UK fintech unicorn national media mentions, during respective funding cycles (monthly)

The typical later-stage unicorn received national media attention on a daily basis. This meant they were constantly reacting to media attention, possibly mitigating negative press or addressing difficult questions. Equally, they were creating some of that attention through thought leadership campaigns, a steady stream of corporate news announcements and a healthy commentary programme to ensure their brand remained top of mind.

Reputational tipping point

unicorn funding rounds

Graph 2: UK fintech unicorn national coverage (monthly average)

The study found that there is a reputational tipping point that occurs post- Series B to C when scrutiny and media demand heightens and the need for a grown-up press office becomes acute (Graph 2). It’s at this point where it is crucial to get the basics built and in place so that there is reputational context around the business’ strategy that management can execute against.

The corporate narrative and growth strategy needs to be properly articulated and the foundations for the future trajectory of the business laid out clearly. Otherwise, a unicorn-in-waiting risks misinformation and inaccurate reporting further down the line.

Press attention comes early for unicorns

For any aspiring unicorn, a fully functioning press office cannot just be bought in when demand dictates. Our research also found that the average unicorn was receiving multiple pieces of national media coverage on a weekly basis as early as post-Series A and B funding. This means there was a need to manage and mitigate crucial pieces of publicity in their earliest stages.

Moreover, it’s likely that the lion’s share of the national media pieces received in the earliest stages of the unicorns’ lives were proactively achieved through good media relations and smart thought leadership initiatives. National publications are unlikely to spend much time reporting on an early stage unicorn without a good story to report.

Clearly, the road to unicorn status is long and winding. But it will likely be a lot more challenging to traverse without an effective press office function up and running long before the brand becomes a household name.