As more companies decide that a merger or an acquisition rather than an IPO makes sense as an exit strategy, Version 2.0 has developed campaigns for clients that not only raise awareness but also create differentiation and burnish their brand to increase their perceived value. Since 2013, more than 15 of our clients have merged or been acquired, including two of the most successful tech exits ever (Acme Packet, acquired by Oracle in 2013 and SimpliVity, acquired by HPE in 2017).
A focus on strong, strategic leadership, corporate values that drive customer loyalty and employee retention and an organization’s ability to technically innovate and lead markets are examples of the types of themes that position a company as a prize demanding the highest price and most favorable terms. Strong, consistent communication campaigns are the best vehicles to deliver these messages.
In the case of Sonian, a cloud-based email archiving and analytics provider, we built a communications program specifically designed to generate awareness for the company. In November of 2017, Sonian was acquired by Barracuda Networks.
What follows is a recap of a discussion between Greg Arnette, CTO and Co-Founder of Sonian, and Version 2.0 Founder Maura FitzGerald on the value of public relations and its role in a company’s successful exit track.
Maura FitzGerald: How did PR generate visibility for Sonian?
Greg Arnette: When we started Sonian, we were almost solely focused on engineering and sales. Because of the nature of our business (we sell through the channel), it wasn’t beneficial to build a Sonian brand at the outset. As we built out our technology and sales teams, however, we recognized that if we wanted to win deals of a certain caliber, we’d need to craft a level of brand awareness within the market.
We turned to Version 2.0 to help craft the Sonian brand, and PR quickly became a cornerstone of our marketing efforts. V2 designed thought leadership campaigns that helped us establish a voice in tech and business press outlets; booked executives to speak at influential conferences; and provide air cover for our sales team by securing coverage in the publications that matter most to our current and potential partners and customers.
This exposure helped tremendously, and it was well worth the investment to create luster around the company. When prospects searched for the company or executive names, a wealth of activity popped up. This re-affirmed our position as a vibrant, active and valuable company and boosted confidence.
MFG: How do you think thought leadership campaigns and content campaigns helped establish your voice on key issues (such as security) – even in times when we lacked company news?
GA: Thought leadership was an incredibly important part of the PR strategy. Articulating a point of view on interesting and timely topics, like security, has brought us into conversations we would never have been able to get into if we stuck to only discussing our product. By providing provocative and thoughtful commentary, we were able to share perspective on buzzy issues while staying out of the political side of things.
Our thought leadership efforts also filled the gaps during times when we didn’t have a lot of news, like product updates or partnerships. This made sure we stayed top-of-mind. In my view, the efforts were all additive – each new thought leadership campaign helped build on our existing efforts to create a holistic halo of awareness.
Anecdotally, there were multiple occasions where contacts I met at conferences or in other professional settings mentioned that they had seen Sonian mentioned in the news – there is almost no better way to build credibility than being recognized for being included in an article written by an influential journalist and this certainly helped us close deals.
MFG: What campaigns played a part in Sonian’s successful acquisition by Barracuda?
GA: While it’s challenging to pinpoint a specific campaign that generated the most interest, I will say that the work we did on DMARC got a lot of traction and response. In the wake of high-profile federal security breaches, the Version 2.0 team offered our commentary around how the DMARC protocol could address Homeland Security’s call for improved web and email security features. This campaign yielded hits in target outlets including CSO Online and Data Center Journal.
In general, whenever we discussed security it tended to get a lot of pick-up. For example, when we commented on the WannaCry or GoldenEye hacks and when I posted articles on LinkedIn related to security there was generally a lot of discussion (comments, likes, re-shares). Again, while there is not one specific example, the focus on security theme supported our eventual acquisition by Barracuda (a security company!) because it showed we’re knowledgeable and leading on the topics they care most about.
MFG: In your opinion, what’s the value of PR to an up-and-coming company (or any company seeking an exit)
GA: I’ve been involved in multiple start-ups (as an employee, founder and advisor) and PR was always a little bit “squishy” – it was hard to quantify, which made it hard to know how much money to allocate and invest. My experience working with V2 has changed this perception. I now have a completely different appreciation for how PR can help: it builds market credibility, which opens doors that the founding team might not be able to open on their own.
When I’m advising start-ups now, I encourage them to think about how PR can help strategically. Some companies will benefit more from PR than others. For us, it mattered a lot because we weren’t doing a lot of other marketing initiatives, and PR was the vehicle for us getting in front of customers and partners. For founders thinking about an exit (IPO or acquisition), it’s important for to take a step back and evaluate how to build a PR strategy that maximizes your end goals, and often, that is building credibility in the minds of potential investors, customers and partners. A key characteristic of any successful PR strategy, especially in a 24/7 news cycle, is consistency – by maintaining a continuous effort, you keep momentum going and stay top of mind.