When To Offer an Exclusive on Funding News, and How It Impacts PR Results

Back in 2019, we wrote about when to offer an exclusive on funding news, but since then a lot has changed. According to Crunchbase data, global venture funding hit an all-time high of $125B in Q1 2021, with late-stage funding deals taking the lion’s share of that pie. Due to the rapid increase in digital transformation efforts brought on by the global pandemic, technology adoption is on the rise, as are venture capital investments in technology startups from early stage onward.

So, it stands to reason that we’re doing more funding announcements than ever before, which got me thinking about which strategy — exclusive or broad embargo pitching — could consistently yield the “best” results for SaaS companies. For the purposes of this article, I’ll use “exclusive” in reference to offering a single reporter the opportunity to cover your news, and “embargo pitching” in reference to pitching several reporters the news under embargo before the announcement date.

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Media Connections with Travis Bernard, Extra Crunch

BLASTmedia has been running this media connections series for about six months now, and we’ve yet to explore paywalls. That’s exactly why I wanted to do a Q&A with Travis Bernard, Senior Director, Membership at TechCrunch. 

I first worked with Travis back in 2016 on a Crosley turntable review. These days, he oversees the business side of Extra Crunch, TechCrunch’s subscription product. Below, he hits on: using analytics to guide editorial decisions, the value of exclusivity in news, the future of paywalled journalism and much, much more.

GRACE: You work in subscriptions and audience insights at TechCrunch — what exactly does that mean? What does your day-to-day look like? 

TRAVIS: I run the business and marketing side of TechCrunch’s membership product, Extra Crunch (part of Verizon Media). The product launched in February of 2019, and it’s targeting founders, entrepreneurs, startup teams, investors, and business school students. The primary benefits are access to a series of exclusive articles, a dedicated newsletter, no banner ads on our site, discounts on TechCrunch events, and more. The content includes weekly investor surveys, how-tos and interviews on building your company, IPO and late-stage analysis, and other exclusive articles delivered daily.

My day-to-day is about making the product better and figuring out ways to reach the right readers. It involves meeting with our product and editorial teams to ensure that we’re making the product better and meeting the needs of our readers, ideating on the product roadmap, improving design and organization of content for the community, and launching larger marketing initiatives. There’s a lot of work happening on marketing operations, be it price testing, newsletter distribution, website promotional units, social media, new country launches, activation at our events, and more. I also spend a lot of time diving into analytics, reporting, and customer feedback surveys. We’re always trying to make the product better. 

GRACE: You helped launch Extra Crunch — TechCrunch’s subscription product — about a year ago. What was the impetus for creating Extra Crunch? 

TRAVIS: About 2-3 years ago, we had a big meeting with the key players at TechCrunch to decide what was next to scale the business and meet the needs of our customers. Instead of going bigger and broader with our audience to help drive up advertising impressions and dollars, we decided to double down on a smaller subset of our audience that was interested in startups and building companies. This audience is much more valuable to us because they are highly engaged. This includes startup teams, entrepreneurs, founders, investors, and business school students. This was always the DNA of our core audience for TechCrunch, and it’s also the same types of readers that attend our events like Disrupt SF.   

Building a product that could help startup teams and investors was the goal, and from there we came up with the idea for Extra Crunch. We wanted to make sure that all of the existing content on TechCrunch remained free, so we decided to make the Extra Crunch articles differentiated and offered as an additional service. The “freemium” model made a lot of sense when we launched, and so far the product is having great success. The reception has been positive and growth continues to scale.

GRACE: What is a misconception most consumers have about subscription products from major media outlets? And, what is your response to that misconception? 

TRAVIS: I often hear that news is ubiquitous, so it’s not worth paying for a subscription to it. My response is that subscription news services aren’t for every type of news reader, but the quality of news and information you will get from a paid service will be more trusted, of higher quality, and most likely exclusive reporting. In our case, a lot of the value is the analysis and exclusivity. Many news stories might be ubiquitous, but what the story means and why it’s important is another layer. There’s also value in reading a story you can’t find anywhere else. That extra layer is why it’s worth the money.

GRACE: What was your biggest hurdle in growing Extra Crunch over the past year? 

TRAVIS: International expansion is challenging, especially in a day and age where every country has different rules and regulations with data policies and online subscription services.

It was also challenging to shift how our newsroom thought about analytics with a subscription. Many of the metrics you use for traditional audience development might not make sense in the context of a subscription product. 

GRACE: Extra Crunch is focused on serving the startup audience, providing in-depth, how-to articles for founders. How did you use data from top-performing articles on TechCrunch to drive that decision? 

TRAVIS: What generates the most traffic on TechCrunch isn’t necessarily what will generate the most membership sign-ups or reads by members. Sometimes there are overlaps, but it requires a shift in thinking for analytics. You need to start paying more attention to article conversion rates, how articles produce in the short term and long term, what current paying members are reading, what article topics members are reading, and how much time paying members are spending on articles. 

GRACE: How do the topics covered on Extra Crunch differ from the rest of TechCrunch — and why?

TRAVIS: Content on Extra Crunch falls into one of three categories: investor surveys, how-tos and interviews on company building, and analysis on IPOs and late-stage companies. 

Investor surveys allow our readers to find out where startup investors plan to write their next checks. The how-tos and interviews help startup teams build their companies better with features from experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other key work topics. You can also learn about the best startups through our IPO analysis, late-stage deep dives, and other exclusive reporting delivered daily.

Traditional TechCrunch content seeks to explain what happened whereas Extra Crunch content seeks to explain why and how things happen. For example – you might see news on TechCrunch about a startup going public. Extra Crunch would dive into what that means for similar startups in the space. Similarly, TechCrunch would cover the funding of a new startup, whereas Extra Crunch might do an interview with the founder on how he or she built the team using remote employees or what he or she found to be the keys to monetization.  

GRACE: Assuming the paying audience is more engaged than the general public, how do you measure the success of an article on Extra Crunch? Are there different measures for Extra Crunch & the rest of TechCrunch?

TRAVIS: There are some different measures, but there are also some similarities.

Both Extra Crunch and TechCrunch care about the impact the story has. With Extra Crunch, the impact might be to a smaller subset of users but we still care about how much impact it has. If it doesn’t have impact, why write it? 

With TechCrunch, we use traditional publisher metrics like unique visitors and engagement time. With Extra Crunch, there’s an added layer of conversions, conversion rates, reads by subscribers, and engagement time for subscribers. Since the Extra Crunch product is still relatively new, we’re still evolving our approach to analytics.

GRACE: Can you speak to the importance of paywalls to the future of journalism?

TRAVIS: I think there’s room for both paywalled journalism and non-paywalled journalism. But when you are talking about niche topics, I think paywalls are the way things have to be. It’s better for the business and it’s better for the consumer.

It’s better for the consumer because their experience with the product must be great or they won’t keep paying. It’s better for the business because it forces the business to put the customer experience first and not make sacrifices with advertising or privacy or UI. It’s also better for the business because revenue is more predictable: There aren’t as many ebbs and flows with advertising impressions due to traffic shifts.  

It will be challenging for a small or niche publication to run a successful digital advertising business at scale because it won’t have that big of an audience compared to the digital behemoths. It’s tough to compete. Small and medium-sized publications can “win” by building a paid relationship with the reader and focus on improving things that meet the needs of the reader (UI, remove ads, build niche features, etc.).  

GRACE: If you could be a fly on the wall in the boardroom of any tech company, which would it be and why? 

TRAVIS: Facebook — the company grew incredibly fast over the past decade, but it has had missteps the last few years. I’m curious to see how Facebook evolves at a time when perceptions of privacy and digital addiction are changing.  

Pros and Cons of Offering an Exclusive for Your Funding Announcement

You’ve received a round of funding. After celebrating with some drinks and team bonding, you grab your PR team to shape the strategy for sharing the news. You know you want coverage in all the top places: VentureBeat, TechCrunch, Forbes, Bloomberg. Even Wall Street Journal —  because who doesn’t want their face formed by little dots in black and white in one of the most widely read publications in the world? 

Your hopes are reasonable, but there are a few things to consider before executing a strategy: 

  • Some reporters — especially at top-tier publications like Forbes or Bloomberg — won’t cover a funding round unless it’s 100M or higher. Generating interest from these reports will require more creative thinking like the use of a high-profile customer or insights into additional financial numbers like YRR or customer deal-sizes
  • Offering exclusive access to your CEO and rights to the story to one reporter can help lock-in that home run media opportunity
  • Sharing the news with a handful of top reporters at target vertical and business publications could mean more coverage from an array of outlets for the next couple weeks

The goals for your funding announcement dictates the strategy 

Now that you have insight into the first considerations PR professionals evaluate before shaping a funding announcement strategy, understand that there are pros and cons to any approach. To get to the root of why this announcement is important (besides the obvious), ask yourself: Who do I want to see this coverage? What do I expect this coverage to do for my business? What will make the stakeholders at my organization happy? 

Let’s break this out further with possible answers and scenarios to help you pinpoint the real goal for this announcement.

Scenario #1: I want to reach prospects with this news to influence their decision to purchase our offering, thus impacting the bottom line and making stakeholders happy.

Depending on your use-cases and buyer personas, it’s likely that your company’s target prospects read a variety of publications specific to their industry, as well as business press.

To get in front of these prospects, the best approach would be to pre-pitch the funding announcement under embargo. The positives for this tactic are that coverage is almost guaranteed and will extend over a longer period of time and a variety of media verticals. However, bullseye media targets — those dream or ideal outlets we talked about at the beginning — might not ask for information prior to the announcement day and can become further disinterested if they see the news has broken.

Scenario #2: I want other investors and business leaders to see our momentum to demonstrate dominance in the industry because stakeholders have competitors top of mind. 

Business press is where you’ll find investor and business leader’s eyeballs. To entice top tier media contacts who cover business, exclusive, embargoed interviews and early access to news is the way to go. Publications like TechCrunch and VentureBeat often take the embargoed release and draft a feature to run the day of the announcement. The benefit of this is the upper echelon of media will cover the news the day it’s released across a newswire. The downside, however, is you can only offer an exclusive to one person.

Scenario #3: I want more partnerships and this news gives them confidence to do business with us. That means stakeholders can establish additional revenue pipelines, reach a new market of prospects and bolster our credibility.

Again, an exclusive is the best approach to almost ensure you get top tier business coverage on announcement day. But, we’ve also found success in offering the embargoed release to a select group of targeted media, telling them as much. Not only have we seen multiple top publications run the story, but it also allowed us to pre-pitch vertical trade simultaneously. The same pros and cons apply here as to the above.

All this said, remember that note about some media only caring if the round is at a certain amount? To get editors at top-tier publications — like New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg — to write about a smaller funding round, it’s essential to offer extra company info like financial metrics or a customer in which they can interview, in addition to access or an exclusive. This approach can be weaved into what’s outlined above, but it will affect the amount and type of coverage that runs in relation to the funding round news. 

TLDR? In order for your PR team to align tactics to garner the type of coverage that will make you and your team happy with the announcement, we have to know what the real goal is. You need to bring your ideal outcomes and expectations to the table so we can layout the execution options for the best end-result. 

Want to learn more about fully maximizing exposure to your exciting news about closing a round of funding? Check out our Maximize Your Funding Momentum eBook.