From my perch as a communication professional who has spent the last four years in one of the world’s largest telecommunication and technology companies, I am still never far from a discussion of startups, technology, or the inevitability of a world that’s “gone digital.”
I’m also keenly aware that most of these businesses need serious communication help if they want to be on a pedestal when the glorious history of the “Digital Revolution” is written.
But the connectivity between today’s tech entrepreneurs and communications professionals lacks a bridge, a workable business model that addresses entrepreneur needs to conserve resources appropriately, while providing communicators enough incentive to invest the required time and ingenuity to take a startup client to the next level.
Is it time for the “venture communicator?”
Here in the Netherlands, we are starting to see a new breed of communications professional, the “venture communicator,” who is providing communication support to a number of startups in the region. Some focus on startups full-time, others part-time. The common thread is a willingness to work for deferred compensation and/or equity either exclusively or in large part.
Amsterdam-based Katerina has established a full-service firm “Monkey Everywhere PR”, which services startups in the Netherlands and Eastern Europe for what she calls a “fair fee focusing on results” basis. “The startup world is extremely dynamic and there is a huge opportunity for a firm that is comfortable in dealing with the content this space.” Having a virtual firm in eastern Europe for design and other delivery-oriented activities allows Katerina to make the most of her limited up-front fees while supporting longer-term relationships and equity growth.
But one doesn’t need to have a full-blown firm or be a heavy tech expert to provide effective support for today’s startups. Nadine, a Dutch communication pro who is working with a startup, likes working with her startup because it allows her to draw on a broad and deep range of skills, and often without the pushback offered by some corporate clients.
“Venture Communication is not traditional Tech PR. Instead, combines an external application of the influencer model – the identification, connection and mobilization of relevant leaders in the space the startup wishes to play in, with more traditional media and social media oriented PR approaches.”
The tools for identifying influencers in these worlds are different than they are in organizations, as are those for connecting and mobilizing them. Twitter follower lists, collection of a common vocabulary of keywords, and assembly of a list of activists and advocates in a startup’s market and ecosystem can be combined with the venture communicator’s will to leverage personal assets like access to ex-colleagues and alumni networks to accelerate the connection between intention and ignition.
Why Venture Communication may make a great sideline for internal communicators
The reason I think “venture communication” makes sense for internal communicators to think about is that most startup markets are small and insulated, giving them a dynamic similar to the “closed” environment inside a corporate firewall. We know this in our own industry/profession, the lovely hashtag #internalcomms.
Even if the common use of a twitter hashtag like #internalcomms is a thinner connection than a thick corporate firewall (or certainly, a shark-filled corporate moat), it provides a direct connection to people who are interested in internal comms. It makes it possible to pull together a workable list of everyone who has used the hashtag to discuss internal comms, all the companies using the hashtag to market their goods and services, and even those of potential buyers.
Even if the list isn’t universal, the boundary created by the use of the hashtag, and other product-relevant hashtags (and job titles and potential uses), creates an internal space where the rules of internal communication apply—where the focus is on reaching relevant individuals and audiences and avoiding wastage on those for whom the message will be irrelevant or irritating.
This is our kind of space. It might not be our kind of business model yet—but one combining modest upfront fees, deferred fees, equity, commissions on sales made through introductions and the sponsorship of corporations looking for the next “big thing” could make it worthwhile. But if we want to think big as a profession, this is something we should be thinking about. And people like Katerina and Nadine are already beginning to make it work.