VC marketing and communications roles are some of the most coveted roles in the PR industry. The industry is known for low attrition and a finite number of available roles. Meanwhile, the venture and startup ecosystem is fast paced, stressful and ever changing. So what personality traits and skill sets are most useful to succeed in the VC ecosystem?
At our August 21 Friday Forum, we were joined by Ellie Javadi, PRSA-SV Immediate Past President and Norwest Venture Partners VP of Marketing, Brand & Digital, and by Chantelle Darby, VP of Marketing at Accel. Both speakers stressed the importance their networks had in landing a position in venture comms. But they cautioned that a good network alone is not enough to succeed in landing a role. Both speakers noted that every firm is unique and has different priorities, cultures and needs. Even with the diverse nature of venture, most VC firms will require a majority of these traits to succeed:
The Ability to Switch Context
Venture is an extremely fast-paced industry. You will be regularly communicating and advising multiple partners and multiple companies (your internal vs. external clients). It’s a necessary skill needed to adapt to the varying circumstances of each company you support and to the varying goals of partners.
“I’m one part executive coach, one part confidante, and one part juggler in my role,” said Ellie. “It’s never the same day twice and I’m never bored. Anyone easily flustered or annoyed would not enjoy the venture environment.”
Chantelle agreed. “In this role, you will report to and support multiple partners at your VC firm. It’s like reporting to 20 CEOs,” she said.
Demonstrate That You Can Be an Advocate & Bring Value
You are going to be working with strong personalities in a competitive environment. You have to be confident in the recommendations you make and be willing to have constructive debates. Identify the goals and identify the opportunities, be informed and then execute.
Have Comms Experience and Willingness to Lead
Venture is a competitive environment. It’s expected that you take charge and move quickly. In most venture firms, you may be the lone communications partner and you may not report to someone with a communications or marketing background. In a given month, you might partner and interact with upwards of 15 portfolio company CEOs and have to simultaneously address numerous internal requests. In most cases, there won’t be someone above you to direct you or tell you what to do.
Agency and In-House Positions Experience
Having both agency and in-house experience is critical to success in a VC Communications environment. Why? Within the Venture environment, you’re being asked to counsel numerous internal stakeholders AND numerous external stakeholders (the portfolio) in a given day. The work is mostly reactive. As a result, you need the requisite experience, expertise and confidence to offer guidance and counsel in an extremely fast-paced environment. You need to be a quick thinker and buttoned up on execution. Intellectual rigour (clarity in thinking and an ability to think carefully) will also be an asset.
There are a number of critical factors required to succeed in this environment, including:
- Confidence: This is important to establish credibility and know-how
- High EQ: You need the ability to listen and be empathetic while quickly building rapport
- A Consultative Approach: When you fully understand your stakeholders needs and key challenges, you’re more likely to be able to recommend the appropriate set of communication strategies and tactics to reach and potentially exceed their goals. While there are a lot of best practices to consider, in reality, they may not be applicable to the situation.
- Experience, expertise and hands-on know-how: Experience is table stakes, but you’ll also need to make sure you have honed your expertise as well. Having hands-on knowledge and the credibility to provide counsel when coaching portfolio companies and partners is essential. If you haven’t led in-house comms teams, or if you’re overly cautious or unclear about strategy, then you’re wasting time for those you advise. And they can sense it.
Our speakers shared additional important tips for communicators new to venture comms and for startups. For example, setting expectations is paramount to succeeding in a Venture marketing and communications role. It is harder these days for any kind of launch to get coverage. So don’t promise you can get X number of pieces of coverage. There are fewer reporters covering startups and funding news. In this climate, you may need to pitch an exclusive and you’re lucky if your funding announcement gets picked up by one publication. As a result, it’s always best to under promise and over deliver.
They also advised that if you’re going to stay in the fast-paced venture environment, you need to know how to focus on priorities so that you don’t burn out.
An attendee asked how the speakers knew when it was time to advise a startup to hire an outside communications professional. The speakers said it depends on the company. Don’t start out hiring a communications vice president if a content strategist or marketing specialist makes more sense earlier in the life of a company. Or vice versa, if the startup has a lot of marketing experience, then a content provider might be the right choice. Also, it’s important to ensure the CEO has the bandwidth to work with a communications professional.
Both Ellie and Chantelle agreed that working in the VC industry is a long-term commitment — there isn’t a lot of turnover in that industry. But if you’ve got what it takes to make it in the fast-paced world of VC comms, it’s a very rewarding career.