Challenges and Takeaways of Debuting in a Pandemic

Debuts are important. Companies fresh with cash after a Series A or seed financing want to be known in the industry and this is the first opportunity to tell their corporate stories to a public audience. Debuts are more than just announcing the financing and investors – they lay the stage for a company’s value proposition and how they will be judged on future progress.

Despite the pandemic, early financings and company launches remained strong – according to NVCA data reported in Pitchbook, 2020 was the third consecutive year where early-stage companies raised over $40B in Series A and B rounds. The size of these financings also continued along the trend of increasing in size and the pandemic only slightly slowed early VC activity. Within the life science industry, biotech VC reached an all time high in 2020, raising just under $20B. The average financing per round was nearly $45M, nearly $10M higher than the average in 2019.

Timing is Everything

The largest hurdle of debuting in a pandemic is timing. Before the pandemic, it was important to find a good news window that avoided major medical meetings or FDA decisions that might impact reporter receptivity and industry readers’ attention. Finding an ideal time to announce has been a lot more difficult during the pandemic.

Daily coverage on COVID-19 has taken a significant amount of industry reporter bandwidth, making it a challenge to bring attention to debuts. Understandably, industry reporters are carrying the heavy weight of keeping the public informed on COVID-19 developments, but the unpredictability of COVID-19 announcements makes it difficult for companies with other news to share.

The New Status Quo

Standard debuts that announce a moderate financing and interesting science sometimes fail to garner the attention they would normally have received pre-pandemic.

When planning a debut, we recommend building as much flexibility into the process as possible. Having some leeway will be immensely helpful in navigating competing news flow. By staying informed of what’s happening in the industry and having a flexible debut date, we can better identify external news competition and adjust the timing to our advantage.

Messaging Remains Key to Success

When we work with a company on debuting, a positioning meeting is a critical starting point. We like to start with a meeting that involves all the key stakeholders and management who each hold a critical piece of a company’s story. By gathering everyone into the same room, we can have a robust conversation and align on a narrative.

Due to social distancing necessitated by the pandemic, we have adjusted this process to a virtual format. Although it was difficult at first – our positioning meetings often last four to eight hours – we found that we can conduct them in the same way we did in-person once we and our clients became more accustomed to lengthy virtual meetings.

Moving forward in a post-pandemic world, our preference will still be to conduct these meetings in person, but scheduling and travel time for teams that are spread out geographically can be a challenge. In these cases, we are thankful for the ability to achieve the same results in a virtual setting.

Newsroom Changes

Pandemic reporting requires specialized science reporters to keep the public accurately informed. It has been a heavy and important job for these reporters to break down key learnings from epidemiologists and public health recommendations for the public to digest.

We hope that the value of high-quality science-focused reporting will be universally recognized moving forward and a less expendable position in newsrooms. We have seen a few industry outlets expand their reporting teams and scope of coverage in the last year and we hope this will be a growing and lasting trend.

Looking Forward

Despite changes in nearly every industry due to the pandemic, new company launches continued steadily through 2020 and into 2021. There were challenges to overcome for the brave companies that debuted in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, but the rewards were still worthwhile. The last year has brought about important changes in the way we do business that will have lasting impacts on companies and how they debut for years to come. The value of science reporting was brought front and center. We hope this shift in reporting and efficiency of virtual meetings will prove useful as we continue to help our clients debut in a post-pandemic world. We learned through experience that flexibility and timing around major industry news are crucial. But as we all eagerly await our return to the office, we will continue to enjoy the luxury of taking meetings in pajama bottoms.

Are you planning to debut in the coming year? Do you need strategic communications, IR or PR counsel? Contact our team to learn more about how MacDougall might be able to help.

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