A tale of Comms, Content & Context (and 6x months at Forward Partners)
Some crucial context: After five years running Augur, I’ve been seeking new experiences to inform the design of the next phase of the business.
One of these has been a 6 month Interim Head of Comms & Content role at Forward Partners, an early stage VC with a startup-building agency inside.
This post talks about some of that experience, and why you should go and look at their open marketing roles.
One of the things you quickly learn in a PR & Comms career is that your subject (client or product) is everything. But one of the less obvious things is that context is equally important to your growth.
When I was about 18 months into my career, I wrote a piece that asked “What do PR people do when they grow up?” Ultimately, if you have a handful of ranks (AE, AM, AD, AssD, Practice Head/ MD), and you spend maybe two years in each, there’s only a decade or so to make it to the top of the pile.
Hence the question: once you've spent that time in PR and Comms, what do you do with the rest of your life?
I think the answer for that comes from context – and that’s all about the “non-PR” inputs with which you surround yourself.
Changing the inputs
The first, and obvious, part of this is surrounding yourself with great clients. But the second part of this is how you choose to surround yourself if and when you make the leap to work in house.
That decision has occasionally been seen as “selling out” or taking it easy. But anyone who has done it must profess that it’s an incredible way to learn so much more about how businesses function, and deepen the impact of your work across a company.
Having recently crossed the ten year mark of my own career, and five years of my own agency, I was on the look out to get more of those different “context” experiences.
And so, it seemed like fate when a couple of friends recommended Nic and the team talk to me about helping Forward Partners.
The value of the VC context
The interesting thing about doing Comms at a VC is that it sits somewhere between the in house experience and the agency experience.
On one hand, you are in meetings talking about the deepest levels of how companies are built and what makes them successful. You’re looking at questions of user acquisition, product design and engineering.
You’re seeing the full array of what might kill several companies at once – and crucially, where the solutions do or don’t come from.
Your problem-solving vocabulary and peripheral awareness take huge leaps forward – and applying it back to Comms strategy can reveal some intriguing insights (more on those soon.)
On the other hand, taking responsibility for promoting a VC’s story forces you to ask the hard question of what this kind of business is really about. Why is it’s story more interesting than a list of investment figures and successful exits?
This is where it’s invaluable to have the benefit of a truly distinct approach.
And that’s why Forward Partners has been an enormously rewarding place to work on this project.
Forward Partners is not just another VC
Any VC will drop a suitcase of cash on your doorstep if you have a decent idea.
Many will now make some introductions to their portfolio and friends.
But Forward Partners is crucially distinct in growing its own full time team of startup-building specialists.
From recruitment, to engineering, to product design, growth and marketing, they can help founders design, build and grow their business faster. Especially crucial for the pre-seed stage.
In no particular order, here’s some of the specifics of why you should think about picking up the baton after I move on:
- BE CHALLENGED – There’s a skill to asking questions, and I think most of it comes from having had enough experiences to know what really matters. Because the investors sit across boards of multiple companies, the multiplier of their experience means you’re working with the most amazing focus on the most important elements of the strategy you produce. As a result, you will grow faster, and across a broader base, than the homogeneous marketing world allows.
- JOIN THE BUILDERS – it’s always great to learn from other creative colleagues, and naturally in PR and Comms, you’ll come across other marketers, growth people and similar. However, there’s something great about sitting surrounded by designers, UX experts, software engineers and talent teams. Once again, it’s about context, but this time in slightly more adjacent disciplines. You’ll learn how a creative team can work (and most importantly ship and build ) great stuff. Considering how long and how deeply agencies still seem to struggle with this kind of innovation in their makeup, you’re probably not going to learn it there any time soon.
- BE AT THE CUTTING EDGE – VC is all about what’s next. As a result, the team are scrutinising not only the obvious (AI, blockchain & co) but the deeper questions of when and where these might actually work. Taking to the next generation of founders placing these bets, looking under the covers of their business, puts the team at a VC in one of the most informed positions about what’s realistically likely next, not just what looks sexy in a double-page feature.
- MAKE A DIFFERENCE – with companies mostly at the seed and pre-seed stage, these founders are making formative decisions about their business. Why go and work with a bored marketing manager, when you could be sitting opposite the person on whom everything is riding. As with Augur, supporting these founders is the most fulfilling experience of work for me. And at Forward Partners, everything is aligned to put you and the founders’ businesses on the same team, working together against the problem at hand.
- GET IN EARLY – Forward Partners is only 5x years old, and has every ambition to become the biggest player in its space. It has a distinct approach that suggests why it would credibly get there. And it has plenty of room for you to influence the systems, ideas and processes that will achieve it.
I’ve spent these months with Forward building in a new “Marketing OS” to help whoever joins next hit the ground running. The old ideas are running on better systems and the next ideas are laid out with a solid runway, to be added to and embellished upon.
I’ll be sad to leave this (growing) crew of talented people — but I’ve no doubt our paths will cross again very soon, and I'm looking forward (get it?) to watching them progress.
If you think you, or someone you know, might be interested, check out more detail on the position here (and maybe I’ll see you in the interview process.)