Blog NXT Stage

NXT Stage: A Unique Awareness Program to Help Brands Grow from Early Stage, Through IPO and Beyond

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Author: Mark Nardone, Chief Marketing Officer at PAN Communications, headshot
Mark NardoneChief Marketing Officer
growth strategies for marketing and PR pros

At PAN, we’re born into the school of thought that every brand can scale measurably with the help of integrated marketing and PR strategies. We also recognize that we must play a vital role in that goal, working closely with marketing leaders at tech and healthcare organizations to transform and differentiate.

Because of this, we’ve been lucky enough to have a front row seat with our clients over the past 25+ years, supporting major growth milestones and helping navigate their evolving journeys. We’ve helped marketing and PR move from a “nice to have,” to the big leagues, where the C-suite and Board of Directors put trust in us to meet critical business goals.

growth strategies for marketing and PR pros

Over the years, we’ve also worked closely with the VCs who have backed our clients and taken opportunities to learn from their experiences while sharing insights from our own journey.

This has driven important conversations with clients who were looking to take the next step in transforming their brand along its growth journey. A few years back, we branded this philosophy as a playbook known as NXT Stage, focused on developing personalized strategies for clients at the early, mid and late stages of growth.

But NXT Stage isn’t just for clients navigating a funding round or looking to go public. It’s about rethinking your entire integrated strategy from the very beginning and building a roadmap that aligns with your brand’s individual goals for success. It has shaped the way we look at program engagements, skillset alignments, service offerings, relationships with VC firms and business opportunities entirely.

And that’s why we’re kicking it up a notch.

integrated marketing & PR strategies for growing brands

NXT Stage: Our Approach

Over the years (and increasingly during the pandemic) clients have come to us for guidance around how to adjust their products or services to meet new demands and priorities from customers. They are flooded with marketing activities and lacking the resources and frameworks needed for sound communication across departments. They’re feeling the pressure from key stakeholders and their C-suite to hit bigger growth goals – yesterday!

The rapid digital transformation, coupled with their expansion into new markets or verticals, created this sort of “white space,” flush with opportunity to reinvent themselves and stand out from competitors. All they needed was a trusted partner to help them think creatively and move these efforts from ideation to execution at the ideal time, with the ideal result.

As this became increasingly common, NXT Stage became more than a playbook or framework – it was Our Approach.

Why Now?

In addition to the immediate need from our clients, the overall market is also demanding a transformative mindset to support growth and tightly align integrated marketing and PR.

A few ongoing, industry-wide trends have supported the need for NXT Stage to become more apparent in our approach:

  • Expectations for the department are increasing. Gartner reported 44% of CMOs faced mid-year budget cuts in 2020. Budgets may have recently been slashed, but performance benchmarks remain higher than ever as brands lean on marketers to lead in recovery. While not a new demand, agencies are being called upon to fill these skills and resource gaps now more than ever.
  • VC funding shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, a recent article shows a steady trend upward in total venture capital investment in the U.S. since 2002. Many marketers are left without guidance around how to sustain momentum across brand building efforts during this critical time. NXT Stage helps them better understand how to allocate these funds towards impactful programs.
  • Investors want the best for their portfolio companies. Once funding comes through, brands must fulfill lofty investor and board level expectations. VCs want their portfolio companies to work with agencies who have a tried-and-true method for effectively scaling alongside them, and that’s the ultimate goal with NXT Stage.
  • The continued war on awareness demands you maintain a competitive edge. Digital-first strategies have somehow made it both easier and more difficult to reach your customers, as new channels emerge almost daily. Data shows that on average, 5 to 7 impressions are necessary before a prospect remembers your brand. NXT Stage helps brands hit the ground running when they enter a new market, evolve and look for long-term, sustainable growth strategies.
  • The rise of the empowered customer. Brands are constantly challenged with personalizing experiences, which becomes increasingly difficult as they experience growing pains and expand their customer base. Our NXT Stage approach invites brands to self-assess where they’re at in their growth journey and how integrated services can alleviate these pain points.
  • The increased importance of messaging & positioning – At this snapshot in time, what you say, how you say and where you conduct business are all under a microscope. Being prepared and activating campaigns supported by the right services, content and team will set you up for success.

“Building a compelling recognized brand is hard – full stop. But it is absolutely essential to scaling early-stage companies, particularly those that look to redefine their industries. Sectors in transition make this exercise even more critical yet challenging. Those that do it successfully will rapidly scale their businesses and, frankly, will be able to more effectively raise capital on better terms. In healthcare technology the number of new logos is chaotic – great brands break through that noise.” – Michael Greely, General Partner, Flare Capital Partners

Our Formula for Your Success

NXT Stage recognizes that no two growth journeys are alike, and that’s why we’ve built an approach that can be customized to fit individual needs.

For example, we realize that you may not identify as early or mid-stage or be going through a funding round, and instead are seeking an integrated program that will help you bridge the gap between these two milestones. Or maybe you’re a late-stage brand that isn’t sure how develop the right communications plan ahead of your IPO in the next 12-18 months.

Our NXT Stage Approach is mindful of your brand’s unique path and ensures no stone is left unturned. We identify where your business is today, and we guide your strategy for where you’re going tomorrow using these critical steps.

First: Audit & Assess

Our brand research tool, the Digital Visibility Audit (DiVA), will help measure your brand’s digital footprint and identify gaps in your awareness strategy. Before we begin, we’ll determine inconsistencies in your messaging & positioning and pinpoint opportunities across your competitive landscape to lay the groundwork for what type of program your brand needs.

We believe in leading with data and insights that inform from Day 1 of the partnership.

Data-Driven PR and Marketing

Second: Map Services to Your Stage of Growth

This is where we put the data to work. After identifying gaps in your integrated marketing and PR strategy, we’ll begin crafting the right program for your brand.

It’s also important to consider what that data means based on your stage of growth. For example, startups aren’t expected to dominate in Share of Voice (SOV) on day one. It takes time to build trust, awareness and loyalty with your audience. However, if DiVA identified that a late-stage brand was consistently lagging in SOV amongst its competitors, it means it’s time to ramp up your earned media efforts and expand your executive thought leadership bench.

Most importantly when it comes to services, we plan to grow and evolve right alongside your brand as your priorities change.

“Over the past 12 months, our AI-powered healthcare virtual assistant company grew exponentially. We experienced exceptional market traction and closed a $13.6M Series A funding round. Like any emerging technology company, there are many moving pieces, and it requires flexibility and agility to exceed customer expectations. PAN has been a strong partner to build brand awareness and support our lead generation efforts to help take us through our next phase of growth.” Sean Biehle, Director, Digital Marketing, GYANT

Third: Integrate Your Departments as You Scale

Once we’ve identified the right integrated services, we’ll begin to collaborate with the various teams that make up your marketing department.

For early-stage brands who don’t have a dedicated department quite yet, that means working directly with the founders or C-suite. For larger brands, that might include separate PR, content, demand gen, data and other teams that round out a variety of skillsets. It’s our goal at PAN to become a true extension of your team (no matter your size) as you look to fill the skillset gaps necessary to reach that next level of awareness.

Fourth: Reassess, Reassess, Reassess

We believe no client-agency relationship should be static. We’re committed to constantly reassessing what’s working and finding areas for improvement. This process involves setting realistic goals that are specific to your growth stage and adjusting them as your brand evolves.

Part of that commitment comes in the form of our branded measurement program, PANoptics. These are quarterly reports designed to evaluate success metrics.

Introducing: The NXT Stage Web Experience

stages of b2b growth

To better articulate our approach, our interactive website experience allows brands to self-identify where they land on the growth continuum.

It’s also a knowledge-sharing hub for VCs and their portfolio companies to access marketing resources that are applicable to their specific challenges.

Want to dig deeper? Personalize your journey to see like brands that we work with and their integrated experiences using our “Growth Stages” NXT Stage filter. You can also find growth-related content within our Insights section to learn more about the integrated strategies that align with your goals.

Curious where you stand, or interested in how we can support your growth journey? Take our 6-question NXT Stage assessment to learn more.


determine your brand's stage of growth

An image of PAN's Brand Experience Report on the Potentials and pitfalls of AI for marketers

In our annual Brand Experience Report, we asked marketers and customers how they are using and experiencing AI to better understand how the technology is changing that relationship.