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  • Writer's pictureCamilla | Eleven International

Nothing to announce? How to do PR during the dry spells

In an ideal world, your brand or client has some earth-shattering PR announcement once every couple of months. Tier-one coverage comes piling in, and the intervening time is jam-packed with interviews and deep dives, with reporters seeking out your execs for comments on related trending news. But we all know that’s not the reality for most of us.

Especially for startups, there’s simply not a massive announcement going on month-to-month to keep hold of reporters’ interest. Sure, larger companies can keep up a constant stream of news.

Think acquisitions, partnerships, investments, product launches etc. Multinationals or conglomerates can always find something to push, or their big-name execs already have the clout to do constant interviews. But for startups, it’s a totally different story. Often no-name brands, with no-name execs, we have to get creative, think outside the box, to show their as-yet undiscovered value.

The key for startups is to keep on communicating to show they’re still on the scene, still innovating, and hint hint still raising funding. So, here’s our advice, based on real-life examples within the last five years since we founded Eleven International. Our advice is primarily targeted for tech startups but could apply for other industries too.

“What if we don’t have a product yet?”

Many startups spend years figuring out their product/market fit. For consumer tech brands especially, many take years to simply prototype their hardware. So, in that in-between time, how can PR pros conduct effective activities that keeps reporters, investors, and other major stakeholders interested?

Here we’ll draw on our first-hand experience with a well-known consumer electronics startup. At the beginning of our engagement with this client, the firm had no product for two years. That means no product launch announcements, no user data stories, no feature upgrades. Also, that meant it was difficult to prove to reporters that the execs’ viewpoints were authoritative, with no product in the market to establish their credibility. Needless to say, we had to get creative. Our first piece of advice: If a brand’s product hasn’t been released yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t generate some hype around the R&D process itself. That’s especially true for tech brands in a cutting-edge field. Here, the key is to try to build hype among the early adopter consumer audience, who are desperate for this tech to one day hit the market.

You can seed breakthrough R&D info or results that appeal to consumers, even if those specific features won’t make it to the final product. This isn’t so much a ‘fake it till you make it’ approach, but more about drawing reporters and consumers into the process, to help maintain excitement when there’s not much else to talk about. It’s sort of a behind-the-scenes look; a little unpolished, but a good way to connect with external audiences and sustain the hype.

For consumer tech especially, delivering consumer-friendly content will be far more effective at generating buzz than B2B angles. Even if the ultimate target of your PR is investors, developers, or enterprise clients, these groups will see the consumer-oriented stories anyway, so it’s several birds with one stone. You can sort of treat the B2B stakeholders as lower-hanging fruit, due to the fact that ultimately these groups also want to see wider adoption, to validate the overall ecosystem/industry.

Developer grants and funds are another tactic you can use while there’s no product to focus on. Announcing grants or an overall fund helps to drive buzz and interest around the future of the industry – helpful when there’s nothing current to deep dive into. Meanwhile, your brand gets to decide how and when the money is ultimately distributed. Announcing a USD2M fund gets headlines in the vertical media and gives your execs an opportunity to describe their vision for the industry. But don’t panic, no one calls you out if that money hasn't been handed out within the same month.

“What if our B2B business is going great, but there’s no headline-grabbing news that the media cares about?”

As mentioned above, B2C tends to be more effective at driving hype. Meanwhile B2B is generally perceived as quite dry, storytelling-wise at least. So, what if your startup is making decent money on the B2B side, but there’s nothing sexy to generate buzz - then what? Actually this is an issue we often see among our institutional Web3 clients. Business is booming, but with so much drama to compete with in the crypto space, just running a company well doesn’t get you any headlines.

This is where thought leadership PR comes in. Many call it ‘newsjacking’ - providing opinions on current topics to get quotes in trend articles, as well as placing bylines/opinion articles. Of course, it takes time to build relationships with reporters for them to appreciate your execs’ insights and expertise. But if you can be useful to the right person at the right time, you’ll reap the rewards.

Here, our advice is for startups to stretch outside their comfort zone. If your brand isn’t well known outside its vertical (or even in its own vertical), and your execs are no-namers (for now at least), there’s no other option than to weigh in on the topics that reporters want to talk about.

For example, in web3 right now that’s regulation, i.e. the SEC charging along the warpath. But in any industry there’s generally some drama that everyone else is too scared to comment on, at least anything more than a noncommittal sound bite. And that provides a great opportunity for a scrappy upstart challenger brand.

Even if your brand or client isn't necessarily an expert, the execs can actually still help to fill in the gaps by educating the press. That’s because these are new and often complicated topics for the reporters, who are generally covering a lot of different stories across different topics. They usually prefer someone who's at least more of an expert than them to offer insights and an overview. That’s not because journalists are lazy or unintelligent, quite the opposite. They’re incredibly overworked, and simply aren’t experts in every single topic or story they cover. So helping a reporter navigate the lay of the land on a breaking, controversial news topic that no one else wants to touch, in a way that adds value and clears away confusion, is often a win-win.

For the hesitant among you, remember that reporters don’t care about a startups’ “brand messages”. Unfortunately, staying in a non-committal comfort zone is not an option for startups. Instead, wade in on those controversial topics, and always be helpful. This advice also stands for any company whose particular niche is not currently in favor with the mainstream news cycle of the moment.

To wrap up…

If you don’t have any earth-shattering news to announce right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t do PR. Dig deep and get creative. There are always ways to help the media and demonstrate your brand’s innovative spirit, even when the cookie-cutter approaches don’t apply.


Note: This article was originally published on PR Week on 19 April 2023, written by Camilla Tenn of Eleven International.

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