Before I started my own PR and media relations company, I always found this time of year to be more stressful and challenging than it needed to be. Startups, which already have unrealistic ideas and expectations about PR and how the media work, would set impossible new year’s resolutions. It was usually a recipe for disaster.
4 Ways To Improve Public Relations in 2023
1. Build your storytelling skills.
2. Media-train company spokespeople.
3. Stick with messages that align with your brand, rather than hopping on current-events bandwagons.
4. Create a PR crisis-communications plan.
Now that I have my own business, I emphasize to my clients that to achieve success, their resolutions must be tangible and realistic.
I’ve seen so many startups and PR agencies overpromise, then underdeliver, and never have any of the aggressive goals set at the beginning of the year actually come to fruition. Rather than making grandiose PR strategies that are prone to fall apart in a matter of months, use this time to align and assess what’s worked and what hasn’t from last year. That alone will give you qualitative and quantitative insight to help inform your external communications plan so you can produce the most impactful results.
Here are four public-relations areas in which startups can improve to be more effective at accomplishing communications goals in the new year.
Build Your Storytelling Muscle
Great PR means powerful storytelling, and every business has a story to tell. So why do startups and their PR teams continue to fail at telling stories in an engaging and thought-provoking way?
If customer retention and forging new meaningful, authentic connections and relationships are a goal for this year, then focus on building this skill. In 2023, especially with all of the cultural moments happening in the news cycle, brands have plenty of entryways to get their unique point of view and narratives out there.
No matter what industry your startup is in, incorporate newsjacking, which is pitching your company executives as experts on breaking news and current events. Tap into seasonal themes, using propriety or third-party data and research to build trust around your brand. If startups expect to get year-round press coverage, awards recognition and invitations to speak at industry events, then they must get more creative and nix the cookie-cutter PR content they always pitch.
One way to do this is through video. Another is being more transparent in your storytelling to show what’s going on under the hood. If you have the budget for it, put on an event abroad or an annual conference where you demo your product and give a behind-the-scenes experience. Start showing actual case studies and disclosing who your clients are, if the terms of your agreements with them permit. Use surveys, op eds, bylines, proprietary data and white papers as credible proof points to show the problem you’re solving.
Media Train Your Spokespeople
Whenever you start working with a new company or spokesperson, immediately media train them, especially if they have no previous media experience. Startups with no prior press history really need to take this into consideration as it’s so easy for an interview to go off the rails when you lose your train of thought and don’t have the confidence or knowledge to handle tough questions from a journalist.
Sure, interviews can be a bit intimidating. Blindly going into one with a journalist who might publish what you say could do more harm than good. Not all press is good press, despite what you’ve been told. It’s important to avoid all of that and be prepared and ensure that you are putting the best and most qualified spokesperson forward.
Nailing your brand messaging and talking points to a journalist in a clear, concise way is challenging for a lot of startups because they become so used to speaking internally and in jargon that no one else but them can understand. Flopping on an interview can even affect future media opportunities as there is a high likelihood that a journalist or news outlet will not wish to connect again to use you as a source for stories.
I always media train and do mock interviews with my clients, whether it’s for video, TV, phone interview or a podcast. It’s imperative that they understand who the journalist and audience is, can anticipate what questions could get asked, and know what to avoid and stay away from altogether. Journalists occasionally ask tricky questions. So many startups respond poorly because of a lack of training. If you’ve been properly media trained, you should be able to steer the conversation without going off script.
Steer Clear of Bandwagon Content
I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve seen social media posts from companies that all of a sudden have something to say about topics they couldn’t care less about, only because they are starting to gain traction and attention. Whether it’s women’s rights, systematic racism or climate change, startups just can’t help themselves by jumping on the latest bandwagon just so they can be a part of something. It’s extremely disingenuous and is almost always used as a way to either market themselves or attract new customers and hires.
Trying so hard to be a part of every conversation, especially ones you have no business being in, distracts from those marketing and communications goals you set at the start of the new year. It’s not worth the few new profile views and detached connections you’re making. Afterwards, you spend so much time responding to comments and engaging with people who are not even close to being your ideal customer, or who will even remember your brand once the topic of conversation is no longer trending.
I’ve also seen some really awful comments go down on company posts as a result of not fully understanding a certain situation or incident before sharing judgment or an opinion. Sometimes saying or doing nothing is the route to take. Stop straying from your brand identity only to exploit trends that don’t align with your company.
Create a PR Crisis-Communications Plan
If 2022 taught you anything, it’s to get a crisis-communications team and plan of action in place for this year. If you watched any of the news interviews with Sam Bankman-Fried after the remarkable collapse of his company, then you witnessed your first lesson of what not to do in a crisis.
Every company needs to prioritize implementing a crisis communications plan so they can anticipate the threat, protect and defend the brand reputation and potentially prevent future incidents from happening.
Crisis communications playbooks are put into use and can help startups effectively manage when something traumatic goes down like a data breach, product recall or internal, private communications becoming public. Startups never consider what they can do now to get ahead of an emergency and generally scramble at the last minute when it’s too late to salvage the situation.
If you’re unsure of where to start, consider creating templated emails that you can easily customize depending on the scenario, or draft talking points and statements that can be finalized when you need them. There are also teams that specialize in crisis communications that you can hire outside of your company. I’ve even worked at a few different companies that have experienced a crisis, and things moved very quickly and got resolved because they were prepared. Usually a solid crisis team is composed of lawyers, human resources and communications professionals so that all perspectives are heard and considered.
This might sound like a lot, but I assure you it’s doable. If you follow through with these four PR tips this year, then you should be able to breeze through 2023, whatever the year may bring.