Katie Creaser
Katie Creaser

It’s a challenging time to sell technology, as COVID-19 has upended marketing and communications plans in every vertical market across the entire industry. Tech PR pros are facing a faster-paced, evolving and competitive media cycle, reduced budgets and delayed marketing timelines as we simultaneously adjust to the “new normal” of extended work from home. Additionally, as major technology events and conferences shift to virtual formats, PR professionals are challenged to think of new strategies for corporate announcements, product launches and customer engagement without the benefit of face-to-face networking, prospecting and selling as part of the mix. 

Best practices still apply in times of uncertainty, however, and this is the time to think outside of the box and examine communications strategies with a critical eye. For technology companies, this means expanding the PR arsenal with new messaging, media relationships and content channels. It means doubling down on what works and scrapping the previously planned campaign themes and tactics that just don’t seem to generate the same amount of traction or impact in the current media conditions. The ability to quickly measure the outcome of efforts and pivot quickly will be essential to success in the unpredictable months ahead.

If there’s one thing tech companies can count on is that competitors are going to market with new ideas, new offers and a renewed commitment to make their communications stick. Whether you are going for a land grab or defending your territory with a deeper, more resilient moat, effective communications has never been more critical.

Here are five ways tech PR pros can refresh their communications strategies over the next quarter:

Rethink the message. With marketing budgets stalled and launches on hold, there’s no better time to critically examine corporate and product messaging. Does your messaging tell a current story about your products and market position? Does it properly address your vertical markets and their unique challenges? Your messaging should clearly reflect who you are today—with an eye towards tomorrow’s future growth, market position and strategy. During COVID-19, there’s also an expectation for personalized messaging. Highlighting your culture, values and leadership is more important than ever before.

Look to the future. As states reopen and businesses start to think about what the transition back to work will look like, tech media have begun shifting to forward-looking “recovery stories.” This is the time to think about predictions and data-backed opinions from executives. The key to standing out is to avoid marketing jargon and generic commentary about the “new normal.” Rather than taking a broad view of the future, focus on where your technology has direct impact, what real innovation and progress will look like and build a focused, passionate opinion on what is shaping the post-pandemic world, whether driven by consumer behavior, business practices or both. Consider engaging partners, customers and industry experts to join the conversation and provide perspective from all angles.

Add value. There’s a fine line between marketing messaging and true thought leadership. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and add value to high-profile conversations. Every piece of content—from a quote, to a tweet to a blog post—should be examined for value. Ask yourself: is this actually interesting to read? Will my audience learn anything from this? If the answer isn’t an immediate “yes,” it’s time to re-think your strategy.

A few questions to get you started: What are the three key things that our audience should know about our tech at this time? What are the biggest problems that prospects/customers are facing today? How does our technology directly solve that problem? How can I show the result vs. tell about the impact of our technology against real-world challenges? What do our internal/external audiences actually need from our company at this time?

Activate your owned channels. Where you tell a story is just as important as how you tell it. Public relations is so much more than “earned” media, and many tech companies overlook the critical importance of their owned channels as part of their storytelling strategy. This includes your website, corporate and executive social media channels and newsroom. It’s important to evaluate every piece of content and find the most direct, impactful way to get it to your audience. For example, a CEO video posted on LinkedIn to explain the story and passion behind a product launch can serve as a North Star to drive the extended PR effort.

Strengthen media relationships. Tech PR is too often measured against quantity of coverage, e.g., how many pieces of media coverage did our company see on a monthly basis. Although this is a critical metric, it’s shortsighted to believe bulk coverage directly equals ROI. Every technology company should have a unique, tailored approach to media engagement—and reporter relationships are absolutely critical to success. Review your media lists, look at who’s covering the space and how, and take a measured approach to building a handful of new, key relationships based on your announcements and product roadmap through the end of the year. Instead of pushing out bylines that serve your agenda, ask editors what type of content they’re seeking right now, help them fill in the gaps and emerge as that trusted, compelling resource to help fulfill their editorial mission during this time. Depending on your sector, consider virtual introductions with reporters to understand what they’re working on and how you can help.

There’s no doubt that the current climate has upended the daily lives of PR pros. As we look to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis and plan for what’s next, we must recognize what has changed and respond accordingly. With our fingers on the pulse, it’s critical to reevaluate what’s in place to ensure we are front-footed as we move forward.

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Katie Creaser is Senior Vice President of Technology PR at ICR.