The inherent nature of working in public relations is communicating with the public… hence the term “public.” However, in a strange twist of events, we’re sometimes asked not to communicate (but to also communicate). That can be challenging, but it’s not without merit. This paradox comes into being when there are projects that must remain a secret until launch.
The trick here is creating a public relations plan that maintains the necessary secrets while still creating enough brand awareness that when the secrets are no longer so, they are able to garner the appropriate level of attention.
While there are companies that must hold initiatives a secret, the most common situation, and one I can detail from personal experience, is when you are working for a startup that is launching a product in stealth.
Prior to a public beta, there is plenty of PR to do, but it has to be done in a way that allows your company to complete the project without actually revealing the project to the public. We dealt with this when we recently transitioned our company from an enterprise solution to launching a consumer app.
While on the surface it would seem that this would create a circumstance in which there would be little to do from a PR perspective, that would be a misnomer and an assumption that doesn’t benefit a single soul.
Constraints require creativity
Brand awareness is the main mission when the project needs to be kept secret until launch. Those handling PR may feel like their hands are tied.
You can’t talk about the product at all. You can’t pitch it, you can’t write about it, and you can’t even allude to the solution it offers in casual conversation.
The focus then has to shift from the product to the company. The entirety of your PR at this stage is to lift your company up to a level of market respectability, without revealing exactly what it’s working on. Some of that will inevitably be derived just from the resumes of the founders, but no one will know for sure until the beta launch.
The artful approach here is to rethink how to publicize your company. Instead of focusing on the product, focus on the founders. Focus on backgrounds and knowledge.
This may seem limiting, but your company is just as important as your product — perhaps more so. It’ll make it that much easier to pitch a product or service if your company and its founders are already recognized as experts in their fields.
Mindful messages in thoughtful pieces
The strongest way to put your founders out there is through thought leadership articles. There is always something happening in the world that could use their expert opinions. It doesn’t always have to be directly related to the thing they are working on; in fact, it helps the secrecy of your project if it isn’t related.
As the gatekeeper here, your job is to mind the messaging. That is, you must pour over every written word to be sure that the habit of talking about one’s own projects doesn’t slip into the text.
From metaphors to direct cause correlations, the habit of permeating one’s own writing with one’s own work is a hard one to break. This is where both your creativity and ingenuity come into play.
Thought leadership articles are nothing new in regards to PR outreach and building brand awareness. There is a general rule not to speak about your own company when writing about pieces.
What is not usual is not just adhering to that rule, but speaking in a way that doesn’t reveal what you yourself are working on. That takes some massaging of the messaging, so that your founders are still regarded as industry experts, but aren’t giving away the farm.
This is where we in PR stand, as editors of the secrets we must keep. There is always another way of saying something if the direct way doesn’t work. We just have to find the right words.
For instance, instead of saying what you are working on as an example to a solution to a problem, move it to a higher level and suggest an alternative solution that still arrives at the same conclusion. Here, it’s about teaching the audience the issues facing a particular industry and offering advice on how to solve them in a way that would better the industry or even society as a whole.
Speaking out and getting quoted
Since you don’t have a project to promote to the press, but you do have founders and a company to promote, then it’s time to land them some speaking gigs.
There are plenty of industry events that offer speaking opportunities, even more now that the market has wholly moved to a virtual setting. Considering the virtual aspect, these are generally low-cost events that give your founders the chance to expand on their knowledge base and gain fans.
Another way we in PR can get our founders and companies into the press — in a way that highlights their background and experience, rather than current projects — is through a more subtle sort of media outreach.
Offering our subject matter experts to journalists looking for expert input enables them to be quoted in articles relevant to their area of expertise. This is a no-cost, simple way to build founder and brand awareness.
Being in PR doesn’t always mean we’re spending our days filling up journalists’ inboxes with pitches. Often, especially in internal PR, the daily missive is to make sure the messaging reflects the current state of operations. That sounds like some buzzword bingo phrase, but that’s the gist of it. Being able to separate the company from the projects it is working on goes a long way toward building brand awareness.
That’s the hook. We often define companies by the products they launch, or by the services they provide. When your company is stacked with knowledgeable experts, brilliant engineers, or highly-educated founders, then you do a disservice to them if your focus is solely on the thing they make. Take the time to lean on their knowledge, and promote that knowledge as part of what makes your company great. Your brand will be better for it.