Technology & Innovation

New Year, New Plan: The 2021 PR Strategy for a Post-COVID World

Tori McKnight

January 25th, 2021

2021 PR Strategy

With a lingering cloud of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and continued restrictions, it can be hard for tech companies to consider how to most authentically and strategically reach their target audiences in 2021. 

However, being able to strategize despite the unknown is what a good PR team is designed to. Now more than ever, companies need new ways to reach particular demographics, tell the right story and have their voices heard.

BerlinRosen’s technology and innovation team has helped clients across education and workforce development, Green tech, fintech, consumer products and media industries plan their communications and PR strategies for an uncertain 2021. Knowing that your business can’t afford to stay silent in the midst of a crowded news cycle, here are five general tips and tactics that we’re using to help our clients survive—and thrive—in today’s evolving landscape.

Take stock of what differentiates you from competitors

The foundation of every good PR plan is a clear understanding of your core values. These values help shape your company’s brand identity and vision and, perhaps more importantly, can serve as a tool for understanding what differentiates your organization from those in similar lanes.

As the world changes, your core values might need some reevaluating too. Ask yourself: what do you want your company to stand for and is the work you’re doing every day reflective of that? Oftentimes, what you want your company to represent and what it actually stands for are two different things. 

A new year doesn’t mean that you’re overdue for a company overhaul, but it is a great time to really define what your strengths are and what value you have to offer. This is the first step in properly determining the kinds of conversations you should be part of in the coming year, whether or not your audience has changed or expanded as the result of your work and the ways you can inspire your consumers and build community throughout the year.

Pay close attention to the news cycle

It’s no secret that coronavirus coverage and the 2020 election have dominated the news this past year. Today’s news cycles are moving faster than ever before, which means brands are having to operate at lightning speed to make sure their messages are timely and relevant given everything going on in the world right now. 

It’s unlikely that this reality is going to change anytime soon, so it’s crucial that you get the timing right on announcements, product launches, key hires and more. Before conducting media outreach, take a moment to think about what makes right now the best time to tell your story. Does it relate to the current breaking news moment? Are your consumers or key stakeholders looking out for this kind of news? If your gut is telling you no, don’t try to force the narrative. Instead, wait, listen and re-engage when the time is right. You can do this by paying closer attention to the kind of content being produced by the reporters and news outlets you’re trying to reach as well as following along on social media, where reporters are regularly voicing their areas of interest and vocalizing their story needs. 

Similarly, pay attention to key dates and plan ahead for news moments that you know will generate buzz. As part of the work BerlinRosen does for its “Future of Work” clients, we are constantly monitoring the news and social media conversations for insights on emerging hiring trends, changes in unemployment and the investments that are being made by public and private entities into reskilling and upskilling. In direct response to monthly jobs reports and unemployment numbers that have consistently demonstrated COVID’s disproportionate impact on women and BIPOC, our client Per Scholas has been able to further a narrative around how skills training can improve workplace diversity and better prepare everyday workers for “pandemic-proof” careers. By sharing their unique insights and connecting reporters with the first-person stories they’re looking for, the nonprofit has earned coveted spots in outlets like Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

By keeping your finger on the pulse of where relevant news is headed, your team will be in a better position to draft pitches, craft new messaging and tell stories that are going to resonate with your target audience.

Elevate your community voices

We all know how essential thought leadership can be in establishing your organization’s reputation, building trust among consumers and ultimately boosting sales or investments for your company. By shining a spotlight on your organization’s c-suite executives, your PR team will be better positioned to build interest and excitement in the work that your company is doing, especially among reporters and event organizers who are constantly looking for cutting-edge commentary and industry-changing ideas.

However, more often than not, these “thought leaders” are too far removed from the nitty-gritty work that your company is doing to appeal to everyday audiences. Our global education client General Assembly (GA), for example, has produced a number of thought leaders over the years: their founder, new CEO and chief operating officer all have unique expertise to share and are called upon for a variety of different topics. Nevertheless, by leveraging the voices of their students, instructors and career coaches, GA is able to tell more authentic stories that directly highlight the experience of a GA education from those who have actually lived it. GA’s leadership team cannot talk about subject matter expertise such as digital marketing or software engineering as well as their expert instructors in those fields can. None can speak as eloquently about career coaching as their trained career coaches do. By acknowledging this and leveraging their distinct expertise, our PR team has been able to tell an even wider variety of stories this year amid the pandemic. Our media wins in outlets like CNBC and Business Insider wouldn’t have been possible without the help of GA’s incredible community voices.

Leverage your owned media channels

A strong media program is undoubtedly a critical part of public relations, but it should only be one piece of a holistic communications strategy. Social media may feel like its own universe sometimes, but it’s also a huge resource for media, employees and consumers who go online to seek out information. In today’s noisy world, you should be utilizing your employees as a tool for amplifying and advocating the work that you do.

Particularly for start-ups and smaller companies that are working on building brand recognition, the more people you reach, the better off you’ll be. In order to grow a following and have your message heard, you first need people to read your content, which can be done well outside of earned media. You can start by committing to write a blog or posting across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn once a week. From there, have your team members like and share your content with their own networks to reach new readers. Even the world’s most prestigious business leaders, philanthropists and advocates find time to write and distribute their own posts because owned media allows you to take full ownership of your message and establish your distinct voice. 

Take MacKenzie Scott for example. In the last quarter of 2020 alone, she donated more than $4 billion to charities and nonprofits that are helping people who have been financially gutted by the pandemic–particularly to organizations that were tackling food insecurity, racial injustice and poverty in their communities. While the news drew no shortage of media attention, it was first announced on her Medium page: 384 Ways to Help. In doing so, she was able to tell her own story–and the results speak for themselves.

Be flexible

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that change is one of the few things guaranteed in our work and personal lives. The most important element of a successful PR and communications strategy these days is your flexibility and willingness to pivot at any moment to meet your audience where they are (mentally, physically, etc.). The PR plan that worked for your brand two months ago is likely already outdated. In order to continue providing value, you have to be prepared to change course in a timely manner. 

Some of our team’s greatest PR wins this year were the result of rapidly responding to an absolutely unprecedented year. By working with our clients to remain nimble, innovative and open-minded in their expectations for the year, we saw amazing work (and content) from companies like New Lab, which built the prototype for an emergency ventilator in less than one month to help NYC hospital shortages and Urban-X, a tech startup accelerator that has doubled down on its efforts to power meaningful change in our cities and provide a path to social and economic mobility (read more in VentureBeat). It has created even bigger platforms for thought leaders like Sian Beilock from Barnard College, who joined in on conversations ranging from COVID’s toll on the mental health of student athletes and faculty burnout to the difficulties of working while homeschooling.

Constantly reworking your PR plan to remain current is certainly not an easy task, but finding the right PR team to do that work with you should be your #1 priority for the new year.