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How to DIY Your Public Relations Strategy During COVID-19

Emma McKinstry

Emma McKinstry

Founder and CEO at 418 Communications
Emma McKinstry is the founder and CEO of 418 Communications, a Lexington, KY-based boutique public relations firm. Earlier this year, she launched the DIY PR Hub, an online resource designed to help entrepreneurs and others develop and execute their own successful public relations campaigns. Follow Emma on Twitter at @418Comms.
Emma McKinstry

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You could be building the greatest company in the world, but if no one knows you exist, your efforts won’t be worth much. For this reason, good old-fashioned public relations is a key component in many startup success stories.

However, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every industry, including public relations. The constant COVID-19 news cycle has left significantly less room in the news media for coverage of non-pandemic subjects. This makes it even more challenging than usual to promote your startup through traditional, hard-earned media coverage, and this will likely be the case for the foreseeable future.

Some startups have seen an incredible loss in revenue due to the pandemic, resulting in very little readily available funds for maximizing  public relations efforts. That doesn’t mean, however, that your PR efforts need to be put on hold until the pandemic is over. There are still many ways to promote your company now on a shoestring budget.


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Below are several suggestions for how to develop a DIY public relations strategy and publicize your startup during COVID-19:

Pursue virtual opportunities

Look into virtual events and conferences within your industry. While most of us hope to resume in-person events in 2021, many others have already decided to host their functions virtually in the coming year. A large benefit, to you, in pitching yourself for these virtual opportunities is the ability to participate from your home office – no travel required. Removing the budgetary and time constraints of travel makes it possible (easy, even!) for cash-strapped entrepreneurs to participate in one event in the morning and another, in a completely different geographic location, in the afternoon.

Think about other businesses and organizations that might be developing virtual content and programming as a way of engaging with their audiences. Reach out to those similar companies in your niche that you think could be interested in having you speak virtually with their audiences. Share information with them about the type of virtual program you could offer, and be sure to emphasize your unique value add.


Related: Public Relations Strategies for Small Businesses During COVID-19

Develop a guest posting strategy

An often overlooked, but highly effective, way to promote your startup is to contribute content to media outlets that cater to your target audience. These days, countless outlets welcome contributed content by business leaders and experts in their respective fields.

Start to develop your guest posting strategy by compiling a list of target outlets. Make sure each target on your list accepts outside contributions and then take some time to read carefully through each outlet’s guidelines for submission.

Keep in mind, when going the guest posting route, you won’t be able to submit a self-promotional article about your company. This is a noteworthy differentiator between contributing your own content and having a journalist write a feature about you and your business. Guest posting does, however, enable you to position yourself as a thought leader in your field. Demonstrate your expertise by sharing valuable insights, lessons and advice with the outlet’s audience.

Consider partnerships with micro-influencers

Unlike traditional media, which is largely consumed by COVID-19 coverage, most micro-influencers have continued to produce content about their usual niche topics. Shift some of the focus you might have placed on traditional media outreach over to micro-influencer outreach and pursue opportunities there.

To assess the true reach and impact of a micro-influencer, pay close attention to audience engagement numbers. It might be a red flag, for example, if a micro-influencer has a high follower count on Instagram, but little to no engagement on individual posts.

Most micro-influencers charge a fee in exchange for the content they produce around your brand. For this reason, it’s worth your while to be picky about which who you pitch. You want to be confident that the dollars you spent on this type of coverage will produce a worthwhile return on investment for your company.


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Offer valuable insights to the media about COVID-19

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is here to stay (for now), and the media will continue to cover the virus until it no longer represents a meaningful threat to our lives, our businesses and our overall sense of normalcy.

Thus, if you aim to promote your startup through earned media coverage, think carefully about how you’re uniquely equipped to add to the COVID-19 conversation in a meaningful way.

  • Has your own experience throughout the pandemic given you insights that could benefit other founders or startup teams?
  • Are you in a position to comment authoritatively on the pandemic’s impact on your industry?
  • Did your business make a major pivot due to the pandemic?
  • Does your professional expertise lend itself well to the current climate in some way?

Consider questions like these to determine if (and how) you and your startup fit authentically into the COVID-19 conversation. If you determine that you are in a position to share meaningful insights or guidance, reach out to relevant reporters via email, and offer yourself for interviews.

Key takeaways

Successfully building and growing a startup is a challenging task even during the best of times. Today, under the shadow of COVID-19, the challenges entrepreneurs continue to face can seem downright impossible to overcome. But, by incorporating the suggestions above into your public relations strategy, you’ll find that you can successfully promote (and grow) your young company through the media, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

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