We count ourselves lucky to support climate and energy innovators with cleantech public relations. These sustainability superheroes are difference makers changing our world for the better, but no matter how ground-breaking their solutions, it doesn’t mean anything if their target customer doesn’t know about them or the industry doesn’t understand what they’ve achieved.
Here are some tips to ensure a successful cleantech public relations program.
1. Understand how you fit in the marketplace.
Sustainability solutions are coming to market fast, thankfully, but it means that at the top of a cleantech company’s to-do-list is being perfectly clear about your position in the broader space.
Too often, I see a new cleantech company overestimating its standing and importance. It’s understandable when you’re launching a big new idea or game-changing tech. But only one in every thousand start-ups may end up being the next Tesla. So, for the vast majority of new companies, differentiating yourself and communicating your value proposition are crucial right out of the gate.
This means you must think broadly about who your real competitors are. You’re competing against more alternatives than you may realize. Take Uber, for example. It’s easy to think of Uber’s competitors as just Lyft and taxi services. But even as Uber was spearheading the ride-sharing wave, it had to compete against taxis, walking, biking, or just driving yourself.
If you’re creating a category and trying to teach your B2B or B2C target customers to adopt a new, more sustainable practice or behavior or spend money to save money and greenhouse gasses, you need to start at the 50,000-foot view before you focus your messaging on your brand and its specific value and contributions.
2. Build a strong platform before you launch.
After you’ve fully plotted your place in the market and how to position yourself against all of the alternatives, it’s time to carve out your niche.
World domination is a lofty goal right out the gate, so before you set your sights on being the President of the United States, make sure you’ve got the platform in place. Assess your strengths so your messaging can amplify them and address your weaknesses to mitigate them before turning your attention outward and inviting the world’s attention.
Is your core technology the best it can be? If so, what are the barriers to adoption? Do you have partners lined up who send clear credibility signals? Is there white paper content or published research that validates you’re proposing more than just greenwashing?
Is a content strategy in place so that you have a clear search engine position for the solution you want to be known for? Is your social media engagement building some momentum and community around your ideas and your technology to demonstrate that people care?
3. Don’t be the one to change the world.
Every new cleantech company seems to emerge on the scene with grandiose claims of revolutionizing the way the world does things. It’s wiser to let your portfolio speak for itself.
The goal here is to under-promise and over-deliver. This is an industry with a lot of noise and skepticism is rife.
For instance, say you’re introducing a new home-heating system that uses renewable energy and decreases heating costs by 5%. Will you market on the fact that your tech will change how homes are heated forever, that it’s 5% cheaper or some combination of both?
When your cleantech public relations strategy leads with the cost-savings message and provides your green cred for context, your brand will more likely stay afloat and avoid drowning in the sea of hyperbole in this industry.
In other words, your sustainable business model is as essential to your cleantech public relations program as your environmental impact.
4. Adapt your story for different media audiences.
Be prepared for your media interviews. At some point in your company’s evolution, and if you’re fortunate enough, you’ll be sitting down with many different journalists.
Be aware of who you’re speaking with and the audience they represent so that you can adapt your responses. You wouldn’t speak on the intricacies of your thermal engineering operation with a Buzzfeed reporter, and you don’t want to insult a seasoned tech reporter’s intelligence.
Revisit our best media training tips. A good understanding of your interviewer’s credentials and a well-developed plan of action for your interview will help you effectively communicate no matter who sits in the other seat.
If your solution is complex or technical, we recommend you also start all of your interviews by asking the reporter what they already know about your area of expertise. That way, you can provide an overview of the environmental issue your solution addresses before you get into its nuts and bolts. You’d be surprised sometimes how little a reporter might know, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be talking over their head and then be unhappy with the published result.
You might be tired of repeating the same datapoints or explanations and feel like it’s old news. But you’ve got to assess your audience’s knowledge and interest and then meet them where they’re at. Asking those probing questions first – or having your cleantech public relations agency do it for you as part of your pre-interview briefing – is always a sound practice!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Wright is President of (W)right On Communications, Inc., the award-winning integrated strategic communications firm she founded in 1998. With offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, B.C., her team handles complex communications challenges for B2B tech, cleantech and energy, healthcare, tourism and hospitality, not-for-profit and public sector organizations. Wright and her team elevate the agency experience through data-driven insights and measurable results for client partners.
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