What can tech startups learn about PR from the Winter Olympics?

Dominic Pollard, director of content and communication at City Road Communications, looks at what technology startups and scaleups can learn about PR from this year’s Winter Olympics.

On Sunday, the 23rd Winter Olympics draws to a close. But despite the huge number of broadcast hours, column inches and online articles dedicated to the Games, new research shows that very few people in the UK were actually bothered by the events taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Across 17 days of competition 2,925 athletes will have competed for 102 medals in 15 disciplines. Meanwhile, UK Sport – the Government’s organisation for sporting development – and the BBC have both invested significantly in enhancing the performance and coverage of the country’s athletes.

And yet, in spite of all this, the majority of the UK public has struggled to muster any interest in this year’s Winter Olympics. In fact, an independent survey of more than 2,000 UK adults commissioned by City Road Communications has revealed that 64% of people couldn’t name a single member of the Team GB squad in South Korea. What’s more, 16% admitted the only reason they tune into the TV coverage is for the chance to see athletes crash or fall at high speed.

‘So what?’ you will quite rightly be asking. After all, UKTN is not the platform for discourse regarding the relative merits of different sporting events. But there is an important message here when it comes to effective PR – one that is particularly apt for tech startups.

How to make your product relevant

The message is that a tech startup must make its product, brand or business relevant. That may seem obvious, but when it comes to early-stage tech businesses this can often be one of the biggest challenges that hinders the success of their PR, marketing and communication efforts.

In many cases, tech entrepreneurs can become fixated on the inner workings of their startups; they believe it is the tech itself that makes them newsworthy. It’s not. Or, at least, it very rarely is.

Beyond a select number of journalists and publications, there is little appetite for discussing the actual technology that a tech startup has developed. There’s simply too small an audience who want to read about the intuitive user interface, multi-layered data encryption or proprietary machine-learning engine that makes a startup’s offering so unique.

What a tech startup must do is make that technology relevant. In other words, its PR must focus on why, and not who, what, where or how.

To develop an effective PR strategy, a tech business must discuss the problems it is solving – the ways in which it is going to make the lives of consumers or businesses that much easier, cheaper or better. How they will empower people to do new things, or how they will disrupt traditional, out-dated practices. That is what makes a business relevant, and exactly how their tech achieves this must come secondary.

As they attempt to build PR campaigns around these points, it is also beneficial if a startup is able to provide evidence of the real-world problems they are solving. They can do this through quantitative research, qualitative insights or case studies. This extra step helps turn rhetoric into something meaningful and, importantly, relatable.

A brand people can relate to

To return to snow-covered South Korea where we began this article. Ultimately, the general disinterest in the Winter Olympics is quite understandable; the UK simply does not have the climate or facilities (ski slopes, mountain ranges, ice rinks) readily available to encourage people to participate and therefore become interested in winter sports.

Indeed, 41% of the respondents to the aforementioned City Road Communications survey pointed to this being the main barrier stopping them caring about the Games, with 37% saying they find winter sports prohibitively expensive to partake in.

Evidently, if we take the findings of the survey to be fair, then it would suggest that UK Sport and the BBC have failed to inspire a great deal of engagement or enthusiasm around the Winter Olympics. As such, the legacy of the competition, and indeed the ROI on their outlay on the Games, is likely to be somewhat questionable.

For tech startups, when it comes to investing time, money and effort into PR, they cannot afford to make the same mistake. They must understand what it is that makes them relevant before they begin shouting about their amazing new product or service. And to do so, they must ensure they focus on issues, trends, barriers or opportunities that are easily and obviously relatable to their specific audience, whoever that may be.