Dear CEOs, media relations isn’t a DIY job…and you don’t want it to be

What Happened to Blade? 

Two years ago, news broke that Blade, an aviation startup similar to a ride-sharing app offering helicopter rides, invented a person – their spokesperson. For three years, Blade maintained the existence of an invented staff member named Simon McLaren. He regularly spoke on behalf of the company in outlets including Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, occasionally even speaking with reporters over the phone. In reality, on the other end of reporters’ s was Blade’s CEO, Rob Wiesenthal. 

The company claims everything on record attributed to McLaren is factually accurate. Oddly enough, the company’s spokesperson McLaren soon took on a life outside of traditional media relations, even penning a blog that explored his experience throughout the pandemic and writing a regular newsletter. Blade also released a letter, supposedly written by McLaren, announcing his departure. After years of deceit, Wiesenthal came clean in an interview with Business Insider. As an explanation for this bizarre behavior, Wiesenthal told reporters that, “When it was appropriate for a spokesperson to respond to a press inquiry rather than the CEO, given that we did not have a spokesperson, we used the pseudonym . . .” 

There’s real value in having a firewall in the form of a spokesperson – sometimes CEOs don’t want to be in the line of fire and/or need to keep their distance from a crisis situation. They should have an actual spokesperson. In other words, Wiesenthal’s reasoning is valid, but the way he went about it was all wrong. 

Where Did Blade Go Wrong? 

Faking a PR person impacts brand integrity and image, creating mistrust and raising a lot of questions about a brand’s values and ethics. While it’s understandable that as a startup the company likely didn’t have the resources to maintain a full-time spokesperson, we have to wonder why, as the company grew, they didn’t look to experienced communications and media professionals to support their brand’s reputation. If they had, they could have saved themselves from becoming synonymous with this strange scandal. 

We know CEOs want to be in-the-know about all things related to their brand, and especially want to keep tabs on the perception of their company in the general public. Their primary interests are to protect their business, support its growth and build brand reputation. But media relations is not a part-time job, and it’s definitely not one that can be handled by an invented person or a busy CEO. While Blade clearly understood the value of a spokesperson and a communications team, they didn’t understand the value of having an experienced or even real one. 

How Could Blade Have Prevented This? 

Media relations is a craft mastered over years and requires extensive experience. Having a team specialized in media relations, either internally or as a third-party partner, allows a CEO to stay in the know while their team deftly builds media relationships, shares a company’s mission and values and insulates a brand from crises. Without a proper communications team in place, your company not only suffers from inattention, but it can also be at risk for a potential crisis and/or end up being misrepresented in the media. 

A communications team is also essential in growing a business from day one, as we’ve discussed in our blog about PR for startups. A developed communications operation enables a company to grow and reach new customers and investors. Experienced PR professionals understand what your stakeholders are interested in and the most valuable story your brand has to tell. Most importantly, they can tell you when your actions, as well-intentioned as they may be, could land you in hot water, rather than in the hearts of your audiences and potential investors. No matter the stage your company is in, invest in communications. It can only help, from growing your market share to giving you a better sense of what your brand really is. 

Blade has since hired a PR agency, something a seasoned professional would have told them to do long ago. Whether an organization is new and growing or established and reputable, a holistic communications strategy is foundational to any organization’s growth, public image and trust. To learn more about ways that The TASC Group can help your organization, visit our website.

PR for Startup Companies

In the dynamic entrepreneurial landscape of 2024, launching a startup is akin to navigating a labyrinth of challenges and opportunities. Amidst the myriad of considerations, one facet that demands unwavering attention is the formulation and execution of a robust public relations strategy. While the upfront costs associated with hiring a PR practitioner or engaging an agency may seem formidable for nascent enterprises, the enduring advantages far exceed the initial investment. In this era of cutthroat competition, the critical role of PR in shaping the trajectory of a startup’s success cannot be overstated.

Three Ways PR Can Help Your Startup

1. The Art of Crafting a Compelling Narrative

In an age dominated by digital interactions, the art of effective storytelling stands at the epicenter of triumphant PR. Founders embarking on the journey of media outreach must master the skill of articulating their company’s narrative with clarity and conciseness, accentuating not just what they do but also why it matters. This process extends beyond the immediate need for media coverage; it compels leadership to engage in a profound introspection of the company’s purpose and goals, fostering the establishment of robust core values right from the inception. Beyond the mere exchange of information, the interaction with journalists serves as a crucible for refining the company’s identity, providing invaluable insights into aspects that resonate most with consumers. The feedback obtained during these interactions becomes a compass guiding emerging startups, steering them away from potential pitfalls and ensuring a more compelling market entry.

2. Establishing Credibility

While a meticulously executed marketing campaign is undeniably pivotal, relying solely on self-promotion is akin to navigating treacherous waters without a compass. In an era where consumers are discerning and inherently skeptical, companies with little credibility beyond their advertising efforts risk falling short in winning over their target audience. Positive coverage from reputable news outlets and external organizations is a powerful catalyst for building a startup’s reputation and fostering brand awareness. This is particularly critical for startups with minimal consumer recognition in their early stages. Moreover, the cumulative effect of positive press extends beyond immediate gains, significantly boosting Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and thereby attracting potential partners and consumers, fortifying the startup’s foundation for long-term growth.

3. Navigating the Media Landscape with Finesse

The initial stages of a startup’s journey are often characterized by a lack of experience in media relations, and attempting to manage it internally can be a formidable challenge. This is where the expertise of a dedicated PR team or practitioner becomes indispensable. Beyond merely securing media coverage, a proficient PR team acts as a guiding compass, navigating the intricate landscape of media relations and ensuring a strategic approach. Importantly, having a robust communications team in place even before the official launch proves instrumental in sidestepping common mistakes that could potentially harm the brand image and impede the cultivation of positive media relationships. From ensuring timely follow-ups with journalists to meticulously proofreading public-facing documents, these seemingly minor details play a pivotal role in sustaining media interest and support.

PR Can Transform Your Startup

For visionary founders, the transformative impact of investing in top-notch PR support is a well-established truth. Far more than a mere expenditure, it is an investment that yields substantial returns over time, catapulting an ordinary startup into the echelons of a reputable brand. This differentiation not only contributes to financial and social growth but also ensures enduring success in the ever-evolving business landscape of 2024. Recognizing the indispensable role of PR is not merely a strategic choice for startups; it is an imperative, a compass guiding them towards sustained success and influential impact in the competitive realms of the business world. In the tapestry of startup success stories in 2024, PR is the thread that weaves lasting legacies.

Need help crafting effective messaging for your startup? Explore our comprehensive range of PR and Communications services to discover how we can assist in amplifying your organization to the media.

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