Planet earth calling…

Shreena Patel argues why the space industry needs to turn its communications attention back to earth

From our earliest ancestors who gazed up at the night sky, to the 650 million people who watched the moon landing from their living rooms, to the legions of Trekkies worldwide – space has long captured our imaginations.

While there’s some way to go before Scotty beams us all up to the Enterprise, an important change is happening that takes us one step closer to turning fiction into reality. Space is transforming from a government domain into a commercial industry.

In 2020, for the first time, humans accessed space with a vehicle built and owned by a private corporation. In 2021, the first ever all-civilian crew was launched into orbit.

Over the next 10 years, it’s estimated that 100,000 satellites could be sent up into space, dwarfing the 4,000 that are in operation today.

These satellites will help to bring internet to the 3 billion people (half of the world’s population) who don’t have access right now, warn cities of approaching hurricanes, monitor the health of entire oceans – and even make a new generation of ‘super materials’ in space.

Excitement building

The global space industry is projected to reach over $1trn by 2030 – and investors are excited. Equity investment in space has reached record levels. But as the market balloons with new entrants, technologies, and business models – not all of whom will succeed, competition for funding and custom is intensifying. Tougher questions are now being asked. In the ‘New Space’ era, competence is not enough to secure investor or customer support – global citizenship and good communications are critical.

Herein lies the challenge. In what has been a closed industry for so long, there is a tendency to assume – incorrectly – that what is obvious and interesting to insiders is also discernible to those without a degree in applied physics. As the space industry opens itself up to the world and companies look to sell the benefits and opportunities of space to non-experts, their marketing and communications must find a way to bridge that gap.

So, if you’re in the space biz, what should you be thinking about?

What’s the big idea?

Imagine you’re at a dinner party. How would you describe your business to the person next to you? Do they seem interested in what you have to say – or did you just nominate yourself for tonight’s MBP (Most Boring Person)?

We tend to know much more detail than others need – or want – to hear. Invest time in simplifying the complexity of your business into a story that a) people connect to and b) can be easily retold – by you, by your team, by media, by customers, and so on.

That story should underpin all your communications – including your website, which again, shouldn’t require a degree in applied physics to understand.

You’ve already got a head start over, say, the actuary on the other side of the table (apologies to all actuaries here – we know your role is exciting, too). Space is full of wonder – use that to create excitement. What’s your vision?

Why does your work matter?

Wider media hasn’t fully caught up to the diversity of New Space and misconceptions abound. The public might be forgiven for thinking space is now co-owned by Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each launching rockets that blast the superrich to new heights and create growing amounts of space junk or ‘debris’ in their wake, although more recent reports are helping to change that narrative. For example, stories of how Starlink is helping Ukraine to defend itself in the face of invasion.

How is your business supporting people on earth? What is the impact? Why should anyone care? We’re not saying the technical particulars aren’t important. But they can come later. Rather than diving headfirst into the minutiae, set out the bigger problem or opportunity. Rather than obsessing over the technology, show what it fixes or enables.

Why should people have confidence in you?

Demonstrating difference, leadership, and credibility is increasingly important as the space sector swells with new entrants. Not to mention, after a flurry of SPAC (Special purpose acquisition companies) deals, beginning with Virgin Galactic in October 2019, investors are now focusing more on execution, profitability and return on investment.

As noted at the Morgan Stanley Space Summit in December 2021, the challenge facing investors is ‘separating wheat from chaff and identifying companies that have not only discriminating technology, but also sustainable business models.’ Regular, informative and engaging investor communications that speak to these elements and update on plans as well as challenges – such as those brought about by Covid-19 – are essential. So too is wider thought leadership content that showcases your vision, expertise and can be used to position your business as the go-to on certain topics for wider media.

Why should people want to work for you?

Lots of space businesses are desperate to hire the talent needed to fulfil their growth ambitions but retaining that talent in such a competitive environment is tough – and becoming more expensive by the day.

Give yourself the best chance of attracting – and retaining – bright, diverse minds through purpose-driven content and the right mix of channels, including social. Spend time creating a consistent and engaging employee experience that inspires not only loyalty but advocacy – existing employees are your best recruiters. And invest in your skills pipeline – STEM education and outreach is not just about CSR, it’s about creating the teams who will be joining your sector in a decade’s time.

So, what’s your story? And are you telling it well?

We can help.

If you’d like to know more about Bladonmore and its specialist communications services to the space tech industries, please get in touch

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Shreena Patel

Associate Director, Critical Issues

Shreena focuses on a range of strategic positioning, narrative and development projects.

Let’s talk about your story