During a recent webinar, a question was raised that seemed all too common:
“We keep hearing that the press won’t write about us without a client reference. We are a fast innovating company that’s doing things nobody does. Getting client references is not always possible. What’s your take on this? How would you pitch a unique innovative tech story? “
This is a common issue! Customers don’t often want to reveal the products and services they use, as outside tools are often a company’s competitive advantage, or potential weak link. Nobody wants to reveal their secrets to success or strategic technology partners.
However, it’s essential for a company to have at least one customer willing to go on the record about their experience with you as their vendor. Reporters know the provider of a provider of a product is going to say only positive things. A customer’s viewpoint given their own experience is therefore more meaningful. And being able to provide such an endorsement proves a business is selling. Happy customers indicate a company’s success. So being able to provide access to a customer is a credibility point.
PR pros know it’s difficult and rare for clients to have an active pipeline of customers willing to support – and offer the time – for PR. A proactive, assertive PR team will use a few different strategies to get around this, to keep a client in the media until it can provide third-party endorsement.
Thought leadership – Consider the problems you’re solving for customers. By showing you know their pain points, you’ll serve as a guiding light to others experiencing the same challenges. Thought leadership done well is educational. You’ll do well to be helpful and informational in your highlighting of industry issues. This will paint the need for what your product or service provides without being salesy. In thought leadership PR, you can highlight what your company does for others without naming customers but by speaking generally about the feedback you’ve been given by happy customers, or by prospects in sales meetings who have shared the reasons they’re looking for the help your solution offers.
Rapid response – Oftentimes the news media will tee up the perfect opportunity for you to look like an industry authority. Has your largest competitor just announced a service around something for which you hold a patent? PR teams often call the opportunity this provides “newsjacking.” A nimble PR team will know immediately which industry trade reporters will continue to cover the news, and provide a provocative, unique viewpoint on your behalf. As with thought leadership, the point here is NOT to advertise your own product or service, but to lend interesting commentary. A good tactic is to applaud the competition followed by a comment on what else is needed to (fill in the blank here). The point with newsjacking is to piggyback on the limelight. Done effectively, it widens your own audience so when you have news of your own, more people are listening.
Research – Got data? Data points lend validity to an argument and help create a story. By sponsoring your own research or partnering with a customer or partner to sponsor research, or by conducting a survey using your internal marketing and PR team to get a few hundred responses from a relevant audience, you can come up with interesting data points to fortify key messages about the demand for your own product or service.
Customer outreach – Internal and external PR teams often provide helpful assistance in explaining PR opportunities to customers, and successfully convincing them to participate in PR. Sometimes it’s as simple as including customer participation in your contracts. Starting with a big ask, such as a press release announcing the customer has signed on with your company and a case study 6-12 months after the original relationship that will be published either in the media or on your website, allows you to ask for lesser items if this point is stricken during contract review. Incentivizing your sales team to secure customer participation. A young, aggressive sales team will do anything to compete with each other, or for a little extra cash. Sometimes a PR firm explaining how an interview with the New York Times on how your retail customer has increased revenue due to their responsible, proactive deployment of your company’s security offering sounds like a terrific opportunity to your customer to get their own free, positive press. And they’d be right in thinking that!
Ensure your customer relations team is close to your customers. Relationships go a long way. If the nature of your business is not such that your sales people are in close touch with customers, incentivizing the customer by offering a discount or other advantage can also be effective.
It’s true that good PR often requires customer endorsement, but a lot can be done while you’re waiting to secure that. At the least, it’s good to have a good PR partner willing to get creative on how to do without, in the meantime.