We’ve all been there. You have a FANTASTIC new customer to announce who will really skyrocket your public relations program and make the top-tier media outlets take notice of your brand. But the customer won’t play PR ball. How do you get customers on board with participating in PR activities?
Customer PR stories are a critical and all-too-often painful part of any public relations program. Media are telling you they ‘need a customer’ for their outlet to cover you. Unfortunately, your customers aren’t happy to participate. Sadly, by the time you’re speaking to media, this ask is far too late. Building a successful customer PR program is a long game and starts well before the PR stage.
Here are KCD PR’s top five tips for building up a successful customer PR program. They will propel your brand and its value into the media spotlight.
START WITH THE CONTRACT
Participating in media work in some capacity should be included as part of the customer contract itself. Sure, sales leads might scoff because they don’t want to include anything that could potentially slow down the signing process. But in our years of PR experience, we’ve found the most successful brands include this as a clause in their contracts. ‘Participation in PR’ doesn’t have to be one size fits all either. We’d all like the full bells and whistles press release and participation in media interviews. However, sometimes simply being able to reference the customer’s name in a list of customers is enough to convince reporters to start a conversation with you.
It’s all about the baby steps. Once you’ve created a positive PR experience in even the smallest way, customers will be far more open to increased participation in the future.
SELL THE PR VALUE
This part is crucial. Customers must understand how it will benefit them, not you. All too often PR professionals go into the conversation with what they need from the customer, usually for an urgent media opportunity. Why should your busy customer stop what they are doing and help you? How will it help their business gain new customers, and importantly, them personally in their role? Really think about the value you are offering and position your ask in that way.
For example, if it’s a smaller start-up organization – show how partnering with you means they leverage your extensive PR resources to raise awareness of their business. You already have critical media relationships in their space and can make intros for them. You will also take on the brunt of the work – drafting, pitching, scheduling, and even media training for them if needed. For a CEO in a smaller start-up without a PR agency, that’s a great deal.
If you’re approaching a larger brand (which is likely to be far more cautious and considered about media engagement and messaging), use the same approach as you would when pitching a top tier media target. You wouldn’t go to the New York Times with a mid-level management appointment release, right? Instead, you’d wait until you had a compelling, exclusive story that was uniquely targeted to a particular reporter. When approaching a big client, bring a story opportunity that uniquely positions the company. It must be in a light that aligns with their brand platform and strategic key messages, in an outlet that is influential to them, and in a way that allows them to jointly manage the conversation.
And finally, the best way to show value is to share examples where you previously helped customers gain crucial media exposure, sales leads, etc. Results always speak most loudly.
MAKE IT EASY
Once you’ve convinced the customer of the PR value to their business, it’s time to execute. Make it easy for leaders to provide their backing. For example, if you’re doing a joint press release, draft the release and include a suggested quote – ensuring you’ve understood and incorporated key messages and tone. If it’s an interview opportunity you’ve secured – manage all the comms and coordination for everyone involved. Ensure comprehensive briefing documents are prepared that incorporate both your client and their customers’ key messages, along with who owns specific talking points. In short, do the heavy lifting for your clientele.
CREATE A PROCESS
Gather your sales leaders and PR team to create a comprehensive list of customer targets that have both positive results to share and that are appealing to media. Ensure targets align with PR and business goals and get your PR team’s assistance in communicating with customers (where appropriate) to enlist their PR support.
One way to begin this process is to create a list of your client’s potential customers across a variety of verticals. On a regular basis meet with the sales leaders to prioritize the warmest customer leads who had the most positive experiences and would thus be most open to PR. Prioritize and rank the customers who have the strongest media stories, then work through the list – proactively approaching customers to engage them in doing joint PR in a way that makes sense for their businesses. This enables you to gain PR exposure in ways that just wouldn’t be possible without a user story.
Another part of the process is holding regular meetings with the sales and account teams to explain the value of PR in helping them get results. Explain to salespeople what makes a good story, how PR works, and how good coverage and content can help strike up prospect conversations. This has a dual benefit in that it also creates an open channel of communication. Sales and account teams will more readily share interesting customer stories that will benefit PR.
AMPLIFY YOUR RESULTS
Once customers participate in PR and you’ve nailed some media results, make it easy for them to share and amplify that media traction. Don’t assume clients will do this without your help.
Creating suggested social posts or ghost-written blog posts, for example, make it easy for your clients to showcase their media results, and again, reflect the worth of PR. Creating coverage videos that can be shared with customers also proves the value in a much more visually impactful way.
Here’s an added benefit of doing the above work – when you’re trying to convince other customers to participate in PR, you can easily point to these results. It will make prospects far more likely to say ‘Yes’ and thus restart the virtuous customer PR circle.
Overall, customer PR isn’t easy – but when you really put in the work, your whole PR program becomes much stronger. If done well, you’ll not only generate great customer stories but also have a developed dialogue with the sales and accounts teams. As a result, you’ll have a better pulse on the challenges prospects and clients are facing. This makes idea generation much stronger, yielding better pitch angles. The outcome is stories that resonate with the people who matter for your business – your customers and prospective customers.