By Zachary Vito, Senior Account Executive
In today’s highly competitive media landscape, it is becoming harder for startups to secure earned media placements. However, there are assets that can be leveraged to make a story more compelling to journalists, one of which is your customers.
As they say, “the proof is in the pudding” and thus in PR, customer stories are a key component for technology reporters in building a credible, well-rounded story. However, many vendors engage in PR before they have completed case studies with their customers or they simply do not negotiate PR into their customer relationships.
In both of these situations, startups put themselves at a disadvantage for securing earned media coverage, because they can’t leverage their customer stories. Some reporters at key technology outlets including Tech Target and InformationWeek will only cover a story if there is a customer reference available, so companies that do not have this are missing an opportunity to engage with these journalists. Below, I’ve outlined three key considerations for startups in order to integrate customer stories into a PR program.
It is important for your marketing department to have close contact with the sales reps who directly manage the relationships with your customers. Often times, a CMO will have to track down the people within the organization that own these relationships, so establishing a line of communication between marketing and sales departments to make information about customers readily available will greatly increase the efficiency of your PR program and put you on the path to securing interviews.
When learning about your company and product, reporters prefer to hear from customers, so it is important to consider this when engaging customers in PR programs. A customer with pre-identified spokespeople or even their own PR programs should be at the top of the list when you are trying to decide which customers to approach.
Why is it that reporters seek out customer stories? One reason, is that they often illustrate how customers have overcome a problem or improved business processes using the vendor’s technology. In either case, any ROI metrics that can be shared are extremely valuable for reporters as they add credibility to their story. Additionally, the reporter’s audience likely face similar problems to those of your customers, so being able to show readers how your customers overcame their largest obstacles is an invaluable story for any tech journalist.
Congratulations, you’ve secured the reporter’s interest to speak to your customer’s CEO! But coordinating the availability of C-level executives with reporters (especially if based across different time zones) can take weeks or even months, and it is the job of the PR professional to continue to drive the scheduling forward and to keep the opportunity on the table. Often times, a CEO has a heavy travel schedule and works with a scheduling assistant to book meetings. In this case, since you are not communicating directly with the spokesperson, so there is an extra layer of communication (between the scheduler and the CEO) you must account for when confirming with the reporter. This extra step can take extra time and is often out of your control, so the ability to maintain the interest of the reporter and secure the spokesperson availability is key, but can be easily underestimated and lead to a lost opportunity.
Ultimately, there are a lot of hoops to jump through when it comes to figuring out which customers are available to speak to press about their work with you. Don’t underestimate the logistics of the process and try to incorporate PR participation into contract negotiations at the start up the engagement, to drive the narrative of the issues and problems you are solving for your customers.