Great case studies start with great stories.

A Case Study on How to Get More Case Studies

They’re effective, trustworthy, and prospects actually read them–but marketers can encounter surprising resistance in securing case studies from their customers. Here’s how to overcome the three most common challenges standing in the way of compiling a great collection of customer success stories.

CHALLENGE #1: Your company’s sales reps keep blowing off your requests to schedule case study interviews with customers. And much to your irritation, you’re starting to sense they don’t want the PR or Marketing teams anywhere near their accounts. What gives?

I put this problem first because it’s more common than many marketers realize. Salespeople are indeed protective of their painfully won customer relationships – and live in fear that marketing will do something to screw them up. So, they put you off with different excuses. The customer’s still having some issues with the product…they’ve only recently signed up…they’re on the verge of buying an additional solution/service that will make for a better case study…you get the idea. You’re going to have to walk over the sales rep’s dead body to get to their customer.

Solution: First, keep in mind that these excuses may very well be legitimate concerns, although if there aren’t any good results to report within a few months of implementation, your company could have a larger challenge to address. As for the fairly new account, almost an entire case study can be written that focuses on what led the customer to your company in the first place, why the customer ultimately chose your company over the competition and the solution itself.

So all that said, how do you deal with the sales person who won’t budge? What else: a bribe. These people, even more than most, are driven by rewards…so be sure to make this a contest that everyone can win. The reward for securing a case study can be anything from a gift certificate for a hot new restaurant to cold hard cash. I recommend the latter. A generous amount of it. A good customer case study can deliver priceless returns to your marketing, public relations and sales programs.

Even better, make it an ongoing program with new and increasingly desirable rewards for each subsequent case study agreement secured. Any investment you make in prizes will be more than worth it if you end up with an impressive library of case studies.

You will, of course, need to assure sales that you won’t ruin their customer relationships. I try to handle most of the case studies I write like this: send a questionnaire to the salesperson or account manager so he/she knows what questions I’ll be asking the client; have an initial call with the salesperson to get background; then invite the salesperson to be a part of the client phone conversation. I know firsthand these steps go a long way in showing the sales rep that the customer will be treated in a professional, respectful manner. Getting both the salesperson and client’s perspectives also makes for a more layered, contextual customer success story.

CHALLENGE #2: Your customers state that proprietary reasons prevent them from participating in a case study.

This one comes up a lot for companies that sell to notoriously secretive government agencies and Fortune 500 companies. And candidly, it’s the toughest nut to crack. Not even a juicy bribe, like a discount for add-ons or at contract renewal time, will always persuade the customer to agree to a case study – although I have seen this tactic work before.

But in my experience, more than anything it requires a solid working relationship between people in your company and the customer’s.

Solution: Time and again, your company has gone beyond the call of duty for this client and you’re fairly certain there’s considerable gratitude and appreciation for it. Well, now it’s payback time. Don’t be afraid to remind the customer of all that’s been done – but in a way that makes the customer see the value in publicizing it.

Have the person who’s the most “in” with your customer do the asking, something along the lines of, “This partnership has really solved some persistent challenges for your target market– particularly when we solved problem a, b, c, etc. I think more widely promoting this breakthrough to others struggling with the same problems could make a big impact. Can we collaborate on a case study together? We have very skilled writers on hand to craft it, and of course, you’d have final editorial approval.”

Important note: This conversation should also present the case study as a marketing or public relations asset for the customer, not just for your company. Which, by the way, is exactly what a well-written customer success story should be about: how the customer is doing great things for their customers with your product. In short, it should be the customer’s story – always.

If they still won’t do it, then ask if you can write a case study without using the company’s name or other obvious identifiers. By now, they may be feeling guilty enough about saying no that they’ll agree to an interview under this caveat.

No, it’s not as desirable as using the actual customer’s name, but a deftly written case study can overcome this limitation.

And you can add some credibility back in by noting at the top of the case study that it’s about a real customer experience, with the customer’s name omitted for proprietary reasons. And do show it to the customer one more time—if it’s well-written, they may like it so much they’ll agree to put their name on it after all!

CHALLENGE #3: Your company or product is new and you don’t have customers yet to agree to a case study.

This seems like the most impossible scenario of all, but it’s actually the easiest to get around!

Solution: Do what a mid-sized client of mine from my past life as a freelancer did with a new line of handheld scanners: create a series of “industry use studies”. In this type of case study, you have zero restrictions on how your product or service performs, as you get to make up whatever setting you want it to perform in – for example, how your software saves time, money and patient lives in a community hospital. Or a large health system. Or a skilled nursing facility. It’s your story, and you get to create every detail of the plot, including your ideal setting.

Important caveat: Just be sure the plot is indistinguishable from your target prospect’s real world. And I trust you’ll avoid the credibility-ruining temptation to claim outrageous results, like a zillion dollars in new revenue generated within the first week of implementation!

Worried that a use study won’t be as effective as a case study based on an existing customer? Consider this–if your prospects already know your solution doesn’t have customers yet, and they’re still communicating with you, a use study that depicts the solution in a setting much like the one they work in everyday can only proves that you “get” what they do and need.

Of course, if you have case studies about other products in your portfolio to share, all the better. To get more of those, refer back to Challenges #1 and #2.

Lastly, be sure to check out my colleague Matt Schlossberg’s post on how to prime your customers to participate in your public relations efforts. He’s got some great strategies, as well, to make the most of your most important asset–your customer.

Determining whether to hire a PR agency starts with asking the right questions.

Checklist: 10 Questions to Determine if the Timing Is Right to Hire A PR Agency

Like so many companies, you want to promote your company brand and unique value proposition far and wide. But convincing others to pull the trigger on hiring a PR agency is proving to take more time than you anticipated. Or, perhaps you’re the one who isn’t sold—yet—on bringing in agency expertise. It’s a big decision, no doubt—in some ways, as important as choosing a spouse! But there’s also one surefire way to assess if you should hire an agency: Is the timing right?

With 25 years of experience in PR, including owning the fastest-growing agency in healthcare technology, I can help you sort it out. The first step is to determine what your goals are. Why do you want to be front and center in the news? Reasons can vary—some of our clients want to stand out clearly from the competition; others want to gain a share of voice on industry trends, and still others want to position their company for a strategic acquisition or IPO.

Once you’ve identified why you want to effectively and consistently promote your company, products, services and thought leaders, then you can move on to 10 key questions to help you make a decision about hiring a PR agency now or in the future. The questions fall under five categories—and your answers will give you an honest assessment about whether or not you need a PR agency at your side.

STRATEGY:

#1–Do you have a precise understanding of your target audiences and which media outlets they are mostly likely to engage with? Are you reaching them now or do you need to?

#2–In the event of an unexpected challenge from a competitor/member of the media/credible industry insider, do you have sufficient resources readily available for a rapid response?

#3—In the event of a crisis, do you have the right PR resources in place to quickly gain control of the public dialogue?

MEDIA RELATIONS:

#4–Are you successfully cultivating and maintaining media relationships with key influencers in your space? Are you sending them interesting pitches based on their beats to secure ink for you and your clients?

#5—Are you reaching out to the right media outlets? Every day I hear from prospects that they want to be in the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal but are those the outlets your buyers are reading…like the niche pubs in your own office lobby, or the ones they hand out at targeted key trade shows?

CONTENT MARKETING:

#6–Are you creating and distributing enough information to educate today’s information-driven buyers at every step of the buying process? Establishing your educational/thought leadership position through each phase is often critical when it comes time to making purchasing decisions.

#7—Are you getting your thought leaders’ messages out to your targeted markets and media outlets?

SOCIAL MEDIA:

#8—Do you have an effective social media strategy in place that is getting you noticed and talked about by industry/digital influencers?

ANALYST RELATIONS:

#9–Are you getting cited in the most widely read industry reports where your competitors are?

INDUSTRY RECOGNITION:

#10–Do we receive the recognition we deserve through different awards, speaking opportunities and trade show presentations?

Now, time to assess the results. If your answers have left you feeling somewhat alarmed about your own company’s “PR readiness,” don’t worry—help is just a free consultation away. And now that you know where you’re particularly vulnerable, you can have this consultation tailored to your most pressing needs. We’re here to help you make an informed decision!

Champing at the Bit over the Correct Use of Idioms: Its Just Good PR

All languages employ idioms, or phrases that have a figurative meaning that goes beyond the literal use of the words—and English is no different. In fact, the English language includes an estimated 25,000 idiomatic expressions such as “breath of fresh air” and “clean bill of health.”

We commonly use idioms in business—and in marketing and public relations—to emphasize a point or make it more memorable. Unfortunately, many idioms are often misused. So much so, that the incorrect usage of idioms in some cases has become more common than the correct use. As we know, though, impressions are everything when it comes to PR, so it’s important to get it right.

Here’s a refresher on commonly used—and misused—idioms that tend to come up frequently in PR:

  • Flesh out that idea or proposal, don’t flush it out. When you flesh something out, you’re giving it more substance and building out the details. Flushing out refers to clearing something out—like a sewer line—or getting it out of hiding.
  • Home in on your key messages, don’t hone in on them. To home in on something is to zero in on it, as a missile homes in on a target. Hone (which shouldn’t be used with in, in this way) means to sharpen. So you home in on your key messages, and then you hone them until they are razor sharp.
  • You’re champing at the bit to get started on a project, not chomping. If you’re eager to get a new initiative going, you’re champing at the bit—as a horse does when anxious to start a race. Although horses also chomp, or chew noisily, they do so when eating—not when anticipating something. (Note: This is one of those idiomatic expressions that is so commonly misused, some dictionaries include both versions of the expression. But the Associated Press Stylebook, the go-to style guide for major media outlets, has spoken—and AP still prefers the original usage of “champing.”)
  • It’s for all intents and purposes, not for all intensive purposes. For all intents and purposes means “in effect,” or “practically speaking”: “For all intents and purposes, we have completed our crisis communication plan.” All intensive purposes is a misuse of the original phrase, which comes from British legal terminology originating in the 1500s.

As with “for all intents and purposes,” a number of idioms have “eggcorns,” which means a similar-sounding word or words are substituted for the original due to mishearing or misinterpreting the correct term. The word eggcorn is thought to be a playful descriptor based on a theoretical mishearing of the word “acorn.”

Since eggcorns most often occur with homophones, or words that sound the same to the ear, these idiomatic faux pas occur most frequently when writing a phrase after hearing it spoken.

Here are a few common eggcorns to keep in mind:

  • You toe the line, you don’t tow it. Toeing the line means you conform; you do what you’re expected to do and follow the rules. This phrase comes from racers placing their toes at a start line before a race. You can use a line or cable to help tow something such as a boat, but the line does the towing—not vice versa.
  • You give people free rein, not free reign. When you give others free rein—as you might with a horse—you give them the freedom to do what they want. Reign refers to the act of a monarch ruling a nation or territory.
  • When someone is strongly favored in a competition, he or she is a shoo-in—not a shoe-in. This is another idiom related to horses… are you sensing a pattern? If you think about “shooing” a fly, it’s moving in the direction you want it to. The same is the case with the horse/candidate/whomever you want to win some kind of race—supporters cheer the candidate on, shooing him or her towards victory.
  • A creative idea piques your interest, it doesn’t peak it. If your interest is piqued, you are excited or curious about something. Peak refers to a pointed end or a hilltop or mountaintop.
  • It’s per se, not per say. Per se is Latin for “by itself”: “The correct use of idioms doesn’t make you a genius, per se, but it’s a point in your favor.” It’s surprising how often the incorrect “per say” appears in writing, and from some super-smart people. Likely a case of the error being repeated so often, it starts to look correct.
  • You wait with bated breath, not baited breath. The adjective bated means “with great suspense,” and this phrase refers to waiting for something anxiously or excitedly. When something is baited, on the other hand, a predator is attempting to lure its prey.

So now that we’ve homed in on the most common incorrect usage of idioms, I know you’re champing at the bit to toe the line when it comes to proper usage. (Yes, I had to do it.)

Infographics can provide a major boost to PR and content programs.

Getting the Picture: 5 Reasons to Use Infographics

Effective storytelling has always been an integral strategy of PR and marketing.  But in today’s digital world, where online users are flooded with information, sometimes “showing,” rather than “telling” your story can be an effective approach for communicating your message.

Infographics are an excellent tool for turning content – especially complex data – into a colorful, compelling, easily digestible, visual. A truly successful infographic will utilize innovative design elements and robust data to capture your target audience’s attention and deliver important, educational information.

While not new, it is surprising the number of companies still not utilizing infographics as part of their content marketing strategy. In addition to helping drive brand awareness, infographics also attract website traffic, generate buzz and boost social media engagement.  Here are five reasons to consider using infographics as part of your next PR/marketing campaign.

  1. Most online users don’t have the time to scroll through endless paragraphs of text. Infographics present information in a clear and concise manner and make mundane and heavy topics fun and easy to comprehend. Infographics help your audience understand your message effortlessly at glance.
  2. Individuals process visual content faster than long-form, written copy and are 80 percent more likely to read content if it includes colorful imagery. Infographics can make the most seemingly boring information blossom when displayed as a dazzling visualization.
  3. Research shows that infographics are liked and shared on social media 3X more than any other type of content. Top that with an infographic that includes a punchy design and some startling statistics, and your content has the potential to go viral. Bloggers value and admire quality infographics, so if you promote yours effectively, there’s a good chance it will be distributed among numerous social media channels. Infographics also have a much longer shelf life than traditional media since they are often shared months after they’ve originally been published. More shares mean more visibility for your business – leading us right into number 4 on the list.
  4. If your infographic is making the rounds on blogs and social media, there is a good chance it’s boosting your SEO ranking. Ensuring that you add an embed code to your infographic makes it easy for your audience to share your content. The result is a wealth of inbound links, since the embedded image of your infographic automatically links back to your website, thereby elevating your search ranking. Add some targeted keywords in your infographic’s title or description, and you can amplify your page ranking even more.
  5. Infographics are one of the most successful ways to bring your content to smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices. As portable devices continue to be a fundamental tool for both consumers and businesses, information like infographics is much more conducive to viewing on-the-go. It’s also ideally suited for viewing on small screens.

It’s easy to see why infographics are a vital and effective tool for building brand awareness, engaging your audience, and making your message memorable. Just remember to keep the design and content of your infographic simple, creative and accurate. Don’t overshadow your data or confuse your audience with superfluous graphic elements. While an impactful design is essential, so is the quality of the information you are sharing – so be sure you the sources you are citing are reliable. The visual component of your infographic may draw your audience in, but it is the content that educates, informs, and truly drives your message home. Get the picture?

 

When you get a great opportunity, it's time to milk the PR machine.

More than One Way to Milk the PR Machine

After 14 months, dozens of emails, numerous brainstorming sessions – not to mention several bottles of Tums – my PR team was excited to have our client profiled by Forbes. And then, just like the careful-what-you-wish-for dot-com Super Bowl ad, very quickly the number of article views grew – at last count, it was up to 6,800 online views, per the ticker on the Forbes site for that article. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to milk the PR machine.

In a call with our client after the Forbes article hit, we explored what the client could do to leverage this hard-earned placement. Nonplussed, the CMO turned to her social media director, who replied that the Forbes article did not align immediately with the calendar of themes they were planning in their integrated digital marketing plan.

It is amazing, and extremely frustrating for all parties involved, how often this takes place – a great placement finally hits the web or print edition, and then it gets lost in the ether-nether digital filing cabinet, never to be seen again.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, we encourage our clients to develop integrated digital campaigns that leverage all of the various content assets being developed. But some things cannot be anticipated, and one of those things is when the national media will decide to run a story on your company. Don’t let it go to waste just because the calendar doesn’t have a placeholder for it.

To avoid such painful conversations from taking place in the future, here are a few tips for optimizing your media coverage for sales, marketing and lead generation – regardless of what campaign you are currently working on.

Leveraging earned article placements

When a quality bylined article placement, award or other newsworthy item hits – expected or not expected – there are several channels you can leverage to compound the interest among your target audiences.

One of the most effective ways is to immediately review the coverage and then list it on your company’s and executives’ Linked In profiles under publications. Over time, the list of articles will grow – this is important because these proof points can be used for award nominations, speaking abstracts, and effectively demonstrating your company’s and executives’ track record, all made quickly available by clicking on a simple hyperlink on a LinkedIn profile.

Your sales team should also get in on the act and proactively promote the article placements, blog posts, awards, speaker nominations and other PR activities. This is to their advantage, as it helps soften the sales cycle by positioning your company and executives as industry thought leaders both for prospects and existing customers.

One way to quickly accomplish this is to draft an email “wrapper” for the sales team that they can then distribute to their contacts through sales force automation tools, such as SalesForce.com. (Your PR firm can help with this.)

And last but certainly not least, be sure to display your PR hits on your web site, adjacent to the online pressroom. We advise clients to keep media coverage separate from company press releases by calling it “XYZ Company in the News” or “Media Coverage of XYZ”. If you get lots of hits and this becomes too much of a burden (a nice problem to have!), there are electronic services available that will automate the newsfeed selection and posting process for you.

Leveraging speaking engagements

So you’ve been accepted to speak at an industry conference. What’s next? Don’t wait until the conference is over to harness the power of social media. Have the speaker and your company Tweet about what an honor and thrill it is, ask if anyone else is going and invite them to attend your session.

Here are a few more practical ideas on promoting your conference workshop or concurrent session:

  • Arrange for a meet-the-speaker hour at your booth following your presentation.
  • Send e-blasts to your customers and prospects with details about your session. Even if they don’t attend the conference, it’s good for your image to make them aware that you were selected.
  • Take the extra step to print flyers to hand to people when they stop by your booth.

These are just a few ideas for milking the PR machine. Have you seen other ideas that have worked well?