customer talking at business meeting

Customer Spokespersons: The Path to PR Success

For companies looking to breathe new life into a PR or marketing campaign, product launches are exciting, as is news on awards or other recognition. But, nothing is more powerful than an advocate who can praise your company without sounding like an insider – yes, I’m talking about customers. Customer spokespersons are the special sauce of any PR campaign.

Like it or not, they are often more credible than any internal research, or any executive on the payroll. A customer is a seemingly unbiased source who used a solution, found success, and is now telling their story.

To many journalists, there is no better evidence of a product or service’s effectiveness than the testimony of a user. Here are a few ways to leverage customers to effectively enhance your company’s marketing and messaging through shared storytelling.

Write a case study.

This is an easy one, right? Case studies are powerful tools for pitching journalists and getting a message out to the media, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about them. For starters, some case studies make the mistake of NOT being as customer-centric as they should be. Many will focus too much on the solution and the product, when the goal of a case study is to “soft sell” through a real-world example of the solution being used. Marketing for the product can happen at another time.

A case study is your customer’s story, and it follows a proven formula: outline a problem they had, the solution (your solution!) the customer used to overcome the problem, and the specific results the customer achieved. Add in a customer quote or two – a very genuine customer quote that doesn’t sound sanitized – and you have yourself a legitimate story.

As much as possible, a case study should stick to these facts and include as much data and numbers as you can muster to really make it feel like a journalistic endeavor. Once published, case studies are perfect for handing out at conferences, sharing on social media, and scoring expanded coverage. Case studies can also be living documents with many chapters: A single case study can be expanded upon as a relationship with a customer evolves and new improvement numbers make their way into the mix, making them a powerful tool for ongoing content-driven PR.

Include customers in press releases.

I’m personally a big fan of press releases. And keeping the media (and other potential customers) up-to-date on any partnerships and relationships is usually a good idea. If your company signs a new customer, announce it in a press release with some details on the relationship. When they adopt a specific solution, or when you write a case study, announce the results with another press release. Keep the media apprised of the relationship to the best of your ability as a feeler for future promotion. For maximum success, include a quote from a customer in press releases whenever possible, and be sure to include a media contact and information on the customer, as they should be the primary focus of any such release.

Keep quotes at the ready.

I like quotes. Having customer quotes on file for marketing and PR to use while pitching media and developing promotional material is valuable to add credibility and context to virtually anything. These quotes are also good to post on your company’s website. Remember, to many journalists, there is no one more reliable than a customer, and what a customer says can be as good as gold.

Ideally, a customer would draft their own quote. But writing a quote for your customer – and getting their approval – is a great way to save them some time and stress. Be up front about how the quote will be used and make sure they are OK with it. Openness and honesty is the key to maintaining their happiness into the future. Remember, a customer is best served as an independent voice, not a calculated company mouthpiece.

Ask them to present at an event with you.

This one is a bit of a challenge because it involves a major time commitment on part of the customer, but if it’s possible without straining any relationships, having a customer speak at trade shows and other events is a great way to put a spotlight on both them and your solution. It may be nice to offer to pick up travel expenses, hotel, and even meals if it’s within your budget and acceptable within the customer’s corporate guidelines. Also, be sure the customer spokesperson you choose is personable and able to deliver a message clearly. Doing so will benefit everyone, most of all your audience.

“Goodwill” coverage is good for everyone.

As mentioned above, customer stories are great to pitch to journalists – in fact, many journalists will only speak to customers. There’s no secret that getting a customer to namedrop your company or solution is always a win. But, some outlets won’t allow company names to be mentioned. Further, sometimes a line of questioning can make it challenging for your customer to naturally squeeze your name into a conversation with a journalist.

But, that’s OK. First, allowing your customer to take the spotlight is good for relations with them – coverage on their story is as much about them as anything else. Secondly, this “goodwill” content is still perfect to share on your company’s social media outlets and website. A relationship with a customer is a partnership, and their testimony and participation should never feel forced. Let them be the central focus, and don’t be afraid to promote your customers (with their approval), even if your company isn’t getting a mention.

This brings me to an important final note: Respect your customer’s time as if it’s the time of your own CEO. Never, ever abuse a relationship with a customer by coaching them heavily on what to say, making too many requests for media interviews, or linking them to PR campaigns without their permission.

Make sure to have discussions about time commitment limitations up front, and always respect a customer’s wishes if they decline to speak as often as you’d like them to. A constant, open line of communication is the path to success, and keeping a customer spokesperson happy will naturally push them to speak on your behalf and tell their story.

Chad Michael Van Alstin
Chad has a varied background in journalism, content marketing, public relations, and multimedia production. He has worked professionally in communications since 2007, filling various roles at television and radio stations while studying media communication. Before joining Amendola, Chad served as a writer/editor for a variety of newspapers, magazines, and web publications.

He got his start in healthcare IT as the features editor for Health Management Technology, a magazine that covers healthcare technology and policy. While there, he wrote on the topics of population health, data security and privacy, and patient engagement.
Before becoming a marketing professional, Chad worked voluntarily to promote various social advocacy groups, political campaigns, and student organizations. The roles he filled included outreach, event planning, and live interviews of prominent politicians.
He was the previous editor for Fit 941, a Tampa Bay sports and fitness magazine, where he wrote on health, wellness, and covered local athletic competitions.
Earlier in his career, Chad penned a regular opinion column in the Virginia Tech newspaper, The Collegiate Times. He won an award from the Virginia Press Association for his work.
Outside of work, Chad keeps his skills sharp with creative writing, photography, and media-production-centric hobbies. He holds a B.A. in Mass Communication from Virginia Tech and an A.A. in Media Communication.
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