All of the below suggestions are offered by experienced publicists in the B2B arena, including myself and several colleagues at Amendola Communications. While we fully get that a public relations program is just one of many important contributions to creating a successful company—along with a whip smart product development team, a terrific product, turbo-charged salespeople, and savvy marketing, to name a few—each one of our recommendations below helps fuel these crucial moving parts even more. So here is what we’d prioritize if we had a few months in the driver’s seat…
Item #1: Create a customer success library—and keep it continuously restocked. Nothing will give you more credibility with prospects, investors, your own employees, and of course, the media, than the testimonials of thrilled customers. So as an established company with a solid customer roster of your own, why don’t you have more of these stories to broadcast to the world?
Most likely, it’s one of two primary reasons. Either your employees are too nervous to ask customers to participate in a case study, or there’s no real process in place to develop these strategic assets. And it does take a process. The next few items delve a little deeper into both of these challenges.
Item #2: Incentivize your employees to get customer success stories. Here’s the deal. The main reason employees aren’t going after customer success stories is out of fear that the customer will decline to participate. The product’s not fully in use yet…they’ve run into some issues…you get the idea. There is always a seemingly legitimate reason for putting off the request.
But what if getting customer success stories was part of the job description? And what if the pressure to obtain them was considerably lightened with the right tools and handsome bonuses?
One of our own most successful clients has made obtaining customer success stories part of the company’s official bonus structure. At last count, this client had more than 170 customer success stories! Money is a great motivator, people. We know this.
But money alone isn’t enough to create outstanding, detailed customer success stories…
Item #3: Formalize and launch a customer adoption program. All good success stories have tangible results to report. And a customer adoption program is a terrific opportunity to establish with your customer what the metrics for success will be. From there, you can organize your efforts around seeing that the customer fully and productively adopts the appropriate components of your product to reach these targets. Typically these efforts include regular communication, benchmark reporting, and always available support. In person, on the phone, via email…a combination of all three will be part of most top tier customer adoption programs.
And within a relatively short period of time, you should be able to have some successful results to report in a customer story. Oh, and a couple of other significant benefits…like increased customer satisfaction and retention.
Item #4: Create a “Customer Reference program.” My colleague Stacy State, a senior account director at Amendola, further advises making best use of customer testimonials by creating a spreadsheet or other document that houses:
- Clients who can provide quotes (organized based on product/location/benefit/challenge solved)
- Clients willing to be references (organized based on location, product/s, account manager, etc.)
- Clients who are willing to speak at trade shows—and who will have the necessary presenting skills to do so
- Clients who allow onsite interviews of how your solution works in their setting
Item #5: Have talented storytellers on hand. Whether they reside in your in-house PR and marketing teams or with your agency partner, it’s essential that you are telling your product, company or customer story in human, attention-seizing terms. Identify and utilize those people who will be fearless at doing just that—a surprisingly rare resource, by the way. Many people are intimidated by writing for corporate/business needs, and inevitably revert to “safe” corporate-speak and industry jargon.
But please listen to someone who has spent her entire career crafting stories for newspapers, companies, non-profits and others. Nothing will snuff the life out of a good story faster than peppering it with phrases like “ensure” and “going forward” and “operational efficiency.” So don’t do it! Invest in great writing. It will pay off for you, I promise.
Item #6: Develop a stable of charismatic thought leaders. There are some solid benefits to doing so. According to another colleague, Amendola senior account director Michelle Noteboom, “Once executives have established themselves as credible industry experts, media outlets will seek their opinions and be more receptive to covering company news.”
To make sure no single thought leader is stretched too thin, you’ll want to cultivate multiple spokespeople within your organization. But please don’t base this on their expertise alone. An effective thought leader is personable, warm, as good of a listener as he or she is a speaker, is eager to share knowledge, willing to participate in media training, and of course, is quickly responsive.
You can start cultivating potential thought leaders early on. My colleague and senior account director Philip Anast recommends: “Include external communications in an executive’s performance requirements, i.e. actually making it part of one’s job requirements to make oneself available for media interviews and garner media coverage.”
Item #7: Stop putting social media on the backburner. This recommendation comes courtesy of Amendola social media guru, Margaret Kelly. “In this day and age, don’t underestimate the impact of reaching clients in 280 characters with a clever phrase or video. The trick is to know your audience and social platforms. Messages on LinkedIn, where you’re likely to already be connected to C-suite members of other companies, may have more impact than messages on other platforms. If you’re trying to put sales in your pipeline, for example, LinkedIn is the best platform to engage your decision-makers,” Margaret observes.
No matter your platform, a social media program must be consistent to be successful. You can’t just flirt with social media—it’s either all the way or not at all. But it takes time to see results. Viral sensations are usually the umpteenth attempt…not the first, second, or even 50th.
Item #8: Break down the barriers between executives and the rest of us. Personally, I see a flatter hierarchy as the future of corporate business, but there will always be identified leaders within an organization. They need not be walled off as if their work is top secret. Account director and Amendola colleague Brandon Glenn has a great suggestion here.
“Conduct quarterly executive Q&As with employees. My old company used to do this every time quarterly earnings were released because we were public, but this could apply to any company. The idea is the executives get up in front of the company, deliver some prepared remarks about how things are going with the company financially, key business highlights, what was good about the last quarter, what they’re looking forward to in the next quarter, and so on. After, it’s opened up for employee questions, which can be asked live verbally or pre-submitted in written form,” Brandon explains.
Depending on the size of your company, consider also making everyone’s weekly work schedule transparent. Here at the agency we share our weekly projects on a common online document. It gives us all a sense of what our coworkers are working on, and is just a more helpful way to organize and be accountable for how we spend our time.
Item #9: Break down the barriers between sales and PR. Even quarterly meetings between sales and PR can make a big difference in the substance and quality of your PR messaging. My colleague Philip Anast notes, “Salespeople especially can give invaluable information to PR. They’re on the front lines of prospect interaction, so can bring a lot of the industry challenges to the fore, providing good fodder for thought leadership.”
Item #10: Break down the barriers between YOU and PR. Of course, there’s no need to micromanage PR if you have effective people overseeing it. But make time for media training and schedule monthly calls to touch base with your PR team. I’m actually surprised by how many CEOs are removed from their company’s public relations. While this demonstrates two important positives–trust in the people who oversee PR and a willingness to allow others in the organization to develop into thought leaders–a CEO who isn’t engaged in PR much at all can find herself or himself caught flatfooted at the most inopportune times when a good response is essential.
With that, my tenure running your company is over. Which is fine with me, because with these recommendations now in place, I can’t wait to get back to publicizing it!