Give a good story (or get edited out)

Today we continue our series of guest posts from industry leading, best-in-breed PR Pros. Enjoy this insightful piece from Metis Communications’ Director of Content Services, Rebecca Joyner. You know any article written by someone with this title is going to be worth the read!

Give a good story (or get edited out)

Letting a customer tell your story is a great way to hook an opportunity – as long as that customer thinks your product or service is a key player in its success. Good journalists don’t care who funded the pitch; they care about the angle, so the one you give them better be relevant, timely and clearly linked to your company. Want to make sure your organization’s name doesn’t get cut during the editing process? Follow these tips:

1. Look for your best customer evangelists. Ask the sales team to identify satisfied users and repeat customers. Monitor your social media networks for positive feedback. Ask your audiences to self-identify by putting out a call online, through the sales force, or in a company newsletter.

Once you have a pool of candidates from which to pick, narrow down the list to those customers who best exemplify the kind of work for which you want to be known. Look for customers who had a problem that your product or service solved and who can cite measurable results.

2. Qualify your customer spokesperson thoroughly. There are some logistical questions you have to ask right up front. (e.g., “Will your company allow you to speak to the media?”) Beyond that, interview potential customer sources to get a feel for whether their experiences will be of interest to reporters, whether they can share those experiences in a compelling and articulate way, and whether they are likely to mention your company as a key player in their stories.

“Story” is the key term here. In a story, there are characters, conflicts or challenges, and resolutions. Your job is to help your customer spokesperson get comfortable talking about all three – and remember that your company or product is one of the characters.

Ask your would-be customer spokesperson:

  • Tell me more about your organization in your own words.
  • How did you develop a need for my product or service?
  • How did you address that challenge before, and why did you decide to make a change?
  • How does your company use my product or service, and what benefits are you seeing?

Be sure to also ask questions that flush out any negative feelings the customer might have about your business.

3. Evaluate the quotes you hear from customers. The conversations you have during the qualification process should tell you a lot about the kinds of conversations customers are likely to have with the press. Someone who says, “Your product was the best choice we could find for the money,” is going to tell a far different story than the customer who says something like, “Things are so much better around here since we implemented your product or service. All of our wildest dreams have come true!”

Establish an enthusiasm monitor, and map customer zeal to appropriate opportunities. Cheerleaders who can convey concrete ROI get to talk to the press to help build your brand. Matter-of-fact types get to work closely with you on blogs, award applications or other opportunities that are more in your realm of control.

4. Shape the story. After you find out the kinds of publications that are of mutual interest to your company and to your customer, write a pitch that suits the target. You’ll likely de-emphasize your company’s role at this point to highlight your main character (the customer) and key plot points (the problem the customer faced and how it achieved a happy ending), but you need to help your customer remember the other players involved.

Brief your customer thoroughly to explain the pitch you shared with the reporter, the key messages to emphasize, and the nitty-gritty of a typical interview. Give the customer permission to offer critical information, even if the reporter doesn’t ask a prompting question. If the interview isn’t in person but you’re sitting next to your customer, pass him notes to help keep him on point. If you’re all on the phone together, use instant messaging to redirect your customer spokesperson as necessary. And if the reporter bans you from the interview completely, which is common, make sure you follow up with both the customer and the reporter to determine:

A)   Whether your company/product/service was discussed; and

B)   Whether you can offer clarification, additional information, a follow-up interview with a company spokesperson, graphics, or anything else.

The third-party validation of customer PR can be one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to generating coverage and leads – as long as your company doesn’t get edited out of the eventual article. It is not the reporter’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s yours. To avoid spending hours on a piece that does your company little good, pick and prep your customer spokespeople thoroughly, and help shape the story every step of the way.

Rebecca JoynerAbout Rebecca Joyner

Rebecca Joyner is the director of content services at Metis Communications, a Boston-based marketing and PR firm that loves entrepreneurs, startups and great ideas. Rebecca’s professional experience includes positions in journalism, education, marketing and PR. At Metis, she drives content creation efforts to help clients get found online and establish themselves as voices of authority in their industries.

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Follow Rebecca on Twitter @rebeccamjoyner

Learn more about Metis Communications at http://www.metiscomm.com.