You’ve spent weeks or months pitching a key reporter. You’ve read his or her coverage carefully, you’ve watch the tweets, and you persist in pursuit because you are certain your client or company is a topical fit.
You finally get a response and you click to open the message with baited breath. Then your heart sinks.
The reporter didn’t reject the story idea, but asked for something that’s sometimes far more difficult to attain: “Do you have a customer I can talk to?”
The Media Reference Challenge
Usually, speaking to other prospects about a solution, or talking with a technology analyst that won’t name names in a report, is manageable. However, for many B2B marketing organizations, obtaining publicly referenceable customers willing to speak to the press is a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
There are all sorts of reasons why this happens. In some cases, it might be apathy, fear or even distrust of the media. In others, such interviews are prohibited by a client’s corporate policy in order to prevent the appearance of one brand endorsing another.
Sometimes this is also self-inflicted: B2B sales following an account management model adds a layer of complexity. No sales person wants to ask a client for a favor unless it is to close another deal (which is why offering incentives to account executives for references is an important part of sales-marketing alignment). Whatever the case, there’s a better way to go about doing things.
Build Trust with Content Interviews First
It’s a whole lot easier to ask a customer to do a media interview if you’ve already built some trust with them. A simple way to do this is to request an interview for a corporate blog about their assessment of industry challenges.
The operative phrases here is interview for a blog post — not a media interview. Even the sales team will understand the value here.
Have a skilled PR professional with good interviewing and writing skills interview the customer. The conversation is focused on their market knowledge and expertise, rather than your product. Offer the customer a chance to review the copy before it is published.
The chances of a customer agreeing to something like this are far better than a media interview the first time around. It’s a controlled environment that allows them to feel safe. In addition, I’ve always found, if you ask good questions, customers will warm up to an interviewer and provide all sorts of goodness with which to work.
Using an experienced interviewer cannot be overstated. A professional will know how to build rapport and ask questions that elicit responses worth writing. More importantly, I’d estimate that better than 80% of the time, clients will come around and offer perspective on a product on their own if the interviewer isn’t pushy.
See these related posts:
The B2B Advantages of Working with a Boutique PR Firm
2017 PR Salary Survey Suggests Demand for Talent Tightening
Public Relations: In History, at Crossroads and in the Future [UML]
The PR Benefits of a Content First Approach
Once a customer has approved the copy, and the post goes live, you’ve accomplished several objectives:
- Provided useful and peer-driven content to your community;
- Earned a sense of third-party validation through the publication;
- Reached your customer’s community by virtue of their social sharing;
- You’ve given the customer something with shared benefit; and
- Provided the customer an experience similar to a media interview.
It’s that last point that counts the most, because it’s pretty easy to go back to a client that’s happy with the content and say, “Hey, a reporter read that post and is interested in speaking with you about it.”
I’ve worked in some pretty challenging verticals with media-shy clients. With time and planning, this approach usually wins over a handful of referenceable customers. It also works as an on-ramp for formal case studies too. It’s a classic example of why content marketing and public relations need each other.
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