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More customer win news releases please!

One of my bugbears as a PR professional is the lack of strong case studies or customer win releases. Normally when a new client comes on board, for the first six months we generate a regular flow of new win releases and case studies. But then the creep sets in. The number of PR-able wins drop and turning around the leads we receive becomes more arduous.

So why this drop-off? It’s not because our clients aren’t winning more business: in fact after six months of a good PR campaign, frequently supported by other marketing activities, our clients are normally faring very well.

The reason would appear to be two-fold and usually depends on a combination of focus and perceived priorities. Firstly, after six months the ‘novelty’ of customer win announcements starts to wear off and sales targets take over, such as end of quarter sales results. Secondly, the benefits of participating might not be fully communicated to end users, who are busy managing their data centres and who probably also don’t perceive PR as a part of their jobs. So the purpose of this post is to act as an aide memoire for all IT sales professionals when they are persuading prospects and customers to embrace free publicity. Here are my top five reasons for vendors for promoting customer wins, followed by my top five benefits for participating end users.

1.    Credibility
When a journalist writes about a new win, it flags product and company success. As the story is then associated with an independent industry influencer who has not been paid to write it, it tends to carry much more weight with potential customers wanting to find out more about a vendor than advertising, which is not independent and is paid for.

2.    Company success and reassurance
Having a library of customer win releases and case studies on a vendor website demonstrates company success, shows prospects the benefits of buying your solutions and reassures them that your company is there for the long-haul.

3.    Social media benefits
If they are written properly news materials on websites add to your Google ratings and improve your search engine optimisation performance.

4.    Widening PR appeal
Some journalists/publications will not write about vendors that cannot offer customer win releases and sometimes also require access to these users. So by not having these resources you are effectively limiting the effectiveness of your PR campaign.

5.    Best results
The best coverage our clients have received has been when technical news has been supported by customer news. If you want the best coverage results, you need customer wins!

So how can you persuade your customers to take part, what are the benefits for them?

1.    Free publicity
As one of our clients put it, for the end user customer win announcements and case studies are free publicity in exchange for little effort as the PR agency tends to do all the hard work.

2.    Control
The customer still has control over what is included in the release/case study through a rigorous review and approval process, so nothing is distributed without their say-so.

3.    Leadership
By showing adoption of a new technology, the customer is positioned as a leader in IT. Some end-users feel threatened and think that they will lose a competitive advantage if they reveal which technology they use. But if you take a look at the FTSE 100 companies, most of their CTOs give interviews about their IT choices. By doing so they place their organisations at the forefront of the IT adoption curve in their fields. So it’s just a case of selling in the concept in the right way to the customer.

4.    Reputational benefit
Having a good news story popping up online about an end user and its recent IT investment is just as good for that business as it is for its suppliers. Sometimes if an organisation is going through a tough time reputation-wise, positive mentions in supplier releases can help to re-balance any negative spin.

5.    Business success
In the same way that a customer win is good for a vendor’s business, it’s also good for a customer’s business as it demonstrates that the company is performing well as it invests in new technologies.

So, the above are my top reasons why companies should support customer announcements. However, even with this arsenal of rationale in support of PR in your sales briefcase, you may still come across opposition. It’s important to be brave and challenge the organisation that, for example, may be uncomfortable with being seen to be too close to any particular vendor. There’s usually a middle ground that can be found: perhaps a joint release with relevant vendors to cover the wider IT infrastructure story or fewer details about the IT environment for example.

Often a good compromise is to offer to distribute the story to one or a segment of publications (e.g. storage or virtualisation outlets), with other parties to the installation project, such as software vendors or resellers, distributing it to their target publications and the customer’s press office, taking care of the nationals and their target contacts, which normally makes all parties feel far more in control.

Sometimes end users are just too busy to take part in their suppliers’ PR activities or they claim that it’s too early for a release because the product hasn’t been in place for long enough. That’s fine but it’s important to agree a timeframe and to revisit the project.

During my many years of working in communications the companies that I have noticed to be the most successful in creating PR-able stories are the ones that request consent to publicise the deal at the contracts stage so that there is no mincing about later on. Given that customer wins are so important to reputation, it might even be worth offering a small incentive to participate in PR to sugar a deal after all the same value in advertising would literally cost thousands of pounds more to deliver!

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