How to pitch your work without client references

It can be difficult to get your company covered without a client to vouch for you, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Here’s how to work around this pesky problem.

How can you pitch your story before clients will back your product?

This is a common issue. Customers don’t often want to reveal the products and services they use, as outside tools are often a company’s competitive advantage, or potential weak link. Nobody wants to reveal their secrets to success or strategic technology partners.

However, it’s essential for a company to have at least one customer willing to go on the record about their experience with you as their vendor. Reporters know the provider of a product is going to say only positive things. A customer’s viewpoint given their own experience is therefore more meaningful and being able to provide such an endorsement proves a business is selling. Happy customers indicate a company’s success, so being able to provide access to a customer is a credibility point.

However, PR pros know it’s difficult and rare for clients to have an active pipeline of customers willing to support—and offer the time—PR. A proactive, assertive PR team will use a few different strategies to get around this, to keep a client in the media until it can provide third-party endorsement.

1. Thought leadership

Consider the problems you’re solving for customers. By showing you know their pain points, you’ll serve as a guiding light to others experiencing the same challenges.

When done well, thought leadership is educational. You want to be helpful and informational while examining industry issues. This will articulate the service gap that your product or service fills without being an overt sales pitch. In thought leadership PR, you can highlight what your company does for others without naming customers but by speaking generally about the feedback you’ve been given by happy customers, or by prospects in sales meetings who have shared the reasons they’re looking for the help your solution offers.

2. Rapid response

Often media outlets will tee up the perfect opportunity for you to look like an industry authority.

PR teams often call the opportunity this provides “newsjacking.” A nimble PR team will know immediately which industry trade reporters will continue to cover the news, and provide a provocative, unique viewpoint on your behalf. As with thought leadership, the point here is not to advertise your own product or service, but to lend interesting commentary. A good tactic often is to applaud the competition before pivoting to what still needs to be done.

The point with newsjacking is to piggyback on the limelight. Done effectively, it widens your own audience so when you have news of your own, more people are listening.

3. Research

Do you have data? This information lends validity to an argument and helps create a story. By sponsoring your own research, or partnering with a customer or partner to sponsor research, or by conducting a survey using your internal marketing and PR team to get a few hundred responses from a relevant audience, you can come up with interesting data points to fortify key messages about the demand for your own product or service.

4. Customer outreach

Internal and external PR teams often provide helpful assistance in explaining PR opportunities to customers, and successfully convincing them to participate in PR. Sometimes it’s as simple as including customer participation in your contracts.

Starting with a big ask (i.e. a press release announcing your partnership and a case study 6-12 months after the original relationship) allows you to ask for lesser items if this point is stricken during contract review. Try incentivizing your sales team to secure customer participation. A young, aggressive sales team will do anything to compete with each other, or for a little extra cash.

Ensure your customer relations team is close to your customers. Relationships go a long way. If the nature of your business is not such that your sales people are in close touch with customers, incentivizing the customer by offering discounts or other advantages can also be effective.

It’s true that good PR often requires customer endorsement, but a lot can be done while you’re waiting to secure that elusive backing.

Katie Pierini is a senior vice president for BAM Communications . A version of this article first appeared in BAM’s Spectrum blog .

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