For many business-to-business PR agencies and companies, securing public endorsement from their clients or partners is a permanent challenge and a source of continued irritation. Few things are more frustrating for PR leaders than delivering great work for brand-name clients/partners but being prevented from talking openly about it. Yet there is a minority of agencies and enterprises that seems to punch above their weight in securing public support from their clients. What’s their secret?
There is often no single solution to this problem, and it is important to remember that nobody bats a thousand. The vast majority of large corporations will simply never endorse a service or product provider. However, if you can improve your client/partner endorsement rate by only a couple of percentage points, that can make a huge difference to your PR, marketing and sales efforts. Below are four key areas to consider:
â–¶ Move beyond a press release: Too often, the standard modus operandi is to issue a press release. This usually conjures up a torturous, highly public process in the client’s or partner’s mind, and they often dismiss the request immediately.
Organizations tend to have more success if they can be a bit more creative with the process. A press release is only one medium. Other tactics might include the client’s or partner’s logo on your Web site; a simple statement about why they selected your organization; a joint media interview; a media alert; a case study; or even a joint appearance at a webinar or seminar.
Ask for their “in principle” agreement to go on the record for you, and then conduct a 10-minute, no-risk interview with them. The resulting copy should make them look smart and innovative and avoid outright endorsement. Once they see the finished piece, it will be a snappier version of their own words, and they may have fewer objections to them being used publicly.
â–¶ Earlier is better than later: In most cases, the best time to ask for an endorsement is at the signing of the agreement or just after—i.e. a “selection” story. The temptation is to wait until the client or partner can talk retrospectively about the benefits they have experienced, but the relationship will never get better than during the honeymoon period at the outset. Beyond that point, clients/partners get bogged down with service or delivery complaints, and may begin to hold out public endorsements as leverage.
Pushing for endorsement earlier has another benefit: It makes the story more about why the client/partner selected you and how smart they were for making this choice. What you may lose in impact—relative to a later retrospective piece—you gain in making the client or partner the star and more likely to approve the story.
â–¶ Minimize their time and risk: The two greatest limiting factors to client engagement in public endorsement are risk and time. Clients simply don’t want to take on the risk or spend the time in the absence of an obvious upside.
Understanding and communicating this can help improve your chances of securing endorsement. Use internal resources to conduct a quick interview with the client or partner and give them final sign-off on any copy. Carefully managing their time investment and working within their risk tolerance will make them more likely to help rather than hinder your efforts.
Unfortunately, what title you sell into within the client or partner’s organization will also play a part in determining your success. The more junior the role, the more risk averse. If you can work directly with more senior functions within their organization, your chance of success will greatly improve.
â–¶ Consider carrot and stick: Smart communications pros do add some language into agreements to request a commitment to publicity. It is surprising how many still don’t, though, and it is always worth asking for, so add such a clause to your legal language if it isn’t there already.
Finally, it is important to consider the role of sales and account people within your organization and their impact on client/partner endorsements. Very often these relationship managers are the best positioned people to help generate client or partner endorsements but they are reluctant to do so because their performance is measured not by the number of endorsements they secure but by client retention and satisfaction. Consider aligning sales and account managers more closely with marketing, and ensure they are judged in part by their success at securing references and public endorsement. PRN
Dan Simon is president of Cognito Americas, a communications agency for the financial services industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.