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Ultimately, the aim of any PR firm boils down to this simple notion: Generate results that support the client’s business. Or else.
But, in many cases, the best way to accomplish this – with the most prominent and positive placement – doesn’t even involve an interview with the client. Instead, it requires that a good client customer speak to a reporter.
Sorry, but there’s no way around this: Journalists frequently prefer to tell your client’s story via an interesting customer experience. For a number of feature assignments, editors will mandate a “customer quote quota.” Really.
Does it take more effort to secure this kind of commitment? Sure it does. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
A long-standing client, Raytheon Trusted Computer Solutions (RTCS), serves as a terrific illustration. RTCS offers SimShield, which allows warfighters with multiple security clearances to communicate electronically as they take part in the same simulation exercise ‑ while still protecting data. In addition to creating a training experience that more realistically depicts real-world combat situations, SimShield saves military customers from spending unnecessary time and money duplicating different training systems for groups with different clearances.
The nature of data involved is highly sensitive. So it’s difficult to get SimShield customers to agree to a media interview.
However, at our high tech PR agency, we pursued this, realizing that any success would deliver a big payoff. And it did.
We were able to convince the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) to talk about the RTCS solution. Deep in the rugged heart of Alaska in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC), PACAF oversees tactical drills that cover 67,000 square miles of training airspace and 1.6 million acres, involving as many as 100 aircraft and 2,000 personnel.
It’s a site to see. I know first-hand. Because I went out to see this myself with executives from RTCS last year, and we invited the media to come along.
Those RTCS executives were happy to sit down with press to demonstrate how the technology worked. To be clear: This was “real” journalism. No one agreed to travel with us to write about our client’s products. But, in the end, the outcome was fair, objective coverage of how RTCS solutions helped the PACAF achieve strategic objectives.
Obviously, this is an atypical, “best case” example of the dividends a PR firm can reap for clients if a customer is willing to speak to the press. You’re not often going to get media members to come to Alaska, after all.
But you can work with clients to make sure there’s a “go to” list of at least one or two customers who are willing to speak about the positive experiences they’re having with client products and solutions. Of course, a few companies will always decline due to competitive interests or (especially within government) security factors. But there are many others who are willing to find a way to make themselves available while not revealing anything that will endanger their organization’s mission.
And, let’s face it, it’s commonplace for clients to come up with an incentive program – like a variety of discount pricing packages based upon various levels of media access. Once you’ve gotten a firm sense of what client customers are willing to do, then keep a running list of who’s “on deck” to speak about what.
Then, the next time journalists are under the gun to meet that “customer quote quota,” they’ll turn to your agency to produce. This is all part of providing what should be expected from a full communications consultancy. It makes you – and your clients – look good.
Evan Weisel is co-founder and principal at W2 Communications.