I recently came across this quote:
“To get something from nothing, you need the validity that only third-party endorsements can bring.” – Al and Laura Ries, Ries & Ries
It got me thinking about the importance of third-party validation in the PR world.
We’ve probably all worked with clients who, while they understood the importance of having a third-party reference, were unable to produce one.
There are even clients that will ask, “Why does this matter? Can’t we just move ahead without a customer to speak on our behalf?”
While you can try to reach out to media without a customer reference, it certainly makes it more challenging.
So, why is a third-party endorsement important?
A journalist needs to hear from someone other than the company itself. When clients talk about themselves, of course, they’ll say favorable things. Reporters need third parties to back that up.
“Most of the time, there is no point in a press release about a new product without a customer reference,” says author and long-time analyst Josh Bernoff.
If you can’t produce any third-party references, the reporter may look for some on his or her own. Or he or she may just flat out refuse to interview the client. This makes it well worth the time to put together a short list to provide to them.
And, don’t wait until you’ve pitched reporters and they’ve requested references. Have your references lined up and ready to go BEFORE you pitch.
A customer, an industry analyst or a partner can make an ideal third-party reference.
If you’re looking at customers, your sales team may be a source of potential candidates. They’ll know who’s happy, and maybe more importantly, who’s not.
On that note, be sure to vet your references. If the last time you spoke to them was six months ago, it’s a good idea to check in to make sure all is well. Maybe they WERE happy – but they’ve experienced a problem. Until that’s resolved, it’s probably best to go to the next name on your list. The last thing you want is to provide a journalist with a reference who’s unhappy with your product or service.
Be sure to mention that talking with media benefits them, too, as chances are their name will also appear in the article. Beyond that, they may forge a relationship with the reporter, resulting in future opportunities.
If a customer agrees to be a press reference, it might also be a good time to:
The beginning of a new customer relationship can be the best time to ask. Some brands include it in contract negotiations.
Once you’ve secured the third-party references, you may want to prep them by providing some questions reporters could ask so they can be ready with answers. You can even offer some idea of how you’d like them to answer, i.e., what strengths or benefits to highlight.
It’s also a good idea to impress upon them how important it is to be responsive, should the media get in touch. For example, you don’t want to provide a customer who’s traveling out of the country for the next month as a reference. Journalists work on tight deadlines and may move on if they can’t reach your reference quickly.
Use care not to send too many requests their way. Of course, some references see it as a win-win and love to be interviewed by media, as it gets their name out there, too.
Lastly, be sure to thank your references. Let them know you appreciate their time and effort. Share published pieces with them and mention them when you post the pieces on social media.
Remember, your story may fall flat if you’re the only one telling it.
No one can sing your praises as convincingly as a satisfied customer, an enthusiastic partner or a well-educated analyst. If you harness the power of that praise for your benefit with the media, journalists may view you as a more attractive brand to work with.