How to pitch your work without client references
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
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
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.
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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.
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.
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
. A version of this article first appeared in
BAM’s Spectrum blog