The PR Power of Going Beyond `Testimonial Providers Anonymous’

Whether you’re a widget salesmen or a world-class motivational speaker, testimonials are central to your persuasive story-telling endeavors.

Alas, some otherwise-credible individuals and organizations haven’t taken the time to gather such testimonials, which can go by other names–for Inside Edge PR, I call them Success Stories.

Only slightly better are those instances when an organization handles the testimonials as an extension of the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Who is this shady character? He’s the testimonial equivalent of “M.B., Oak Park, Ill.”

If you’re plotting a clandestine drug deal or attending a 12-Step Testimonial Providers Anonymous (TPA) meeting, referring to somebody only by their initials or as “Matt B.”, if you are feeling a bit bolder, may make some sense.

(By the way, don’t bother Googling that “TPA” organizatione. I just made it up–to make this point: in business, these cloak-and-dagger, veiled references come across as sketchy and needlessly secretive.)

And settling for TPA-style sources means barely skimming the surface of the potential good these third-party edifications could do for the person or organization you’re seeking to promote.

What follows, then, is a three-point checklist for collecting a testimonial:

1. Receive a signed media release form in which the individual agrees to have his/her story shared through various modes of communication at no compensation.

This first step should be no problem if people are genuinely fired up about the great service they’ve received. In my experience working on scores of testimonials across a variety of industries, collecting willing and eager testimonials has never posed a problem.

2. Do everything in your power to obtain or create testimonials in a variety of forms:

-A video of the individual sharing his or her story about the good that you and/or your product or service provided.

-At least one photograph of the testimonial provider.

For client Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Burr Ridge, I captured the before-and-after weight-loss success of club member Nader Najjar.

-Additional photographs that would help tell the story (such as before-and-after images of someone who has lost weight or photos of a house that has received significant upgrades).

-A written narrative that tells the individual’s story in a compelling, newsworthy manner.

And don’t settle for a meager two-line quote–go for a rich, nuanced story that conveys a powerful story. Out of that story, you can excerpt a quote or two on an as-needed basis.

3. Armed with these key elements, re-purpose the content across many platforms and toward a variety of audiences that are in your target market.

For examples of testimonials, you can check out some videos on the Inside Edge PR video channel.

Nearly a decade ago, when Inside Edge PR took testimonials well beyond the Witness Protection Program level, it spurred on positive coverage in The Daily Southtown for Chicago Women’s Health, an obstretrics/gynecology practice.

You can see that particular written testimonial on the Chicago Women’s Health website, along with a few others.

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When Pitching the Media, Keep it Brief

Unless you’ve been on the receiving end of a story pitch, you likely don’t appreciate the urgency of being succinct in those interactions.

Having been on the receiving end of such pitches for about 20 years, I can assure you that the goal ought NEVER be selling the reporter, editor or producer on a story–that’s asking too much, too soon.

When I reach their voicemails (the usual scenario, as most don’t pick up the phone), I leave a brief message with the gist of my call and a heads-up that I’m about to e-mail more detailed information.

Those e-mails all lead with the phrase “Following up from the voice mail I just left for you…”

When reaching an individual directly, my first goal is to pledge brevity. How I typically start: “Are you on deadline, or is this a good time to talk for 30 seconds?”

Such a courtesy signals that I know their world—and I am not about to waste their time. Saying “30 seconds” is intentional—when people trot out “Do you have a minute?” they usually don’t mean 60 seconds, but upwards of 10 minutes.

Now, if someone starts to engage you and you stay on the phone longer, that’s great. But it has to be their call.

Your objective in calling is not to “close a sale” as they cheerily promise to crank out a story. Rather than closing anything, you want them to open up.

Warm ‘em up to the idea that the e-mail you’re about to send is worth serious consideration, instead of the reflexive tap of the DELETE key.

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Overcome Weakness in Your LinkedIn Chain: Invest in Relationships When You Don’t `Need To’

“You’re only as strong as the weakest link in your chain.”

That adage came about well before the arrival of social media, obviously. For many, when it comes to LinkedIn, for example, the formula is something like this:

1. Accumulate as many contacts as possible by sending an impersonal, automated request to Link-In.

2. Proceed to ignore aforementioned contacts for weeks, months or even years. (If you’re especially ambitious, write one or two recommendations.)

3. If and when you lose a job, or have a decline in business, send impersonal, mass notes to LinkedIn contacts announcing that you’d appreciate their steering leads your way.

4. When you come up dry on Step 3, grumble about LinkedIn’s uselessness.

Referring back to the introductory line–and boiling down these four steps in one word: weak.

If you’ve read any of my prior social media tips and observations, you know that Inside Edge PR has derived significant benefit from LinkedIn and other social media: new clients, stronger relationships, media coverage, and the development of social-media workshops that have led to more work.

And here’s the biggest reason why: I’ve sought to help as many of my links as possible–I have written over 60 recommendations, for example–without seeking anything in return.

That’s not bragging, and that’s not charity–it’s straight-up common sense about human nature. Think of it this way: when is the best time to buy a car or sell a house?

When you don’t need to.

That way, you’re not desperate or otherwise painted into a corner. You can take the deal or leave it.

The same principle goes for LinkedIn, Facebook or any other personal or professional transaction, online or offline–the best time to nurture a relationship is when you don’t “need to.”

The truth be told, if you don’t want to do this, for the sheer enjoyment of maintaining and strengthening connections with other human beings, you ought to consult the closest mirror.

Even failing that basic test, you should consider exercising some self-discipline, consistency and long-term thinking. Drop a note to five or 10 people at a time, simply saying “hello” or offering some words of encouragement, an insight that may benefit them, or a story that you think they may find enlightening or amusing.

In “The Professional’s Platform,” Seth Godin eloquently makes much the same point. An excerpt: “We remember what you did when you didn’t need us so urgently…It means investing, perhaps overinvesting, in relationships long before it’s in your interest to do so.”

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In Political PR, Visual & Digestible Trump the Complex and Nuanced

In October 2012, On the heels of their first–and last–Vice Presidential debate, I typed “Joe Biden” and “Paul Ryan” into Google.

After each name, Google offered up three words to pair with each individual politician who was on his respective party’s ticket in the U.S. Presidential race.

See if you can guess which one had “marathon” and “shirtless” and “wife” and which one was paired up with “debate” and “gaffes” and “wiki.”

I suspect there’s little doubt that those words, respectively, matched up with Ryan, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, and Biden, then wrapping up his first term as Vice President.

Having covered politics over the years, mostly pre-Google and mostly of the local variety, those words underscore the consistency of what appears to appeal not only to online surfers but to reporters: the simple, the trivial, the visually entertaining.

Why write about complex policy issues, requiring difficult analysis and a depth of reporting, when you can do a light piece on the politician’s dog or passion for Van Halen guitar solos?

Knowing this reality, it behooves any publicist or strategist–for a political campaign on any level–to explore ways to translate the complex and nuanced into digestible, bullet-item format for the media as well as for direct communication with the public.

For example: if someone is running for Oak Park Village Board (my community), a chart showing 10 or 20 key issues or categories, along with the candidate’s stand on each issue, is much more apt to get attention (and retention) than even the most eloquent dissertation that doesn’t hold a candle to the aforementioned chart’s visual appeal.

Once the candidate has captured his or her audience through this easy-to-digest format, then the more in-depth discussion can more readily, and effectively, flow. And if he runs marathons while shirtless and has an attractive wife running alongside him? Well, that’s just icing on the cake.

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A Tribute to Frank Deford, The Rare Hero Who Exceeded Expectations

The high school senior and the dean of sports journalism, Frank Deford, on Nov. 8, 1985.

When our heroes meet, and even exceed, our naively high expectations, it’s a wonderful thing.

In November 1985, as a high school senior in suburban Boston, I had been reading Frank Deford‘s fabulous work at Sports Illustrated for seven years already. No doubt, it played a role in steering me into a journalism career, which I had begun 18 months earlier at the Marshfield (Ma.) Mariner.

So when I learned he was speaking with legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell at Northeastern University in Boston, I made a point of being on hand–and was thrilled to meet him briefly after the event, the Center for the Study of Sport in Society’s Excellence in Sports Journalism Awards ceremony.

From the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections. (Photo by J.D. Levine)

Eighteen months later, I sent Frank a few clips from my work at The Daily Northwestern. A short time later, he responded, on SI letterhead, with a thoughtful type-written reply, offering feedback that showed he read my stories and encouragement that revealed his stellar character.

Like so many others, I was saddened to learn of Frank’s death on Sunday. RIP to not only one of the most talented journalists of our time, but to a kind human being and outstanding role model.

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