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.

Related Posts:
Testimonial Truth: Start With the End In Mind
When Publicity Isn’t the Answer, Chart a Course for Private Relations

Biography Writing: The Art of Letting Others Toot Your Horn

I’m always amused when I see someone with hardly any credentials at all drone on about their illustrious lives with platitudes and white noise, while globally renowned figures like John Grisham keep their bios to 20 words.

Having written scads of bios over the past 20-plus years, and seen others’ work both stellar and abysmal, this Fast Company piece on biography writing is spot-on.

Here is one of the best lines from Jonathan Rick’s “The Art of Writing Your Own Bio: How to Toot Your Horn Without Sounding Like a Blowhard”:

“To be sure, the problem isn’t with boasting. It’s with who’s doing the boasting. Boasting is best when validated by a third party. Otherwise, you’re just another self-proclaimed guru in a field that’s long on salesmanship and short on specifics.”

Rick’s article has other very good insights about how to take distinctive approaches to bio writing, such as having colleagues help tell someone’s story.

In writing my own bio, I have sought a balance between professional, personal and off-beat (such as noting my once driving an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile as a reporter and my ambidextrous free-throw shooting zeal).

The random inclusions are not for their own sake, either: they help paint an accurate reflection of who I am, in all my off-the-wall reality.

That, too, is why my bio photo shows me dressed up as Super Shopper Spotter, with the caption, “It takes a courageous man (or at least a brazen PR guy) to wear red boots, mask and cape in front of a flower shop–or anywhere else for that matter.”

Related Posts:
Get Your Own Inside Edge: Biography Writing Service
Writing Biographies & Profiles: Navigating Around the Self-Modesty Mask

Testimonial Truth: Start With the End in Mind

People love to connect with other people. Not an organization, or a concept, but people.

The more you can share the faces—as well as the respect, admiration and gratitude—of those whom your organization has served, the more effective your overall communications initiatives will become.

This was among the messages I shared a few weeks ago with the West Suburban Practice Group of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois.

Addressing a group of about 15 professionals at Braxton Seafood Restaurant in Oak Brook, I emphasized the need to start the testimonial-gathering (or case study development) process with the end in mind.

Before seeking out testimonials, identify those traits that are most likely to inspire the response you are seeking from your target audience: What do the individuals and groups you have served over the years appreciate most about your organization’s impact—past, present and future?

Once you have clarity on this front, then it’s a much more simple—and focused—matter of gathering, and skillfully communicating, the prevalence of those traits via testimonials in writing, photographs and video.

This ongoing effort is among the most time-intensive of PR endeavors.
But it’s eminently worthwhile.

Testimonials, when done right, carry significant influence on people to take the actions that you desire, whether it’s volunteering their time, buying your product or service, or any variety of objectives. So identifying and then drawing out these stories should receive major emphasis.

Related Posts:
The PR Power of Going Beyond ‘Testimonial Providers Anonymous’
‘Coming Soon’: 3 Better Alternatives to that Hollow Online Marketing Message

The Re-Purpose of PR: Maximize News Value

As a reporter for 20-plus years, there were times when I just knew that I had my hands on a hot story.

What’s more, I had tremendous influence–virtually total control, in fact–over whether the story saw the light of day. All I had to do was coordinate my efforts with an editor, perhaps weaving a photographer and a graphics artist in the mix.

As a publicist, it’s a different story. I no longer have my hands “on” a hot scoop. Instead, I shepherd the story as best I can (largely through writing the news release in journalistic style) and then hand it off to various members of the media.

Sometimes, what comes next is a humbling, head-scratching experience. For whatever reason, reporters, editors and producers do not warm up to the idea quite as much as I thought they would, or think they should.

Fortunately, though, there are times when the media is in full agreement with my assessment, such as those outlined in the Inside Edge PR Success Stories section of my website.

While media placement is never guaranteed, I remind clients to think about ways in which they can recycle and re-use the content we develop for media outreach campaigns.

In that respect, the purpose of PR is to be not only purposeful, but re-purposeful—how can you maximize the value of your communications, even if the media never devote even an iota of coverage?

Therefore, any decent news release ought to contain elements that can be used in brochures, on websites and in other marketing materials that speak directly to the client’s target audience.

For many organizations, particularly small businesses, viewing the media as the primary communication outlet is simply putting too many eggs into an unreliable basket.