How hard do you find it to tell the world who’s using your product?

Last week I mentioned case studies, and one of the comments from readers was: “What is your take on the increasingly common reaction of end user customers to decline permission for their name to be used in this context? I find it takes the stuffing out of any press editorial pieces. “A major manufacturer of Product X said…” isn’t my preferred option.” This must be a problem facing so many marketing managers, so I wondered if we could get other readers’ experience of this. Do you find getting permission to quote a customer by name to be a problem? Do you care? Is the grief so much that it makes sense to cut your losses, in your opinion, and just say: “Our Blue Widgets are being used by one of Europe’s leading tractor manufacturers?” Or do you have some ingenious method of getting them to agree? Do you even think (as one company I once knew did) that you don’t even need their permission?

We all know that in most cases, the reason they say “no” is for a quiet life. It’s rare that a customer would lose a competitive advantage by letting the world know whose components or services they were using. But it’s another example of the “just keep your head down and keep your job” syndrome in business – especially if it’s a commissioning or design engineer you’re approaching. What’s in it for them, after all? Publicity, of course. So in theory, you ought to have more success in approaching marketing managers, but what’s your experience with that?

Finally, what about companies who ask for payment if you even want to quote them as a customer? I remember this being commonplace in Formula One, once upon a time, and that may still be the case. Is this worth it? Do you get extra co-operation if you shell out for the privilege?

Do let me have your experiences and ideas here in the comments section for this article.

Discussion

  1. John Houltham

    In a competitive situation where we have to give a discount, we make it a condition of receiving that discount that the customer agrees to two things – a brief Press Release on acceptance, and a Case Study on implementation (yes, we sell software).

  2. jo

    I have found its not just the customers who are sometimes unwilling. Sales Reps are often reluctant to ask their customers for fear that once the information is published every competitor in the land will pounce on them and take them away.

  3. Wendy Bourne

    Last time we tried approaching Formula One Management, this was still an issue that they wanted payment (that’s probably why Bernie is so rich…). We tried again when we gave them some free product to help them out – still no luck! We have also found this to be a problem in terms of customer quotations/testimonials – although in the past, we have not had too many difficulties in asking if we can use their logo just for a list of customers. You’d think they’d be happy for a bit of publicity and a healthy link to their website?

  4. Andrew Bartlett

    I have found that a great deal can be achieved in obtaining customer permission for case studies simply by asking nicely and asking early. Generally marketing departments are appreciative when someone asks for permission to do a story in principle. Then when they get the draft they are prepared for it and have already bought into the idea. And if they do say no before you have started researching and writing then a great deal of time and money is saved.

    Unfortunately, we do find ourselves at the whim of policies that can change overnight. We have had a very good relationship with a major utility that has been extremely helpful over the years in approving case studies. Yet only last month they imposed a blanket ban on what they term ‘third-party’ endorsements, originating from their German HQ. So that’s that until the policy changes.

    On the other hand, I was speaking to a major rail manufacturer in the same week and their attitude was ‘why wouldn’t we approve a story if you ask for permission through the correct channels? It’s good publicity for us as well’.

    In cases where you come up against a brick wall but really do want a case study you can’t beat the personal touch. In seemingly hopeless cases I have made the breakthrough by seeking out the appropriate marketing manager at an exhibition or show and putting my case to them. I think they find it harder to say no in person than in an email.

    I always say to clients that obtaining bomb proof permission is actually the most challenging and time consuming element in a case study. Which is where a PR consultancy really can add value. And once you have got a good relationship with a customer future approvals become so much easier.

  5. Heather Beale

    As Jo says, getting the sales person to talk to the customer first is often the biggest hurdle. However, if you get to the right person within the organisation, there is not usually a problem.

    I sometimes wonder is the trade and technical press are tarred with the same bruch as the tabloids and people are afraid of what may be printed following their approval of the original text.

    In my experience of biopharm, food, water/waste, printing and engineering, it is the engineering companies that are most willing because they see PR as a route to more business.

    Do editors ever ask the readers what they want to see in a journal these days? If the answer came back as well written case studies, would it help us in persuading our customers, their readers?

  6. David Turner

    Is anyone else having an Olympics-related dilemma? Our product was used on a gold medal winning bicycle but the minefield facing me means I’ll struggle to use this information externally. And I’m probably going to jail for simply using the O-Word in this post…

  7. Paul Sacker

    This has always been a battle – but as John says above – if they ask for (demand!) a discount, then this can be used as part of the negotiation to deliver a “costed” benefit. Dealing with F1 teams has to date been fruitless – one comment was “if we don’t spend at least £1M with you, then you need to pay the going rate for sponsorship”.

    Pharma, Chemical and other industries with sensitive manufacturing processes tend to be very restrictive in what they will allow, but service companies tend to want to help because they realise its a good opportunity to generate positive news.

  8. Richard Stone - Stone Junction technical PR agency

    I think there’s a process to go through with case studies and, if you follow it, you normally find that the case study will be approved.

    At the very least, you will discover it isn’t going to be approved before you go to the effort of making a visit or doing an interview, writing it up, making the photos look pretty and sending it off.

    And I think Andrew is pretty much spot on when he says asking nicely is very important. I think it’s the crucial first step in the process!

  9. Karl Russell

    I was very interested to read this article and subsequent comments. We work with the biggest of companies (not a boast!) on a daily basis and yet really struggle to get them to give their permission to a case study.

    The problem we find is that with their own multi-million pound marketing budgets they do not need the free publicity we are offering in exchange for use of their name. They do not have the time and with any risk it may hold it is always easier just to say no.

    Having said that the success we have had is when a salesman has pushed for it early in the process and by working hard to find out who has the correct authority. Face to face is best of course but the phone is just as good. Rarely will these companies respond to a generic looking email or letter.

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