This blog post is about case studies. Wait. Don’t leave yet!
Cases studies are a fantastic way to promote a business. Unfortunately, too often they are stigmatised as dry, boring, generic pieces of badly written prose.
If done right, case studies can demonstrate how your work has benefitted actual customers, as well as highlight any challenges faced and how you overcame them. It means you can position your company as a leader in its particular industry and generate sales leads.
Case studies can play a powerful role in your content strategy. For instance you can use them on your website, in e-newsletters directed at new and existing customers and on social media to generate discussion and engagement.
If you have an eye for PR, you can also seek to place case studies as editorials (as opposed to advertorials, which you pay for) in the print and online editions of publications relevant to your business. These include newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs and even broadcast outlets such as television or radio shows. Generating press coverage can be instrumental in attracting future customers.
However, writing a case study in a way that appeals to journalists can be tricky and requires a special skill set. If it fails to hit the mark they will delete your email or, worse, pass it to sales people in their advertising department who will plague you with irritating phone calls.
Of course you could hire a communications agency to write the case study and place it for you, perhaps as part of a wider promotional campaign. However, if you wish to tackle the job yourself, or don’t have the budget to contract the work out externally, here are our top ten tips for writing case studies and placing them in the media:
1. Know your audience
This is very important. Before starting a case study consider your audience. Who do you want to read this article? Remember, for an editor to publish your case study it needs to be directly relevant to their specific readership, as well as comply with their editorial guidelines (e.g. word length).
Researching the media in your particular industry before drafting the case study to find out what is and isn’t acceptable will save you a lot of time because each publication is different. E.g. some publish third party contributions, others do not. Some editors love case studies; others prefer news-driven features or comment-based editorial.
2. Name the customer
As a marketing agency, sometimes we have clients that are all for drafting case studies but reluctant to name their customers publicly. There may be very good reasons for this (e.g. they may be bound legally or confidentially, or their customer simply may not want to be named).
However, case studies without customer names lose credibility in the eyes of journalists, not to mention potential customers, simply because they have no way of verifying the authenticity of the story. This means you will struggle to place them editorially.
Naming customers also means you can add quotes from them to illustrate their experience of working with you and how they have benefitted. This makes case studies hugely credible.
Before beginning work on a case study, check the client is happy to participate and willing to be named. If they are not then move on and find one that is.
3. Write a killer pitch
Journalists are very busy people and receive hundreds of enquiries every day from people who want them to publish their stories. This means you need to write a killer email pitch, which should take the form of a short cover note followed by your case study.
Most journalists scan their emails with a finger inevitably hovering above the ‘delete’ button, so you need to impress quickly.
In your pitch summarise the case study, customer benefits and any relevant figures or statistics in a paragraph or two. Bold key findings and use bullet points. Think of a good subject header too. The aim is to whet journalists’ appetites so that they scroll down and read the full article.
Always start with an email pitch, don’t phone journalists first. They prefer to have the details to hand and will almost always ask you to email the case study through if you haven’t already. For more tips on writing a killer pitch check out this article on Tech.co.
4. Include real statistics and figures
Where possible, include real statistics and figures in the case study and use them to support your points. These may be specific to the client or your work for them, or representative of an industry or issue generally. This will ensure the piece is informative, balanced, well referenced and relevant to your target audience, as well as make it easier to place.
Be careful to reference figures and statistics you find online and provide links for verification purposes. Avoid quoting figures and statistics more than a couple of years old if possible, as journalists may view them as too dated to be credible.
5. Write it properly
This sounds obvious, but write it properly. Write it well. It needs a beginning, middle and an end. It needs to be interesting. Use straight talking language and get to the point quickly, summarising your key points in the first paragraph. Do not use flowery terminology or corporate jargon. Do not bloat the copy by using five words when one is enough. Structure the story in a clear and concise manner and make it easy to understand.
Keep the case study to a sensible length, around 750 words with two or three accompanying images is usually enough. If it is long and rambling journalists will not publish it. Finally, be honest with yourself. If writing is not your forte then delegate the case study to someone else.
6. Use great pictures
You may have written the most interesting, engaging, insightful case study ever but if your accompanying pictures aren’t up to scratch it can often mean the difference between it being published and not being published. Our advice is don’t skimp on images; hire a professional photographer to visit the site.
This is well worth it, a vibrant range of professional photos showcasing your client and the work you have done will go a long way to helping you place your case study. You can use the images on your website and share them across social media too.
If you don’t have the budget for a professional photographer then don’t rely on the client, visit the site yourself with a good camera (or even a smartphone) to get some snaps. You can find some basic tips from the Digital Photography School here.
7. Get the relevant approvals
When you have finished writing a case study you must send it to the client, as well as any other relevant parties (e.g. contractors or equipment suppliers) for approval. Get written confirmation they approve of the draft before sending it to the press.
It you inadvertently misrepresent someone it can lead to a potential backlash, souring relations. It is far easier to make changes to a case study before it is published!
Drafting a case study, researching supporting figures and statistics, getting it approved by the client, pitching it to journalists and placing it and waiting for it to be published can be a very long arduous process but persevere. When you finally see your case study in print it is very satisfying.
You may need to chase people repeatedly for approval and pitch the case study to numerous publications before it is accepted, but this is often part of the process. If you do not have the time (or the inclination) for this kind of work then get someone else to do it!
9. Check before using case studies anywhere else
As mentioned above you can use case studies in other parts of your content marketing strategy as well as placing them in industry-relevant media, such as on your website or sharing across social media channels.
However, be aware that journalists like content to be exclusive to them, at least in the first instance. Wait until your case study has been published and then drop the relevant editor a note to ask if they mind you using it elsewhere. This is good form and will ensure you stay in the editor’s good books for next time!
10. Consider other formats
Written case studies are all well and good, but in recent years faster networks and mobile devices have caused an explosion in video content, streamed from websites and across social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.
The media has already cottoned onto this, with many publications having sections dedicated to video content on their website. Read Hubspot’s recent post on video marketing if you need convincing.
Creating a video case study does not need to be expensive, you can even do it yourself. The Content Marketing Institute has produced these tips to help you on your way. If you need assistance many creative agencies offer filming and video production services.
For more tips and advice on using video content as part of your PR activity have a read of my other blog: How to use video content in PR: Five top tips!