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The Case for Case Studies Using a third party to illustrate your point can bring you the kind of publicity you want.

By Rachel Meranus

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're a successful business owner, you probably have a roster of clients that have successfully used your product or service. Customers that have experienced greater profits, improved productivity or reduced labor expenses as a result of your company aren't just trophies on your business mantle. They also are fodder for publicity. In fact, they're gems.

Each time one of your customers benefits from your product or service, you have the potential for a case study. A case study makes your business into a personal story, a living example of what your company can do to help others.

From the media's perspective, this "proof of concept" is often the key factor in deciding whether to include your company in an article. In a reporter's eyes, case studies give context to a story, providing concrete examples of how a business or product improves costs, productivity or efficiency.

Potential customers also are persuaded by such anecdotes because they offer a third-party endorsement from an industry peer. It's one thing to tell a business prospect about a client's success, but having that same story appear in the pages of an influential magazine or newspaper holds significantly more sway. It's a seal-of-approval for your business and the services you provide.

What is a Case Study?
Case studies often follow the same basic format:

  • Identify the challenge a particular customer faces.
  • Describe the solution provided by the company.
  • Illustrate the measurable results gained from using the service.

The anecdote should demonstrate how your company's product or service was a key factor in solving your client's problem. It doesn't have to be solely about your product or service, but your influence must be vital to the success.

When contemplating a case study, the subject doesn't have to be well-known or influential. In fact, the "who" is less relevant than the "what" and the "how." If the story is compelling and the results are dramatic, then the subject can be almost any business, from a Fortune 500 to the corner mom-and-pop store.

Writing a Case Study
Case studies usually follow the same basic story arc:

  • The subject of the case study has been dealing with an issue for which there is no apparent solution.
  • The company tries several options before coming in contact with your product or service.
  • After incorporating your product or service into their operations, the client quickly sees improvement and realizes gains that weren't otherwise achievable.

Of course, there are often subtleties to the story that require deviation from the standard format. However, it's best to think along these basic lines when crafting a case study because it allows you to organize your thoughts in an easy-to-follow manner that resonates with reporters and readers.

You also should include as much detail and supporting material as possible. Quantitative results, such as actual productivity gains or increased revenue, provide unambiguous proof of success, while qualitative feedback, including quotes and letters of appreciation, bring the human element into the story.

When crafting a case study, a direct, honest approach always works best. Don't ever exaggerate or falsify claims. Reporters have a nose for stories that are too good to be true, and when the truth is uncovered, the aftermath will be far worse than the benefit you would have gleaned from any slight inflation of fact.

How to Use a Case Study
Case studies are particularly suited to trade publications, industry websites and monthly magazines. In fact, editors will often request a case study to support an article, as it adds color.

Although news-focused articles and press releases are less likely to include case studies, don't overlook them as a possible distribution vehicle. The most common use of case studies in a press release involves a company with a product in beta. Often, during this period, outside clients are recruited to test the product and provide feedback. In such instances, you could use a short case study in your launch press release to provide third-party comment on your product's benefits. But when doing so, use the case study as a teaser so you can save most of the meat for your individual pitches to key reporters.

Including case studies in press releases also is valuable when your case study illustrates a complex or difficult application. For instance, imagine you have a new software product that has helped a customer expand sales of new, hybrid cars. Your software may not be sexy, but the cars surely are. Combining the two would make your story more exciting than if you wrote a release based purely on your own product. In fact, incorporating photos and multimedia content into your story would potentially bring you media attention far beyond your initial expectations.

When conducting outreach, focus on publications and websites that are important to your customers, as these are the outlets that potential future clients also read. Remember, the ultimate goal of developing case studies and generating publicity is to create new business opportunities.

Another benefit of case studies is that they have a long life. Depending on where you're placing the story, your case study could be featured in many different publications and in a multitude of articles. In some cases, you may just want to concentrate on one part of the case study. In others, you may want to expand on the topic and make it a feature. It all depends on your audience and the type of media outlet you're targeting.

Recruiting Customers
If you're unsure about asking your customers or business partners to be part of the story, remember that it benefits them as well. A case study not only provides publicity, but it also paints both parties in a positive light. Of course, if your product or service has helped to correct an unsavory or illegal problem, your customer may not be so keen to talk about it.

So the next time you close a deal with an interesting client, take a few seconds to consider whether the story is worth telling to a wider audience. If your friends and business contacts would find it interesting, the likelihood is that the media will, too.

Rachel Meranus is vice president of communications at PR Newswire, an online press release distribution network based in New York. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.

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