A reporter was working a story the other day about a small internet business. And he put a face on the story by interviewing one of the company’s customers. Before the on-camera interview began, he asked the customer how she came to use the company’s service. Based on her answer, the reporter gathered she knows or is friends with someone associated with the company.
Too many small businesses pitch the media stories by offering an interview with only the CEO. So it is with great appreciation when the CEO SOT (sound on tape) comes packaged with a customer interview that readers and viewers can relate to, someone who explains why we should all care about this story in the first place.
But too often, as reporters often find out later, the customer is a friend of the CEO or someone key to the company. This might be a lack of communication. But sometimes it seems that relationship is deliberately not disclosed. And more than once, a reporter finds out the company didn’t actually charge those customers as a way of saying “thank you” for acting as a good marketing tool. (This is especially relevant when journalists ask customers what a service costs and was it worth it? A reporter once asked these questions to someone who had to awkwardly explain she wasn’t charged for a service that normally costs thousands of dollars.)
Most likely, most businesses don’t mean any real harm by presenting a friend/customer. That helps secure the media’s interest and that the customer stays on the proper talking points of the overall business plan. Seems like a logical solution.
But consider this: If a business service is so valuable, that company should be able to find a customer not so tied in to the operation. And if it’s a new business without customers yet, certainly someone out there other than your uncle or former college roommate should be able to attest to the importance of this new service. It makes business marketing a bit more genuine.
Journalists are not completely innocent. They sometimes air apparently important stories and don’t explain the report includes an interview with their own “friend” or “relative.” And when journalists discover a business customer has a connection to a company, they often don’t drop the story. They’re on deadline and killing the story with only hours to go complicates an already chaotic day.
My mother-in-law is known to repeat the old saying: You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. But don’t pick your friend’s nose. In this case, don’t pick your friends for news.