When case studies go wrong

Producing case studies is a delicate ballet of PR, journalism and diplomacy. Get it right and they can generate good publicity and goodwill. Get it wrong and I don’t get paid.

Recently, I had two case studies go off the rails. In both cases the main interviewee changed their minds about participating at the last minute. In one case, after I had written my first draft. Ouch!

So here are my lessons from this experience:

  1. Try to manage the relationship with the interviewee from the beginning myself rather than relying on my client to do it. I have more experience at it and it relieves my client of a time-consuming job.
  2. Are they happy? Check they are willing to do the interview and endorse the case study before spending a lot of time on the process.
  3. Keep it human. If they know they’re dealing with a human being (me) not a big corporation, people seem to relax.
  4. Stress the benefit to them. A case study is an opportunity for mutual back slapping and PR at my client’s expense. If they see it as an advert they will be less willing to participate.
  5. Keep up the momentum. Ideally, it should take less than a week from first contact to first draft.
  6. Get the whole story. I need to interview the supplier (my client) and the customer (their client) so I know the whole story.
  7. Confirm the brief every time. Word count, style guide, target audience etc. What works well for one customer may be poison for someone else.
  8. Manage the approval process. A first draft needs to be written and checked as if it is a final draft (i.e. no typos). The interviewee needs to understand what copy approval means: fact checking and quotation approval. It is not an opportunity to have their PR firm rewrite the case study.
  9. Explain what a first draft is for. A first draft is just that – ready for improvement. So: my proofreader, then the interviewee and then to the client for their final approval. If necessary rinse and repeat.
  10. Send everyone the final version for their records.
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