What you need to know to write a client case study that counts

by | Jun 22, 2023 | Public Relations

In public relations and marketing, client case studies are a powerful tool. They’re a critical way for PR agencies and brands to demonstrate their value in a specific way that readers can grasp.

Case studies are crucial in PR agencies’ efforts to showcase their expertise, build trust, educate clients and industry professionals, differentiate from competitors, inspire creativity, and foster internal learning and development. They are powerful tools for demonstrating the value and impact of PR activities and driving business growth.

I’ve spoken about the importance of storytelling in PR; at the most basic level, a case study is an extension of this idea. It’s a narrative, albeit one with a unique structure, format, and intended purpose. 

In this article, I’ll provide my perspective on effective case study structure, essential elements to include, and the many doors an excellent case study can open for your agency or brand. 

The structure

First, there’s no surer way to lose your audience than to make your case study too long. Your goal should be to hit on all the critical information in as few words as possible. A case study should fit onto a single PowerPoint slide. If you find yours extending to three or four slides or beyond, it’s time to get more compact.

While there is some room for variation, a case study should generally follow a three-part framework:

  • Challenge: This section outlines the client’s difficulties or obstacles, setting the stage for the rest of the narrative. It also provides context and helps the reader understand why a PR campaign was necessary for the goal the client aimed to carry out. It should include some brief background on the client and explore internal and external factors contributing to the problem they sought to solve.
  • Strategy: The Strategy section is the meat of the case study, providing you the space to outline the specific approaches and tactics you’ve taken to address the challenge you described in the previous section. It should accomplish two overarching goals: showcasing the thought process behind your PR campaign and demonstrating your agency’s expertise. It’s crucial to touch on the campaign’s key message and specific media relations strategies you used, including thought leadership and industry engagement. Finally, the Strategy section should briefly outline the plan for measuring the success of your campaign, setting the stage for the last area of your case study.
  • Results: To cap off your case study on a concrete note, the Results section should highlight the outcomes of your campaign. If possible, it should include quantifiable metrics that paint a picture of your campaign’s reach and impact on your case study subject—for example, growth in web traffic, social media engagement numbers, or sales figures. It should also delve into earned media coverage and include details such as the number of media mentions, the reach and circulation of the publications or outlets, and the overall visibility generated.

Remember that only some cases study will follow this structure down to the letter. You may use different terminology or break one of these sections into subsections. But your case study should hit on these three components in one way or another. Like many stories that benefit from a three-act structure, case studies draw their power from following this three-part framework.

The essential elements

With our three-part framework in mind, we have the template for our case study to tell a powerful story. But this is only the beginning. For our case study to pop, we need to include a few key elements.

  • Quantitative data: Hard numbers are a must-have for any case study if you can access them. With statistics and data points such as a sales uptick, growth in traffic, or a boost in online engagement, you can provide evidence of success and verifiably show the impact of your PR efforts. Quantitative data also allows for comparisons, benchmarking, and informed decision-making. It enables you to evaluate ROI and identify areas for improvement. When communicating with potential new clients, numbers act as a common language, making conveying the value and significance of your PR work easier. If you don’t have any quantitative data for your case study, include plenty of qualitative data (for instance, excerpts from media coverage or social listening analysis.)
  • Creative ideas: Hard data on your PR campaign’s execution is vital, but your case study should touch on ideation, too. The Strategy section is a perfect place to do so. What creative ideas did your team create to help your client achieve their goals? How does that creativity set you apart from other agencies? Potential clients will be very interested in the answers to these questions. Providing a window into a cutting-edge campaign goes a long way toward building trust.
  • Client touchpoints: Your case study should amplify the client-focused nature of your PR work and reinforce your ability to deliver exceptional results. Calling out client communications throughout your campaign is a great way to do that. By explicitly mentioning meetings, consultations, and communications, you emphasize your PR services’ personalized attention and collaborative nature. You also add credibility by illustrating hands-on involvement and a willingness to adopt tailored strategies employed throughout the engagement.
  • Client testimonials: At Jmac, we’ve touched on the importance of using testimonials in your marketing strategy, and that goes for case studies, too. No matter how well you articulate the positive impact of your PR services, there’s no substitute for a firsthand account. Testimonials offer insights into the client’s experience, showcasing the direct effects of your expertise, professionalism, and results. They also humanize your PR work, allowing potential clients to relate to actual people from whom you’ve benefited. Even a one-sentence quote can make a strong case for the value of your services.

The benefits

A robust case study is a powerful tool to showcase your company’s narrative and mission. You can effectively communicate your brand story and the values that drive your organization by highlighting the strategic thinking, creative ideas, and impactful results achieved through your PR campaigns. Case studies also help attract new clients by showcasing your past work and demonstrating your value. Prospective clients can see tangible evidence of your expertise, success stories, and your positive impact on previous clients. Finally, PR case studies are crucial in pitching campaigns for PR awards. They provide needed evidence to support your entries, increasing your chances of recognition and industry accolades. 

As you create your next case study, remember all the elements we’ve discussed here, but remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to PR services. Finding a method that works for you and reflects what makes your services unique is critical. But once you master the art of the case study, however it may look for you, you’ll be well on your way to new clients and new horizons for your business.

John McCartney
John McCartney, APR, is a Principal at Jmac PR, a boutique Strategic PR and Marketing Communications agency based in Los Angeles. He is a PRSA-LA board member (Treasurer) and serves on the DEI and Sponsorship committees. You can connect with John on Linkedin, follow him on Twitter at @johnny_mac, or learn more at  www.jmacpr.com.