Public relations is 100 percent about building trust and credibility, and the loudest voices come from people outside the company: customers, clients or patients. They are not paid actors. They are real people. They are capable of validation beyond the best efforts of enthusiastic CEOs or the most expensive advertising campaigns.

Successful companies need to know who their satisfied customers are and how to introduce them in order to spread their story to the world. The goal is to go beyond the impersonal judgement of reader reviews on Amazon, paid endorsement testimonials or sales rankings.

The voices of real people, with faces and names, are highly effective for every organization — from legal and financial services to healthcare. Sourcing, engaging and building relationships with customers requires finesse, but these stories carry the credibility reporters require for a news story.

Here are four tips for creating a powerful story engine:

Identify storytellers/brand ambassadors. Reputation doesn’t end with a transaction, it begins there. Therefore, success lies in finding customers with an exceptionally positive experience or a meaningful story. A “young person survives to marry and have a child” kind of story. Companies need to identify an internal customer/patient advocate whose job is to look for these stories, then connect and build a relationship with the goal of creating brand ambassadors. Future customers want to see people like themselves, so identify a relatable customer, patient, or client.

Ready the media narrative. Educating brand ambassadors on what reporters will likely ask and how to respond is critical. Prep customers to say the name of the product during the interview and to articulate one to three key points while telling their stories. The goal is not paid advertising testimonials but promoting an authentic success story.

Reach out to top-tier media in the closest media market. Pitch customers as THE story, not the product. It’s all about the success of the brand ambassador and their experience. Attention is captured with real people. Reporters look for authentic quotes and want to speak to personalities that enliven a story. An ideal example is the coverage of our client, Abiomed, from NBC affiliate WFLA in Tampa, Florida [], a top 20 media market. Morgan Wright, a competitor on American Ninja Warrior and Army veteran, told his story of heart recovery with the Impella heart pump for Veteran’s Day.

Bring in experts. Media like personal experiences best when accompanied by easy validation from a non-paid scientist, analyst or other objective professional. Objective expert commentary elevates the customer story and provides additional third-party validation, a good news story must-have.

Customer stories drive brand visibility, revenue and social media engagement. In 2023, it’s time to convert your customers into trusted spokespeople.