Get more mileage out of testimonials


Back in my ad agency days, I worked with a real estate client on a series of customer testimonials. We started with one, then added another and another. The final count was more than a dozen, which kept the campaign fresh and gave us a lot of flexibility. 

The plan was to run smaller ads with one testimonial, and then to place three small testimonials at the top of weekly, full-page ads which featured descriptions of houses for sale. The ads attracted attention from prospective buyers and sellers (many of whom recognized their neighbors) and the company’s agents (who were proud when their clients were featured). One testimonial photo and quote featured a South Korean couple who had relocated to the area, when one spouse’s high tech employer moved a number of executives to North Carolina from that country. The quote appeared in Korean, which appealed to others who were relocating with the same company, in addition to attracting a lot of attention on the page. 

This strategy gave us more mileage than a campaign with two or three testimonials, because there were so many different combinations. If you’d like to try something similar, here are the steps to take: 

  1. Select the right testimonial subjects. Your advertiser can make the choices. Go for variety: some individuals, some couples, and some international customers, if possible. In the case of real estate, balance testimonials between home buyers and sellers. 
  1. Get the right testimonial quotes. You can coach your advertiser on how to do this. Keep the quotes brief, with a target of 10 to 20 words. The quotes can be obtained by phone or email, or even in person. Make sure the subjects understand that their comments may be edited slightly for brevity. 
  1. Be specific. A testimonial ad is a way to convey selling points about the advertiser. As a result, it’s important to ask questions to direct answers in the right direction – and to create a variety of statements. “XYZ’s service team responds quickly to calls. I can always count on them” is more informative than “The XYZ Company is great. I really like them.” The next quote can focus on something other than service – product selection, for example. 
  1. Photos are a must. Taking photographs has gotten simpler with each year. It’s okay to use your phone. Headshots are best. Clean, uncluttered backgrounds provide better ad reproduction. 
  1. Get signed releases. Depending on the laws in your area, make sure you have the proper permission to use each testimonial. Release forms can be found online. 
  1. Establish a rotation. Be flexible. The more testimonials you have, the greater the possibilities – some ads with one testimonial, some with multiple testimonials. 
  1. Thank (but do not pay) your testimonial subjects. Unpaid testimonials from real customers have the ring of authenticity. Your advertiser should send a nice letter, along with their photo (preferrably 5x7) and a copy of an ad in which they appeared. It’s another chance for your advertiser to strengthen their relationships with clients. 


(c) Copyright 2023 by John Foust. All rights reserved.



John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: