BY BLAINE FOX AND TOM PERIC
We all take some approach to publicity, even if that approach means doing nothing at all. The public will form an opinion about you whether you like it or not. If they don't know you, that's their opinion. You're in the category of "Who are those guys? If they do know you, it only makes sense that they have an impression of a contractor who is reputable, honest, and competent. If your demeanor and style convey confidence and a professional style, so much the better.
So how can you employ publicity tactics used by high-priced public relations experts without having to spend the money to produce results in the media?
The key is to understand that the media is not some unapproachable giant. You can harness its power, impact, and influence and obtain company recognition and a positive branding. When combining free media coverage in concert with a wellplanned and executed advertising campaign, the results can be highly successful.
Here are the answers to some questions to help you in your quest for publicity.
- What's the difference between advertising and publicity? Basically, you pay for advertising but not for publicity (unless you hire a publicist). Publicity is more believable because it's news, but you can't control the message. Advertising offers control over the message, and you can shape that message to fit your company's image and goals.
- What is news? It must interest, inform, entertain, or be relevant to the lives of the audience. Publicity creates the halo effect which confers credibility to the person whom the media covers in a story (see sidebar, "Are You an Expert?").
- Who's the decision maker? Who makes the decisions about what's news in your town? It's the local newspaper editors or television news producer.
Get 'er Done with a Press Release
Let's say you have an idea about a way you'd like to promote your company, and you know where you want your "story" to appear, but you haven't a clue on how to get it there. It all boils down to sending a press release. While the electronic age might have changed the delivery mechanism, the press release is still the backbone of delivering your message to the media.
Let's look at some secrets to successful press releases.
- Write a great headline. Every study shows that almost without exception, a reader decides whether he will read the article based on the headline. Fail here and your article will fizzle. Besides the great headline, be sure to explain, up front, what the benefit is. In other words, why should someone read your article or listen to your radio interview? And never finish a press release without asking the reader, listener, or viewer to take some action.
- Offer something new about your business. Every time something important happens in your business, send a press release. For example, you've promoted someone. You've added a new staff member. Send a press release. Always send a photo of the person, too.
- Show the media you're a winner. Send a press release any time someone in your company succeeds at anything. If it relates directly to the industry, for example, ACCA gives you an award or an employee passes NATE certification, send a press release. If the event has no connection to the HVACR industry, but your employee took first place, for example, in a drag racing event, send a press release — just be sure that you mention his employer is Bob's Heating & Cooling Solutions.
- Sponsor a contest. Sponsor an contest and send a press release announcing the contest and another press release afterwards, describing who won. For example, sponsor the Ugliest Boiler Contest. But don't nominate yourself as the judge. Take all the entries, then narrow it down to three finalist with your staff. Then go to your local grade school, blow up the photos of the finalists and let the kids decide the winner. Invite the media to the event. If they don't show up, take photos and send them to your daily and weekly newspaper.
• Create and give an award. Present Bob's Golden Furnace Award to a journalist in your town who has written or broadcast a news piece that dealt with saving energy. Give the award at a local ACCA meeting and invite the person who is getting the award. Ask if they could cover the event. If not, take photos and write a release, prominently mentioning the person who got the award. I'll bet his or her news organization prints the release about the award.
• Use the four seasons to gain automatic media coverage. Exploit the fact that the contracting business is seasonal. Offer tips in a press release that deals with the four seasons.
It's not difficult to write a press release. It's simply facts put down on paper in a logical fashion that answer a few basic questions. Simply tell your story. Don't change your story, or the way you present it, just because it's the media. Speak in plain English, explain the problem you solved, or the award you won, or the reason your great staffer got promoted, in a friendly, professional, and direct manner.
You can become the source for media about HVACR in your home market, and get free publicity to help you back that up. All you need to do is have a little basic publicity knowledge and put it to use on a regular basis.
Tom Peric' is the author of Wacky Days! How to Get Millions of $ in Free Publicity by Creating a 'Real' Holiday & Other Tactics Used by Media Experts. He is also the editor of HVACR Distribution Business magazine and the Publicity for Profit newsletter. Contact him at 856/874-0049 or [email protected].
ARE YOU AN EXPERT?
Are you an expert about the HVAC industry? Of course you are. The only difference between you and those who appear in the media is a matter of recognition. Most contractors that don't appear in the media are unrecognized experts, while those that do appear are recognized experts. If you can speak about a topic to the general public nonstop for 30 minutes, in language that is lucid, confident, and demonstrates knowledge, you're an expert. Not necessarily the best expert, or the only one, or the most popular one. But you are an expert.
Blaine Fox is the general manager of West Chester, PA-based ServiceMark, which provides residential and commercial contracting services throughout greater Philadelphia and Delaware. He can be reached at 610/344-3545, e-mail [email protected].