Sometimes, You Get What You Pay For

Feb. 1, 2008
I’m not saying politicians are bad, but if one more plastic-haired, over-scripted, say-what- I-wanna-hear wind up doll comes to my house promising to “eliminate the rhetoric of my opponent,” there will be weeping, and hanging of chads. OK, so they’re not coming to my house, but are beaming their way in via satellite, almost every 12 seconds.

I’m not saying politicians are bad, but if one more plastic-haired, over-scripted, say-what- I-wanna-hear wind up doll comes to my house promising to “eliminate the rhetoric of my opponent,” there will be weeping, and hanging of chads. OK, so they’re not coming to my house, but are beaming their way in via satellite, almost every 12 seconds.

They’re seen visiting elementary schools and nursing homes, meeting locals at a diner trying to act as if they’ve actually been in one before.

Yes, we’re “meeting” the candidates, forming opinions, assessing every gesture, and peeling back the layers of potentially ruinous past behavior. We know more about them than we do our next-door neighbors… and yet we’ve never shaken their hand, nor loaned them a 19mm box wrench that we’re still waiting to get returned.

There’s a lesson in this barrage of exposure: It’s all about the publicity.

These candidates could certainly be doing more worthwhile things than hanging out in diners or shaking enough hands to boost the stock price of hand sanitizers. But the 30 seconds of camera time is just too valuable. Why? Because we trust our news far more than we trust their “paid ads” about their opponent’s scandalous past.

And though we might regard some media opinions slightly below that of a stuffed weasel, we still watch and base our opinions on what we see and hear on the news, for better or worse, in financial sickness or in wealth. Why?

Publicity sells. Publicity boosts image and is deemed “real.” It gets through the skeptical filter of paid advertising and is regarded to be three times as valuable in credibility alone.

That, my friends, is well worth the baby kissing. Let me point out that publicity is not — as many of you have expressed — accidental, lucky, or coincidental. Hear me on this: It’s as engineered as a flame chamber and about twice as hot.

Plus this final tidbit: It’s free.

That’s right. You don’t pay for it. I don’t sell it. No one does. It can’t be bought, even with John Edward’s money. There are a number of ways to get the media looking at you though. Consider these recent examples and look for the “common” element:

  • There’s the West Virginia HVAC contractor who “planted” a particular phrase in his classified ad for an employee, which got him in the newspaper, then on the city’s most popular radio talk show, which resulted in a landslide of applicants. One tiny paid ad got him the equivalent of pages of media. Mission accomplished.
  • There’s the Michigan HVAC contractor who sent out a few press releases responding to contractor scams. He was able to get a couple of those published, which landed him on radio, then on television ... twice a week. Zero cost resulted in $181,000 of media and No. 1 top of mind.
  • There’s the California HVAC contractor who found a unique angle in a governmentbacked energy program. Though all his competitors were running the “normal” ads, he got tons of publicity and sales as a result.

Engineering publicity has been a coveted, protected secret. Here’s why it can be an improtant part of your marketing plan:

1. Credibility. If the media writes an article about you or your contracting business, it boosts your image.

2. Differentiation. There are dozens of contractor choices in your town. How many are positively featured in the news? What impact would that have if YOU were? How many contractors can earn this spot? Only one, and if it’s not you, it’s going to be someone.

3. Expertise. Get quoted as an authority about energy savings, water heaters, insulation, carbon monoxide and guess what? You are. I like the word “annoint,” because that’s what the media is doing to your reputation.

4. TOMA Recognition. No one knows when you’ll be needed, right? But we do know that you won’t be called if you’re unknown. Therefore, increased presence is an increase in top of mind awareness, period.

5. Customer Confidence. Customers feel good when “their” contractor is in the news. Like when a movie or book you liked gets a positive review, or a restaurant you enjoy gets a “Best of.” Same thing here. People want reassurance of their choices. What better way (without blowing your own horn) than for them to see you mentioned in the media? It reaffirms that they really do have an expert attending to their HVAC needs.

6. Coworker Confidence. Everyone wants to be part of the winners. Media attention reminds your employees they’re on this team. If the media coverage includes them, so much the better. They get a chance to strut their knowledge and expertise, and your company gets to bask in the limelight as the employer. And as you’d imagine, those other company employees see the same thing, and the best ones gravitate to be on the winning team too.

When industry-related news is in the air, make sure you’re who reporters think of when they need a comment. If the story is about rising energy costs, for instance, you can offer simple steps for keeping your house energy-efficient. If the story is about scam artists, you can offer important insight into finding a reliable contractor. These are both very hot topics, every single year.

The resounding truth about publicity and press releases is that you cannot “promote” your company flagrantly. Let this be done by your mere presence. In other words, let the fact you’re being interviewed or quoted be enough. The biggest failure with press releases is that if it even sounds like an ad for your company, they’re going to put an ad rep on the phone with you.

Excuse Me, What Did You Say?
Another publicity approach is to extend your expertise to the classroom. Four ways to focus this: 1. The public, through colleges or continuing education classes; 2. The local technical school, hopefully attracting top talent in the process; 3. Home shows, inviting the public and the media to attend an informative session; and 4. Open houses, for the same reasons as above and well, to show off.

These could be a workshop or demonstration on a home improvement or do-it-yourself topic, such as “Selecting Energy Efficient Appliances” or “How to Save 31% or More on Your Energy Bill.” One helpful idea is to ask people to preregister — even though you can still accept walk-ins.

An Open house will let prospects and media see dayto- day operations and reinforce your service mission. It’s also a good idea to give them something they can take home with them — a paper weight or refrigerator magnet, discount coupon or whatever. Just remember, it’s not a time for selling — it’s a time for welcoming. Once they feel welcome, buying follows.

Bottom Line
Making your name in the news will also improve your ad results. You get the additional “bounce” of being known, and that aids your ad results. Look at all the celebrity endorsements, famous newsmakers in business, and celebrity status among business leaders — and those politicians I mentioned earlier, shaking hands and kissing babies gets lots of votes. Since your market votes with its checkbook, here’s hoping you get elected in 2008!