Earned media builds brand, creates positive image
HVAC contractors have always sought ways to get noticed by potential clients. They run ads in print and online media, decorate their trucks in bright colors, and participate in community events ranging from home shows to open houses at the local fire station.
Today, more and more contractors are hiring public relation firms to promote their businesses.
“All companies are competing for the same thing — attention,” said Heather Ripley, CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations company specializing in home service. “Everyone is trying to get noticed. There are so many home service businesses in each market, it can be really difficult to stand out.”
Traditional marketing budgets focus on guaranteed results. If a contractor wanted to make sure his name appeared in the local paper, he bought an ad. Ripley said paid marketing also gives the contractor complete control over the content. However, the modern audience is spread across multiple media, and technology — ranging from online ad blockers to DVRs — can make traditional advertising less effective.
That makes what Riley calls “earned media” more important. A PR firm works with a client to pitch stories to various media outlets. PR professionals know what types of stories journalists are interested in and how to transform a marketing message into a newsworthy, informative story, Ripley said. Both methods prove essential in attracting and retaining business, she said.
Third Party Credibility With PR Firms
Of course, there is no guarantee the pitch will result in coverage, and if it does, the journalist controls the content, rather than the contractor. That might make some business owners nervous, but Ripley said this third-party credibility helps make PR more valuable than traditional advertising when it succeeds.
“Most people see paid advertising for what it is — you saying that your company is great,” Ripley said. “Earned media is someone else saying you’re great. Trust is critical to homeowners when choosing a contractor, and PR helps you differentiate your business from all the others in your market.”
HUGE: A coup for Ripley PR was when they landed Jim Abrams, Denise Swafford, and John Young from Clockwork Home Services on The Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump in 2009.
Rachel Brown, president of Synergy Group, said PR firms bring a knowledge of what kind of stories journalists want. Brown’s firm works with several construction businesses, include HVAC mechanical firms. She knows when journalists start working on seasonal articles, for example, that an HVAC contractor can provide a source for. They also know the latest hot topics, such as energy efficiency, that increase the odds of coverage.
Ted Puzio, owner of Southern Trust Home Services in Roanoke, Virginia, has worked with Ripley’s firm for several years. Their efforts have led to appearances for Puzio on the local television news and in other media. Ripley only works with one HVAC contractor in each market, so Puzio gets all the benefit of the firm’s efforts.
“(Ripley) doesn’t turn around and sign up with other contractors fighting for my market share,” Puzio said. “She represents my interests. Not my competitors. With everything the Ripley team does for me, I could not imagine growing without her.”
Firms like Ripley’s offer more than just story pitches. They offer full communications services, including an outreach plan, a full calendar of press release topic ideas, media training, website content like blogs, social media management, and reviews response and management.
Earning Awards With PR Firms
Bud Hammer, owner of Atlantic Westchester in Bedford Hills, New York, started using Buzz Creators Inc., to handle his public relations in 2014. The Valhala, New York, firm represents a range of clients, including such high-profile brands as Heineken and Barnes & Noble. Atlantic Westchester has earned seven community and national awards since then, increasing its visibility in a positive way.
“I took a risk when I hired them because I recognized that we had to do a better job of building the brand and positioning our company in the marketplace,” he said.
Buzz President Christina Rae said helping businesses win awards ranks among the services her firm provides. They also help with executive communications and thought leadership programs — such as getting an organization’s key executive team out there speaking at events and conferences and writing guest articles on industry trends.
For example, Hammer recently wrote an article for IoT World Magazine. A connection from LinkedIn who works in the energy sector shared the article before Hammer even knew it was published. This helps create awareness of Atlantic Westchester on the B-to-B social media site. Since the firm specializes in commercial work, this promotion proves very valuable, Hammer said.
“We believe that every business has its own unique and special story, and our goal is to help clients tell theirs,” Rae said. “Often people associate PR firms with only media outreach, but we do a lot more, especially these days when clients want to take advantage of numerous channels to communicate through.”
Brown said these stories help by boosting SEO. When a customer searches for a local contractor, the results will show articles presenting the PR savvy contractor as an expert in home comfort or will show off profiles of commercial projects completed by the firm. This is much better than the generic business listings a search usually provides.
“It’s going to bring up all these great article about their projects and it will present them well,” Brown said.
PR Is Easier Than Damage Control
A PR firm should be a contractor’s eyes and ears, bringing the company creative outside thinking and promotional ideas, she said. Sometimes that means implementing programs that the firm uses in other industries. Rae said PR firms also provide good referral sources, as they are natural networkers. This helps bring business to a contractor or helps that contractor find a trusted vendor when needed.
PR firms especially earn their money during a crisis. This can range from the coronavirus outbreak to a negative story on the local news. Rae said that if contractors don’t get out there and tell their stories, someone else might — and they might not like the end result.
Ripley said the return on creating a positive image via PR pays off at these times.
“PR is a lot easier than damage control,” Ripley said.
Contractors need a PR plan in place from the time they open their doors, at which time they should send out a new business release. Ripley said most can handle it in-house at first, but should consider an outside firm as they grow. As with any strategy, a PR plan requires buy-in from top management, she said.
“We must coordinate regularly with someone from the company to implement the PR strategy successfully, and when the media wants to do an interview, they must be willing to jump or they risk losing the opportunity,” Ripley said.
In the end, it’s all about getting the word out about a business, its products, and its services, Rae said.
“If people don’t know about your company, they surely won’t hire it,” she said. “Nearly every type of business and contractor can benefit from having a PR firm onboard.”