Heather Ripley, a leading expert on marketing within the home services industry and founder and CEO of global agency Ripley PR, shares more than a decade's worth of public relations expertise in her new book "Next Level Now: PR Secrets to Drive Explosive Growth for your Home Service Business."
Ripley, who also writes a monthly column for PHC News, provides inside knowledge to HVAC, plumbing, electrical and other residential service business owners and operators on how to generate positive publicity to build their brand into a credible, household name in their markets.
The book, published by Advantage/Forbes Books, is now available for purchase on Amazon and other national retailers.
PHC News: We think plenty of people already know about you and your work. But why don’t we start with a recap of your career in communications?
Ripley: I started my career working for a department store as an assistant buyer and really enjoyed writing the ad copy for our direct mail catalogs. I learned a lot about business and profitability at that company, and that is where I fell in love with the written word and marketing.
After my time there, I worked in a variety of industries managing marketing and PR. In 2009, I secured a spot for the company I worked for, Clockwork Home Services, the parent company of One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, and Mister Sparky, on The Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump. This was a huge success for the company and enabled the CEO to sell the three franchise brands. Working with the contractors at Clockwork is where my passion for the skilled trades grew.
I then went on to work in senior management for two different PR agencies prior to starting my own in 2013. I learned a lot about business, what to do, as well as what not to do, and tried to incorporate best practices into Ripley PR and the work we do for our clients.
PHC News: What led you to write the book?
Ripley: The best home service businesses really understand the power of call-to-action marketing and the need to be top-of-mind for homeowners. That said, many service business owners don’t understand the differences between marketing, advertising, branding and public relations. Because of this, they tend to leave public relations out of the budget and, thus, miss out on a critical component for growing their businesses beyond a few trucks.
So, I wrote Next Level Now to explain the power of earned media, PR, and to give back to an industry that’s given so much to me. In the book, I provide tangible, actionable takeaways that can be used as a tool for growth.
PHC News: You take a different approach with your book since there are plenty of books that center on marketing. While you certainly discuss marketing, you’re primarily talking about public relations. What don’t home service contractors understand about PR and why do you think it will make such a big difference for them?
Ripley: PR tends to be misunderstood for a few reasons. Most business owners know they need to call a PR professional if they have a crisis. But many believe that positive, proactive public relations efforts are only beneficial for very large, mature companies, and most simply don’t understand how to assess or measure the value it provides.
Positive publicity is another way to increase top-of-mind brand awareness and improve your SEO, and it’s an excellent source of the most effective form of advertising – word of mouth.
Home service companies, more so than some other service businesses, are also subject to crises, such as being the target of an investigative reporter’s sting, so having a solid PR partner can help protect their brand when they need it. And having positive, proactive publicity about your company can help mitigate a crisis if or when something happens.
PHC News: You mention in the book several times about the importance of earned media coverage. Tell us more about this and why this is so important.
Ripley: Expert content, or earned media, is more trustworthy and credible to consumers. Some statistics show earned media has an 88 percent greater impact than paid content. Savvy consumers can easily spot the difference between a segment that was paid for by a company and one in which a spokesperson is simply a trusted source for a journalist.
It’s not to say that paid placement doesn’t have value, but there’s inherent credibility added to a brand when the media turns to them for a source. Now, perhaps more than ever, consumers want to trust who they pay for services.
PHC News: Everyone these days seems to look online for reviews for pretty much anything they are going to buy, whether it be a toaster or a week-long vacation. What do you recommend home service contractors do to ensure they get good reviews? And what do you recommend they do when they get a bad review?
Ripley: Ask for positive reviews! Bad reviews are easier to write than good ones. When someone has a bad experience, they’re fueled by adrenaline and ready to pen a negative review without a second thought. Consumers expect good service and a good experience, so they are less likely to share it when they receive it. Leaving a good review takes more intentional effort, and customers are more willing to write one if asked in a tactful way.
If you’re mostly garnering positive reviews, when you receive a negative one, it will get lost or mostly ignored, so this is another benefit of proactively collecting good reviews. All customer reviews, good, bad or neutral, should have a response. Prompt engagement is key, and customers want to know – and see – that your company is engaged and genuinely cares.
PHC News: You’ve been helping home service contractors for many years. I wonder what recent trends have taken place over, say, the past 10 or so years that have completely changed what they need to do to gain recognition within their market?
Ripley: Homeowners are scheduling service online, largely through their phones. They’re browsing, assessing and choosing companies they work with online, and home service contractors must have good reviews, an engaging social and online presence, and have a website that can be intuitively navigated on the average mobile device.
Having strong SEO will help lead them to you first, and having a trusted presence in local media will keep your brand top of mind, encouraging them to often search specifically for you first as well.
PHC News: And related to our last question, what are some important trends out there right now that you think will be the big changes we are going to be talking about in the near future?
Ripley: As the Internet of Things drives advancements in the smart home, one trend I see is that contractors will need to speak even more to remote monitoring of plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. They can serve as trusted local experts, answering questions for homeowners as they find opportunities to connect and control more parts of their living spaces through mobile devices.
We’re seeing inclement weather trending up as more markets are experiencing increased storms, flash floods, nor’easters and more, so more contractors will need to plan their approach to these emergencies and how to best engage with and serve their communities.
And although innovations in technology are helping teams work more efficiently, I do see the skilled labor shortage continuing to be a challenge for years. It will be important for contractors to engage local schools and spread the word that a career in the trades is stable, rewarding and well-worth pursuing for many.
PHC News: OK, I just opened my own home services contracting business. What are the first things I should do to get recognized in my market?
Ripley: Introduce yourself to your local media. Tell them what you do and ask them to keep you in mind if they are working on any stories and need to talk to an expert. Don’t look at it as a marketing or sales call, but position yourself as an expert source to them. Tell them about your business and they may share your news with the community.
Also, ensure you have a solid social media strategy ready to go on opening day and keep consistent, engaging content posted. Boosting social media posts and running targeted ads is easy, inexpensive and a great way to start connecting with your market.