Advertising is something that most home service businesses include in their operating budget. However, to go one step beyond merely getting the phone to ring and become a leader in their industry requires that these owners consider an investment in public relations.
Most home services owners often think that public relations is something only larger organizations or a company suffering from an image problem needs, but the truth is a good PR strategy can help your business break through to the next level.
If you saw your biggest competitor quoted on your local news station or in a trade magazine, you may have wondered how he got so lucky. He probably didn’t — he just hired the right public relations agency.
Public relations is about building relationships, educating the public and increasing awareness and interest in your company and its brand. A good PR agency either has the right relationships with the general news media and trade publications or knows how to build them. Reporters are often reluctant to provide earned media coverage to one business over another. However, if the right team is batting for you, you can be established as a trusted, reliable source for stories and editorials.
Why public relations?
Make no mistake that advertising and marketing are very important in building a business. Marketing can help you discover where your audience lies and how best to reach them, while advertising in local newspapers or on area television and radio stations gets your name out into the community.
Both are essential in getting your name in front of the public, but they don’t drive your long-term goal of becoming known as the leader in your industry. You want to be the expert that the public and the media turn to when news about your industry breaks.
Incorporating PR into your overall marketing plan helps build your brand and establish yourself as the trusted expert in your community.
People often don’t fully trust advertising. Research has shown that only 4 percent of consumers believe advertisers and marketers practice integrity. That’s why your potential customers will spend time independently researching your company online and by word-of-mouth before ever picking up the phone or emailing you to request service.
If your company has any negative reviews online or has had former employees bad-mouth your organization on social media, the repercussions can be deadly. Businesses have been ruined by bad reputations.
As you probably already know, public relations can help you plan strategies to help weather crises and overcome existing issues with reputation management, but PR is so much more than that.
Elevating your status
In addition to researching your online reviews, potential clients will also see if you have been in the news and, if so, why.
Many home service businesses simply don’t think their organization generates any “news.” As a result, many companies only see coverage in their markets from paid commercials on TV and radio and ads in the local newspaper.
However, public relations can help you build your company's visibility both inside your industry and as a leader in the community.
If your employees provide canned goods for the needy during the holidays or your organization sponsors the local humane society through charity fundraisers, you should get the word out to your community.
Press releases sent to the appropriate media outlets and announcements posted on your forums, such as your company blog or on social media accounts, are some of the best ways to announce your charitable giving. Corporate service responsibility builds goodwill toward your company, and most consumers enjoy doing business with someone who supports charities reflecting their own values.
Another way to build your brand and establish yourself as an expert is to offer advice. You know your industry, so why not talk or write about it? A public relations agency can help you place articles in local news and trade publications to showcase your knowledge of the industry and position you as a credible, trusted thought leader.
Consistently creating buzz around you and your brand will help you remain top-of-mind for TV stations, newspapers and trade publications. The next time a topic related to your industry becomes news, reporters will be more likely to trust you as the go-to expert and request an interview with you.
Speaking to the media
Interviewing is a talent that some people naturally excel at, but speaking to a reporter can be a bit daunting for most of us. It is a skill that needs to be intentionally developed. If being the spokesperson responsible for building your brand is a major part of your PR strategy, it’s a task that must be mastered.
Thankfully, public relations agencies can train you on how best to speak with the media. Many PR professionals got their start in communications by working as reporters, so they are familiar with how journalists conduct interviews and what they are looking to achieve in their discussions with you.
If a reporter calls you up and tells you they are doing a story about leaky or frozen piping systems and how to repair them, what would you say if they requested to go on service calls with you or your team to see how it’s done? Turning down such an offer would be foolish since earned media is such a boon, but without media training, it might be an offer that could do more harm than good if you or your team makes an off-hand comment that is taken the wrong way.
You don’t want to sound too scripted, but you want to stick to your objective, answer questions honestly and do so without squirming in your seat. Learning how to talk to the media with ease is one of the best ways to boost your brand.
The home service industry, as a whole, is often poorly represented in the media because so few companies realize the need for a good public relations team. Having a public relations strategy can help you overcome some of these pitfalls.
Whether you hire someone in-house to handle your PR, marketing and social media or hire an outside team of public relations professionals, it's a strategy that should be explored if you want to move to the next level now.