BY ADAMS HUDSON
IF YOU'RE LOOKING for a way to stretch your marketing budget a little further, don't overlook the potential of free publicity. This is your chance to keep your name in your market without having to use up a big chunk of change.
It's not a be-all and end-all. Free publicity cannot replace direct-response advertising as a way to generate leads. It can, however, increase your company's name recognition and remind your customers of your existence.
Through publicity in your local media, you build top-of-mind-awareness and also build credibility through a third party, meaning someone's spreading a good word about your company that isn't coming from your own paid advertising.
There are a couple of caveats, though. One is that the publicity must be positive! Please note: If NBC's "Dateline" has come calling with a hidden camera, beware.
The second caveat is that "free" doesn't mean "easy." The trouble with publicity as a promotional tool is that many people think that, since it's free, it doesn't take any work. Actually, it does.
Generating publicity requires a plan and procedure just like any other mission that must be accomplished. There are, however, common methods and established traditions that are simple to duplicate once you know what they are.
As the name implies, you use a "press release" to release information to the press. Releases are the news and announcements that you want the world to know about. They are intended to inform, not to sell or advertise. If a release is strictly promotional, it will be tossed with other junk mail. Use your press release to solve a problem or fill a need. Write the release for the benefit of the reader.
Press releases can cover a variety of subjects. In the case of plumbing companies, releases most often come from a few general categories — company news, industry news, safety issues and seasonal changes.
Company news is the easiest part. Most major daily newspapers have business sections in their newspapers that allow companies to announce new hires. When you hire a new salesman, technician or office worker, make that announcement by sending a press release to your local paper's business editor. These releases can be sent throughout the year.
You also can send announcements about office expansion or relocation, increased services, company mergers and acquisitions — any news from your company that you want to let the public know.
The other three categories I mentioned — industry news, safety issues and seasonal changes — may overlap. Safety and seasonal changes may tie together for an opportunity to let the public know that annual furnace inspections can help prevent house fires or to give tips on protecting pipes from freezing. Industry announcements about water quality can give you a chance to discuss ways that consumers can test the water in their home.
Industry-related releases depend on your insight and experience as a plumbing professional. You are using your expertise to provide a valuable service to members of the public. You are giving them important information that can help improve their home's safety, reduce their energy costs or protect the environment.
Press release style, format
Press releases have a certain look. They follow a standard format and include the same basic elements.
First, use your letterhead to give your release the authority of a "company announcement." Then make sure it's clear who in the company is sending the release and who needs to be contacted if more information is needed. Put your name, title, phone number and your e-mail address beneath the letterhead information.
Next, the phrase "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" should appear at the top of the page, flush left, under your contact information.
Leave one or two blank lines, and then write your headline in a bold typestyle. Use a strong headline that makes it clear why this information is important. Skip a line, then add a "dateline" that gives your location (city and state) and the date of your release. A long dash usually separates the dateline and lead paragraph.
This first paragraph is crucial. You need to grab the reader's attention, and you also need to make sure it includes the essential "who, what, when, where, why and how" information. Fully explain your message in the paragraphs that follow.
Use the last paragraph to solidify your company's credentials. Tell your location and years in business and include information about the kinds of products or services you provide.
Press release distribution
Now that you've written your release and are ready to send your helpful information out to the world, there are still a few general guidelines to follow. First, send your releases only when you have something worth saying.
Sending lots and lots of releases won't increase your chances of publication if they aren't any good. If an editor begins to notice that the releases you send have little or no value, the editor will ignore your releases.
Don't be discouraged by the fact that editors don't want to waste their time. Who does? Remember that the purpose of the media organization is to provide helpful, interesting information for its audience. If your release will help them do that, they will use it.
If you know the name of the reporter or editor, you can address the press release to that specific person. If you don't, address it to the appropriate title. The general rule for titles in most media organizations is as follows:
At daily newspapers, the city editor or business editor if it's company news; for a weekly newspaper, editor; magazines, editor; and for radio and television stations, the news director.
Once you've sent the release, resist the temptation to follow up. You will annoy most editors by calling to see if they got your press release.
So, ready to give it a try? Contact Quality Service Contractors (www.qscphcc.org or 800/533-7694) for ready-made press releases observing Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Professional Week, then send them out on your own letterhead to your own market.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Call 800/489-9099 for more information or visit www.hudsonink.com for many free marketing articles and reports. To receive a free marketing newsletter, fax the request on your letterhead to 334/262-1115.