It’s a new year, a new you. Everyone has heard that phrase at some point. For some, it might mean a resolution to get fit, read more or cut back on a vice. For others, it could mean striking out on a new path, such as with a career change.
For many home service business owners, the new year is a time to evaluate your business plan, services, team and what your goals are for the coming year.
Heather Ripley, founder and CEO of Ripley PR, a public relations agency specializing in the skilled trades, manufacturing and B2B technology, has been helping contractors create PR and marketing strategies for more than two decades.
In 2021, Ripley released her first book, Next Level Now: PR Secrets to Drive Explosive Growth for Your Home Service Business, which offers best practices for home service businesses using PR to boost their revenue and grow their business. She says while there’s no wrong time to make PR a part of your business plan, January offers a chance to evaluate the year as a whole and set goals.
CONTRACTOR: What makes public relations so different from advertising and marketing efforts, and why should a contractor add that to their 2024 strategy?
A lot of the contractors I speak with have plans in place for marketing and advertising. Those are automatic line items in a budget, right? You’re running regular ads to help you connect with homeowners. Your marketing efforts likely include a more direct route, like mailers, flyers or even e-blasts.
Both marketing and advertising are efforts that come straight from the source. They’re often focused on selling services or offering discounts, but at the end of the day, it’s still a first-person outreach that can come with a certain level of distrust.
A public relations strategy, on the other hand, is focused on securing third-party mentions. While advertising and marketing are both useful tools to have, PR helps promote your business through earned media coverage—as opposed to paid—in your local news and even trade publications, where it makes sense. That third-party coverage gives you credibility and builds a level of trust that you can’t get from marketing or advertising.
A PR strategy can boost your reputation among your customers. It not only sheds a positive light on your company and its endeavors, but it positions you as a leading provider of services.
Here’s an example: A story airs on local TV that features you speaking about how to prevent frozen pipes. That story builds a connection between you and area viewers who now know you’re a trusted service provider they can call. There’s trust and credibility that comes with public relations that you can’t get from an ad or marketing campaign.
CONTRACTOR: Can a contractor launch a PR strategy in-house?
You absolutely can, but that doesn’t mean that you should. No one knows your company better than you do. That’s a given. But you could also be spreading yourself thin trying to add public relations to the list of things you already do every day. And while your team might be well equipped to handle advertising or marketing needs, public relations requirements can be time consuming.
I’ve heard contractors say they want to be “bigger” before they hire an agency or “it costs too much money.” You name an excuse, and I’ve heard it. But here’s something to consider. How does your company grow when you’re diverting team members, salaries, office space and time to public relations? It’s not just a quick pitch out the door, and you’ve instantly landed a TV spot.
PR is about building relationships within your community, and it’s a multi-faceted task. It’s about building media lists, performing media outreach, writing press releases, garnering—and coordinating—interviews, reputation management, handling reviews, monitoring social media and keeping an eye on the competition. PR is a full-time job, not something you tack onto someone’s role.
CONTRACTOR: What if there isn’t any news to share? Can a contractor still benefit from PR?
Absolutely! A big part of public relations is sharing your news. That could be company growth—new hires, new services, new locations—or it could be sharing a milestone, such as an anniversary. We work with a client that just celebrated 75 years of service in 2023, and another is just a couple years shy of 120! My own company, Ripley PR, celebrated 10 years in 2023, so I’m very familiar with how notable those moments are.
But PR isn’t just about sharing “news” or notable moments in life. We build relationships with your customers and local media by positioning you as an expert. You’re an expert source the local TV station can turn to when they’re doing a story on frozen pipes or energy efficiency. You’re an expert that John Doe or Jane Smith feels comfortable calling when they need a tune-up or a pipe bursts. You’re getting in front of these people because you’re offering best practices and money-saving tips each month, thanks to a well-written press release. Yes, company news helps get your face on camera or in a publication, but it’s just one part of a good PR strategy.
CONTRACTOR: How long should it take to see results from PR?
I get this question from a lot of business owners. We live in a time of instant gratification. An online purchase can arrive in two days, and you can watch a movie that’s still in theaters from the comfort of your couch. We like things when we want them, and PR results are no different.
But I don’t make promises when it comes to PR, and no agency worth their mettle would. It can take time to build that momentum in your target market. That’s why it’s so important that a contractor really evaluate the upcoming year and create a plan around that, which includes advertising, marketing and public relations. You know when the weather will turn and homeowners will have your phone ringing off the hook. You know when your shoulder season is. You know what tactics you need and when you need them in terms of running your business. Public relations can supplement those tactics and will help your business grow, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
You get out of public relations what you put into it. If you’re willing to trust the process, it can lead to amazing results.