December 8, 2020
Many contractors might dismiss PR agencies as an unnecessary marketing expense, but according to Heather Ripley, that’s a huge mistake! CEO of Ripley PR, Heather has witnessed firsthand just how PR is a great asset for any contractor in the home service industry regardless of size. It’s a tool that every business should have at their disposal, but most either don’t understand the importance of having a great PR agency or fail to recognize how to best utilize PR.
In 2008, Heather was about a decade into her marketing career. She was hired on at Clockwork Home Services to help them sell franchises, and worked closely with Jim Abrams. She quickly discovered that most of the 600 franchise owners simply didn’t understand the power of PR in their local markets. They were doing the usual, using their marketing budget for PPC, Yellow Pages ads, billboards, and door hangers, but weren’t even considering the impact of a PR agency. She started having conversations with the contractors and educating them on how to implement PR in their markets and use it to their advantage. With Heather, contractors were finding success getting their stories covered by local media outlets, getting interviewed on TV and in newspapers, issuing press releases, and other positive PR-related exposure. Oftentimes, PR was able to replace and/or supplement some of their digital spend. She even got Jim Abrams on Celebrity Apprentice in 2009!
Heather later left to work for other PR agencies, and contractors from all over the country who had heard of her came calling. In 2013, Heather started her own agency, Ripley PR, to fill this need. One of her first clients was Service Titan, and she has worked with some of the biggest B2B companies in the trades, as well as contractors of all sizes. She’s been involved with Schedule Engine, Bradford White, and XOi, and has an intimate understanding of the challenges of the home service industry. She’s currently writing a book about her experiences, and Ripley PR has recently been voted onto the Forbes List of America’s America’s Top PR Agencies for 2021.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about PR is that it’s the same thing as marketing. While the two have some crossover, they are completely separate in function. To best understand the difference, consider this: if you’re saying things about your own business, that’s marketing. When someone else says it (media, word of mouth, etc), that’s PR! A good PR agency can help you make the phone ring, bring advertising credibility, and use the media to tell your story for you.
If you’re a smaller contractor, you might be thinking a PR agency simply doesn’t make sense. After all, you might only be running a small team with a few trucks and a handful of technicians. That’s simply not the case!
Unlike marketing, a PR Agency such as Ripley PR can help in ways that advertising simply can’t address. From a brand new contractor to those with multiple locations and territories, PR just makes sense. Why wouldn’t you want to control the narrative around your company, and create opportunities for your story to be heard?
What Heather has found is that after working with a home service company for a year or more is that the company tends to have a great relationship with local media outlets. This means that when the local news runs one of their sting operations where they figure out which contractor is overcharging, that company is much less likely to be a target. It also means that contractor is much more likely to be chosen for interviews and positive stories around related events like weather patterns, HVAC news, and more. Having this positive press is great for exposure and maintaining the integrity of your brand.
Ripley PR is constantly looking for stories and opportunities for PR. This could be a simple as getting a contractor interviewed for some home winter preparation tips for the first deep-freeze of the year, ways homeowners can prepare their home for vacation in the summer months, or for events like National Electrical Safety Month. As an added benefit, having a PR agency is a great way to draw attention for rebranding, new ownership, relocation, and especially for acquisitions. Having great press and a positive PR image is a surefire way to increase that multiple if you’re thinking about selling.
Are you a contractor involved in your local community? This is just another way a PR agency can be a valuable asset to your team. Many contractors are involved with local charities, but it can be difficult to find a way to announce this without coming across as being braggadocious or insincere. The way Ripley PR handles this is by working directly with your nonprofit(s) of choice to craft a story from their point of view, and handle it with the charity as the focus and the contractor as the one giving a gift.
This is a mutually beneficial arrangement, too! The vast majority of nonprofits rely on volunteers and don’t have the budget or means to advertise and garner support. Ripley PR tailors press releases to raise awareness for the nonprofit, and also call attention to the contractor donating time/money without making it seem like it’s a self-serving endeavor. This approach can also attract technicians and employees who work for a company that’s giving back to the community. It’s also great for your team. While you may not want to draw attention to your charitable deeds, it’s important for your employees who want to feel proud about their involvement!
It happens to all contractors at some point. An unfortunate situation happens like a technician crashing a truck or getting a DUI, and it’s not necessarily the owner’s fault. Something like a Facebook story being shared with pictures of an improperly installed water heater or a technician leaving a dirty handprint on the wall can be quickly shared and do terrible damage to your reputation. Ripley PR can help mitigate the harm done to your brand during a “PR crisis”. The Ripley PR team can help you prepare a response in case the media calls to investigate, write a press release, work with your attorney, or even help you address the situation directly on social media.
The good news is that most customers have a short memory for these kinds of stories. If you have a PR agency on your side and have a lot of previous positive press coverage like giving to charity, these bad stories tend to get buried and forgotten even faster.
A lot of companies have the mindset that they aren’t big enough to hire a PR agency. Heather thinks you should start PR the day you open your doors! Even if you only have a few employees, it’s important to use PR to grow your business the right way. Ripley PR works with clients of all sizes from ongoing PR work, quarterly basis “project work”, and even on retainer. How involved you want to be with a PR agency is up to you and your growth plan, but it has to be a part of your plan whether you’re looking to grow your business or prepare for an acquisition. Of course, Ripley PR is always happy to discuss your options and figure out if there might be a way to fit PR into your plans.
If you don’t know where to start or you truly believe you can’t afford a PR agency, there is still some PR you can do yourself to benefit your business. The easiest thing you can do is start recording some simple videos of yourself for the business. You could give a quick chat with tips for homeowners or just talk about anything you feel would bring value to your current and potential customers. This will start to build a portfolio of you speaking on camera, and get you practice being in front of a camera. That way, down the line, when the media is looking for a contractor to interview, you’ll have some practice and some examples to show them that show you being comfortable on camera. The media doesn’t want someone who will present poorly and make them look bad.
Ripley PR can help with more than just getting you on TV! Heather’s team creates press releases, advertising pieces, blogs for SEO, and even helps book and prepare for speaking engagements. They have experience with event planning, trade shows, and even reputation management if you need some help responding to negative press or reviews. Ripley PR can also help you become the expert in your market, so the media comes to you first when they have a story to run.
If you’re interested in what Ripley PR could do for you, all you have to do is reach out. Heather’s experienced team will work with you to understand your goals, and work backwards to identify the steps you need to get where you want to be. If you want to speak directly to Heather, you can email her with your contracting PR questions.