Getting the word out about your company can pose a challenge for some contractors. That’s why we turn to the public relations firms for guidance. We found out in my last Hotmail newsletter article “Cracking The Public Relations Code,” that many PR firms don’t want to be bothered with small accounts and we have to figure out how to promote our business on our own.

One of the many important ways to do this is by getting your name and information published in newspapers and magazines. Here are 10 examples of how to get your name in ink:

1. Announce Free Bait Pieces. Newspapers and magazines love to provide readers with useful information and free stuff. Increase the odds that your piece will run in the press by offering a free bait piece. Bait piece? If you cast a hook off a pier, few fish will be inclined to bite it. Bait the hook and it’s a different story. The fish are attracted to the bait and hopefully, will get hooked.

In marketing and public relations, a bait piece is a free offer you make to attract people to your company. Bait pieces can be free information booklets, how-to guides, and tip sheets. Ahron Katz, who sold his contracting company to a consolidator, used to offer a free, pilot’s carbon monoxide detector over the radio to anyone who asked. The pilot’s carbon monoxide detector is one with the small button that changes color in the presence of CO.

When purchased in bulk these became inexpensive giveaways. The postage cost almost as much as the carbon monoxide detector. The people who responded to Ahron’s offer were interested in the health and safety of their homes, which meant they were excellent prospects. Ahron collected their contact information and periodically mailed them special offers.

When people contact you to get your bait pieces, get their permission to add them to your newsletter mailing list (a hook). Make sure your bait piece contains your name and logo (another hook).

2. Announce New Hires. When you hire someone from your community, send an announcement to the local media. Announce that you’ve added so and so, a graduate of the local high school to your growing team of specialists. Be sure to include any affiliations, such as church membership, club memberships, and so on.

3. Announce Significant Jobs. If you win a major project or a project of some significance, such as work on a historical structure, send out a press release. This is newsworthy. Present the challenge posed by the job and how you will overcome it. Make it interesting.

4. Announce Trade Association Leadership Positions. If you are elected to a leadership position in your local trade association, send a press release to the local paper if the trade association does not. Don’t forget to send one to any alumni publications that might be applicable.

5. Auction Something For Charity. Auction off a high value product or service from your company with the proceeds going to charity. Send out a press release to announce the auction. Focus on the charity and the good work it does first. Focus on your company and the product second. The charity you’re supporting should help with the press release. See if the charity will send it under their name. Get quotes from the head of the charity to include in the press release. You want a quote about the good works for the charity and about your company.

6. Conduct A Kid’s Art Contest. Announce an art contest for kids of certain ages. Give it a cash incentive (or savings bond incentive) to encourage entrants. Create a simple theme for the art, such as “comfort,” “electricity,” “hot water,” etc. For younger kids you might make it even simpler and create a coloring sheet where the little tykes color one of your trucks. One or more local art teachers should be invited to judge the contest and select the winners. You can send out press releases to announce the judges and, of course, the winners. When announcing the winners, be sure to include copies of the winning art. Also, announce that there’s a gallery of all entrants available on your website. Art contests are especially nice since you can stipulate that as a requirement of entry you get royalty free rights to reproduce the winning work. The art can become eye catching direct mail pieces, computer screen savers you give out at home shows, covers for presentation folders, and website graphics.

7. Conduct An Essay Contest. An essay contest is similar to the art contest, but focused on writing. Follow the same approach. The topic can be related to your company, industry, or broader. How has your industry impacted the world? What would life be like without it? How does a small business contribute to the community? What does it take to be an entrepreneur? What businesses do you respect?

Use high school English teachers to read and judge the essays. See if the local paper will consider printing the winning entry. Send a press release offering to mail copies of the essay collection to anyone who asks (i.e., the essays become a “bait piece”). Print all entries on your website.

To drive traffic to your site, send the contest winners and their parents an email linking to entries on your site and suggest they forward it to their family and friends.

Contact a local sound studio. Ask the winners to record their essays. A good sound engineer can make the most awkward reader sound good, though this can get expensive. You can play the audio recordings from your website, use them as podcasts, and/or burn audio CDs to give out in the community at home shows and as bait pieces.

8. Create A Civic Leadership Award. Think of ways you can recognize people who make contributions to your local community. It could be an outstanding businessperson, a great health care provider, a superior coach or teacher. An air conditioning company might create an award celebrating those who “comfort others.”

Send a press release announcing the creation of the award, the judges, and the selection criteria. Send another to solicit nominations, another to announce the finalists, and a final one to announce the winners. The presentation of the award should include photographs of the recipient getting the award.

Publicity aside, creating a civic leadership award is fun. It gives you a chance to recognize people you think are noteworthy. I’ve received awards like this and I’ve created and offered them. It feels great to receive an award. It feels better to give one.

9. Create a Contest. Scott Gross, author of Positively Outstanding Service, offers the following guidelines for “event marketing:” Several times a year create marketing events that stand out. Make them fun, involve your product, get folks to your property, and do something good for others. A restaurant can sponsor a cooking contest. A dry cleaner could sponsor a coat drive for the needy. Use your imagination; the possibilities are endless.

After reading Gross’ book in the early 1990s, I kept trying to figure out a way to involve heating and air conditioning products in a contest. This resulted in the creation of the oldest furnace contest. We used it with a home show, but a lot of people have since announced the oldest furnace, water heater, etc., contest via press release and received favorable coverage. You can create a contest based on the weather (guess the high/low temperature), community water usage over a period of time, or any other activity. For sponsor fees you can work with a local radio station to give the contest daily or weekly broadcast time.

10. Note Monumental Achievements & Milestones. When you reach a major (or even, minor) milestone in your business, issue a press release. Send out press releases based on the number of customers served, number of installations, miles of pipe installed, estimated energy you’ve saved local homeowners (or to take advantage of “green” buzz, state the “carbon footprint” reduction), miles of wire installed, and so on. Don’t forget to write press releases for charitable works you’ve performed. You might hesitate because that’s not the reason you did the work. You might think it tarnishes the good deed. Don’t. If your motives are good, you never need worry about doing good. If you let people know about it and it drives more business to your company as a result, you have more resources to perform good works. On the other hand, if your business fails or is doing poorly, you’re unlikely to be in a position to do good for anyone.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable www.ServiceRountable.com an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. This excerpt is from the book “Cracking The Pubic Relations Code,” by Matt Michel that can be downloaded for free from the Service Roundtable site. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com.
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