By Tom Soukup, Principal of Patriot Water Heater Co. and Patriot Pool Heating Company
Public relations (PR) is a term you don’t often hear associated with small HVAC businesses. But think about it in its simplest form. Anything you do to interact with or improve your relations with the public is, in fact, PR.
Some take that definition to include advertisements, but ads are part of the greater marketing presence your company has. PR, on the other hand, is showing your customers and potential customers what you’ve done and what you’re capable of through any means of getting the word out there other than ads. Being a guest on a podcast, public speaking at a local event, supporting local charities and programs through time or monetary donations, writing for a newspaper or magazine as a columnist, or having your organization and craftsmanship featured in an article.
PR is a very effective way to simply let your community and industry know, “Hey! We’re here and we do great work!” Since PR is not an ad, it’s not perceived as a paid promotion (because it’s not!). And the best PR provides value to the people who see it, often by providing useful information.
Consider this; getting your name out there via PR could even help attract potential hires to your company. After all, thoughtful PR helps establish and communicate your company culture. Most people want to be a part of something exciting. If your company is good to work for and is an asset to your community, that’s going to be evident in your PR. I sure wouldn’t complain if I had another technician, or a few more to choose from next time I needed to hire.
The downside of PR, especially right now while we’re all as busy as we’ve ever been, is that it does take time. Not a great deal, but time nonetheless. I’ll be the first to say that it’s time well spent.
The lightbulb came on for me 2016. We were in the middle of a project called White Chimneys. We were installing a boiler in an old tobacco barn turned wedding venue, delivering heat through hot water coils connected to duct socks. A sales representative at ROI Marketing realized how unique the job was and suggested to U.S. Boiler Company that they do a write-up on the project to appear in the very same US Boiler Report that you’re reading now.
After that article appeared and I was given the photos, I took the material and ran with it. We posted it to our social media platforms, printed it out, and began using it as a sales tool. It really raised eyebrows, and that’s especially important when you’re dealing with engineers and architects.
Above: In 2016, Patriot Water Heater was featured in the US Boiler Report for a unique hydronic retrofit they completed at a historic tobacco barn.
When you are 1 of 10 bids for a job, having PR material sets you apart. Having the material alone wouldn’t have made a difference. Using the material to your advantage is the key.
A world of difference
That was 2016. Since then, we’ve upped our PR game significantly. I do whatever I can to get my company’s name and brand out there. I believe we do great work, and in my mind, the only reason we don’t land a job is either because we don’t want the job, or because the customer doesn’t know we exist. That may sound arrogant, but it’s really not. I’m just an optimist.
Today, my business associates and I have been published in as many as 20 different magazines spanning several industries, we’ve been in newspapers and we’ve been guests on podcasts. We’ve even been in videos produced by trade organizations. How? We invite ourselves to those opportunities, we do our best to communicate well, and most importantly, we try very hard to deliver value to the listener or reader.
In the interest of full transparency, I’ll mention that in 2016, we shifted our focus from just residential hydronic heating to other markets. We sought out more challenging work and became experts in niche markets; greenhouses, snowmelt, pool heating, etc. Our PR efforts now reach into those vertical markets as well.
We began taking PR seriously and made market shifts simultaneously. Between the response to our PR efforts and specialization, we’ve doubled our gross sales every year since 2016. We are a 10-person company, and in 2021 alone, we installed over 25 million BTUs of condensing boiler capacity! In addition, we currently have half a billion BTUs of condensing boiler capacity under service contract.
Using PR Effectively
Our company spends roughly 10 hours on PR each month. It’s a time investment, but not a significant one, at least not for us. As I’ve mentioned, we use a lot of different methods to get ourselves out there. The most effective is our digital media kit, which is a compilation of our best PR appearances in digital form.
We target specific clients that we want to work for. When we reach out to them via LinkedIn, we send the media kit with our message. That has yielded a 90% response, and of those responses, 70% end up giving us a face-to-face meeting. Our closure rate is also fantastic because we prove our capability while we’re there.
Another way we use our PR effectively is having all of our PR appearances made into placards, which hang in our office. This is impressive to visitors, but more importantly, it shows interviewees who we are, what our company culture is, and that we take extreme pride in the quality of our work. I can tell a lot about a potential new hire by the way they respond to those placards. The people worth hiring get excited because they want to be a part of something impactful. They want to be involved with a company culture the produces an excellent product.
The magazine articles I write often produce phone calls. Some people are looking for a specific piece of information. Other folks want to hire us because of our expertise.
Put simply, PR opens doors.
When you’re busy creating PR content on top of your usual workload, it’s easy to forget to look for the fruits of your marketing labor and track when your PR material is expected to be published. I can’t constantly scan every website, magazine, and podcast every day to find my PR appearances.
There are clipping services and companies that will do that for you, but we’re not big enough to justify the cost. It’s funny, but I find almost all of our PR through a company called It’s Great News. They contact businesses that appear in all sorts of media in hopes to sell them a placard. Not only do I generally buy a placard, but having them notify me is valuable in and of itself.
Trolls and Monday morning quarterbacks
If you’ve ever posted a picture of your work to a Facebook boiler page, you already know where I’m going with this subheader.
If you publicize your work, no matter how perfect it is, you will receive negative feedback from the masses. Be ready for it and don’t let it get in your head.
There are 25 ways to do something correctly. Just because one technician does it differently than another, doesn’t make either wrong. Remember this; if someone says “That’s wrong. We’ve done it this way for 30 years!” That’s a red flag.
If you’ve been doing something the same thing for 30 years, your methods, tools and equipment are likely outdated. Technology has changed and you need to change with it. The same can be said for marketing.
Tom Soukup is the principal of Patriot Water Heater Co. and Patriot Pool Heating Company, with over 20 years as a hydronic designer and installer. He specializes in high-efficiency and green technology and brings his expertise to custom commercial work, pool heating, and agricultural projects.
Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org