In cable newsrooms and national TV stations, editors are already plotting ways to draw eyeballs to reduce their increasing irrelevance. Some will inevitably decide to sting contractors. Are you prepared?

Most stings involve calling contractors to come and service a nonfunctioning system. Usually, the sting involves something simple like a disconnected wire. Any contractor who sends a technician who does more than the absolute minimum of reconnecting the wire and charging the diagnostic, if that, is portrayed as completely corrupt and out to screw little old ladies and widows.

While HVAC, like any profession, is not corruption free, it is neither corruption riddled. By and large, contractors and the technicians they employ represent the backbone of America. These are people who get up every day and work their tails off to solve problems most homeowners cannot, keeping the indoor environments of homes and businesses comfortable. Contracting companies are populated and owned by honest, hardworking people. In HVAC, incompetence is a bigger problem than corruption.

Incompetence is the rub for many stings. Some technicians simply blow the diagnostic. Sometimes the incompetence lies with the person who sets up the sting. Rarely are stings set up around pristine systems; that would be too obvious. Thus, there may be other issues with the system that a thorough diagnostic reveals. When additional, legitimate recommendations are made, these are treated as nefarious attempts to commit graft. Similarly, recommendations to consider replacing old equipment are also treated as immoral attempts to separate homeowners from hard-earned (or these days, government dispensed) cash. If the news organization is so inclined, judicious editing can make the most innocent of technicians appear contemptible.

Sadly, stings remain a self-inflicted feature of the trade. The media types need an accomplice to execute the sting. They need someone from inside the industry who can play the role of technical expert and, if needed, comment on the horrors witnessed. In the past, some contractors have gladly played this role because it keeps them from being targeted. Moreover, it presents an opportunity to target their biggest competitors with bad press. Alternatively, it allows them to alert their friends who can come out of the sting, smelling like a rose.

Accomplices are not limited to contractors. In the past, one national news magazine enlisted a distributor. This backfired when one of the distributor’s best contractor customers was indicted by the cameras. They recovered by giving the contractor a heads-up about the cameras arriving at his shop so that he could announce that the technician had already been terminated, looking like an honest contractor victimized by a bad hire. This was an honest, stand-up contractor. And while he was victimized by a tech, if he had used another supplier it is likely he would have been portrayed completely different.

What can we, as an industry, do about sting season? First, alert your team about the possibility. Treat every call as though there are cameras focused on you. And in today’s world, there just might be. Use an approach like Joe Cunningham’s “Perfect Service Call” to gain permission to alert homeowners to other issues identified during the diagnostic. Overall, stress that technicians remain aware that spring season is sting season and to treat suspicious circumstances accordingly.

Next, do not participate in any stings. The media cannot execute stings without industry help. If approached, not only refuse to help, but suggest the media pick a different industry. Then, alert your local trade association and every contractor you know in the area to be on the lookout for a setup. It’s a good idea for the trade association executive director to reach out to the media outlet, noting that there’s a rumor they are setting up a sting and since the word is out, they might want to pick a different industry to target.

You may wonder why you should alert competitors. Why not revel in their misfortune? The reason is simple. Stings never damage one or two companies alone. They put a stain on all contractors. They put a stain on the industry. Consumers may not remember which company was “caught” in the sting, but they will remember the industry and treat all contractors with suspicion. In short, a sting of one contractor damages all contractors.

If you are unfairly victimized, all is not lost. Most of the people in your market will not see the report. Of those who do, most will be unable to identify the company being stung a month later. Nobody cares about your brand as much as you do. Still, it might be a good idea to engage a reputation management company to bury the negative mentions and stories under an avalanche of more positive stories.

Finally, minimize the potential impact of future stings by building goodwill in your community that will be available for you to draw upon to counter sting-related criticism. Build goodwill through community involvement. This includes personal involvement as well as company. Be visible in support of local charities. Not only will this help you mitigate the potential damage of stings, but it will build and fortify you brand today and in the future.


Do you want to learn about more ways to build your brand and your company? Join the Service Roundtable. It’s still $50 a month and offers more downloadable contractor support tools than any other site on the internet. Learn more at or call 877.262.3341.