I knew that would get you. Considering that contractors' advertising budgets run from 5 percent to 20 percent of sales, I think that a little free publicity wouldn't hurt, eh? The benefit is right out there for the taking, but unfortunately many business people don't recognize it or haven't taken the time to look into it.

In September I wrote about a Wisconsin contractor who used a promotional tie-in to a local community event and wound up with a carload of free newspaper publicity, including an interview by the major metropolitan newspaper in the region, The Milwaukee Journal. The owners could not have hoped for better coverage unless Dan Rather had shown up for a live newscast. And the beauty of the story was that it reflected our trade in a positive light.

Media coverage can vary according to the region and if it is a slow news day. However, having your name on a short list of sources can make a world of difference.

Make Yourself The Source

I often use this story when I give seminars on how to present a positive image through the media. Meyer & Depew Inc. of Kenilworth, N.J., was on the radar screen of the local FOX TV station, thanks to being on its contact list. A few years ago, the area was suffering through a triple-digit heat wave.

The station contacted owner Bobby Ring and interviewed him. The station also sent a crew to follow a service tech as he brought needed relief to an elderly homeowner by fixing her A/C - all caught on tape.

Ring wound up talking about the service agreements and noted that first priority was given to customers who had purchased them. The TV reporter also spoke about the importance of service agreements and stated that the cost of a service call in the area - if any were available - was at least $150.

Now, let's fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was watching the local TV station here in Detroit. The story was about the rising cost of natural gas and what homeowners could do to reduce energy costs and in-crease efficiencies.

The reporter relayed some tips, one of which was inspecting and changing furnace filters frequently. The advice was given - on camera - by an employee of Home Depot.

Don't get me wrong. I know Home Depot employs competent workers and filter inspection/replacement is a good tip for homeowners. But I also know there are hundreds of HVACR contractors in metropolitan Detroit, any one of whom would have enjoyed the free publicity gained by giving energy-saving tips. And, let's face it, contractors are the real experts.

I contacted the reporter.

He said the idea for using Home Depot came from his morning producer and that it was probably because Home Depot had just offered to give the TV station a tour of its facility. (Good marketing idea, Big Orange.)

Enter The Contractor

Had a Detroit-area HVACR contractor been on the station's contact list, it may have been the source for the story instead of Home Depot. So, what to do?

Send a detailed letter about your business to all media outlets in your area. Not sure who to contact? Go to the Web site of each media outlet you wish to contact. The Web sites usually list the names of employees, usually by department, and contact information.

My advice is to do whatever you can (within the limits of decency) to promote yourself to the local media. If you'd like more ideas or if you have had ideas that have worked for you, please drop me an e-mail.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 11/03/2003