Public relations (PR) is an underused marketing tool in building materials.
Many companies will market their products with online content, SEO best practices, active social media channels, and by getting the attention of influencers. These are smart strategies. They cost less than traditional marketing tools like advertising and trade shows and can give you a better bang for every buck, too.
Taking a proactive approach to PR can work the same way. It’s an affordable alternative to traditional advertising but can still get your name mentioned in the right places. Good coverage is also more credible than paid ads, so it does wonders for the strength of your brand.
It’s a growth strategy building materials companies should be taking more seriously. So, I’ve asked a building materials PR expert, Susan Fernandez of Uprising PR, to tell us why PR needs to be part of your marketing toolkit.
The Power of PR in Building Materials
What if I told you that you could hack your marketing budget?
With the right approach, you can get six figures worth of ad placement at a small fraction of the cost.
No, it’s not a Cyber Monday blowout sale on ad packages. It’s a different way of getting your product in front of a massive audience.
To get those kinds of results at such a low cost, you have to think big and do something different. Something your competition isn’t doing.
Do it right and you can reach the 23 million homeowners who pay attention to HGTV, looking for products like yours. Or a hundred million prospects who read the New York Times every morning. Maybe even the equivalent of $250K worth of advertising in the Wall Street Journal.
Paid vs. Earned Media. An ad in the NYTimes can be $150K for a one-time placement.
With Public Relations, you can get that kind of reach without having to spend millions to achieve it.
PR is an incredible tool for fueling growth and building brand awareness. Yet most building material companies either don’t understand it or don’t know how to use it.
That is a wasted opportunity since this is a great time for building material companies to take advantage of their PR opportunities.
We are living in an era with a housing crisis, a labor shortage, climate change, changing building codes, and shifting consumer preferences. The manufacturers and tech companies who design and create our built environment are the ones with the expertise to develop solutions to these pressing problems. The press is looking for someone to share that expertise with them and they’re willing to give free exposure to millions of prospects in exchange for it.
So, let’s break down how PR works and how you can make better use of it.
Why Do Building Materials Companies Need PR?
- To grow brand awareness
- Increase sales and specifications
- Enter a new sector
- Gain a positive reputation around a product or program
- Become an industry thought leader
- Grow awareness for an acquisition
- Announce a new product, service, or partnership
- Respond to a challenge or opportunity
- Share corporate initiatives around community involvement and charitable giving
What Is PR?
In essence, PR is making use of free, earned media to achieve your business goals.
Business development is different from what it used to be. Companies rarely get the projects they want or see the growth they desire. PR leverages earned media to show the world what you can do – even if you haven’t done it before.
How Does PR Work?
First, identify your goal. Whether you are trying to enter a new market, take over an existing one, or attract the best talent, having a clear objective is paramount to building a press strategy.
Second, define your personas. Who are the critical decision-makers and influencers? Where do they get their information?
Third, create a messaging strategy and convert your messaging into story form. Even if you are looking for product placement, you must use storytelling to articulate the value visually and verbally.
Fourth, the most critical step is to pitch your story to the right media outlets. Media pitches go beyond a simple press release. They are highly crafted, targeted outreach designed to earn media attention rather than just inform the press about a new product or some development with your company.
Building Materials PR in Action
Here’s an example of what that can look like.
A commercial flooring company wants to bring a new product to the residential market with zero brand awareness. Their unique product is perfect for homes with pets as it resists scratches but is warm and inviting. Because of the price point, they have identified flooring stores and showrooms rather than big box stores as their point of distribution.
Targeted personas are high-income households, typically referred to as ultra-affluent or HENRY (high earners, not rich yet).
In this scenario, HENRY offers the biggest opportunity based on audience size and age group, as this demographic tends to be younger earners on their way up. That means they are moving on from their starter home, taking what they could get and shifting to a custom design build or renovation. They have young families with pets – all surfaces must be strong enough for heavy wear and tear yet remain beautiful and warm.
Our personas include high-end residential interior designers and architects, specialty flooring showrooms, and even installers.
Once a story has been crafted, our flooring company has to consider where its target audience goes for inspiration and information. In this case, they’ll want to approach their personas from many different angles. Their outreach could include a mix of:
- Influencer partnerships
- Interior design publications
- Major news outlets with a lifestyle section
- Regional publications by geographic location
- Boosted Pinterest and Instagram posts
- Google Ad Words
- Sponsored LI posts to architects and designers
- Flooring trade publications and associations
This is where the practice of pitching comes into play. Storytelling is nuanced. The goal is to “sell” through messaging that is as inspiring as it is informative. Our fictional flooring company can start by identifying influences with a family, pet, and a focus on interior design. Once a contract is negotiated, the exchange is typically a free product to the influencer and assistance with photography to ensure the images are press worthy. The number of posts, copy, and hashtags are agreed upon to maximize the audience reach.
Our flooring company will also pitch publications directly. Publications need content and are short on writers, which creates a perfect storm of opportunity. They’ll start by reviewing the editorial calendar to see where their product aligns. For a better chance at getting featured, they can also consider writing the story and providing photography to complete the package. Say they learn that The New York Times wants a feature on “Pets of New York City,” they can then pitch a story about their recent installation in Park Slope and provide a comprehensive package including quotes from the family, cute pet pics, and only one mention of the product.
Earned media coverage like this is equivalent to buying a $150K ad and it carries more authority with consumers.
Good PR Gets More PR
You know the saying “the rich get richer”? The same is true for PR. Earning a mention in The New York Times can garner the interest of a scout for HGTV.
Drum up enough mentions in different venues and soon you won’t have to spend nearly as much time pitching. Publications and influencers will be reaching out to you for comments, expert advice, or products.
Meet the Press
Before downloading editorial calendars, make sure your company is ready to meet the press. You want to put your best foot forward when reaching out for these opportunities. So, take time to spruce up your image where it really counts:
- Conduct a website audit. The first thing a media person will do is check out your website, often from their phone. Your website must be mobile-friendly and present a polished and clear brand. Audit your site from both a brand/messaging perspective and from the technical side to make sure it’s loading and presenting as desired.
- LinkedIn. The second thing a reporter will do is look up your company and its leadership on LinkedIn. Photos and bios should be up-to-date and consistent across all accounts.
- Project and product images. If you don’t have these images (and most companies do not), consider having them rendered. The goal is to create an image that is both believable and tells a story.
Add PR to Your Marketing Toolkit
PR is invisible, but you’ve seen its effects everywhere.
If you’ve ever clicked on an article, seen a competitor’s name and wondered “How did they get mentioned in Fast Company?” It’s almost certainly due to PR.
It’s also how products get into the hands of the right influencers.
It’s how smaller companies get profiled in publications where their bigger competitors pay for ad space.
Every company has a story to tell. Every product can be part of a larger story. Behind every building material product is a team full of experts with specialized knowledge.
The media is looking for stories and expertise to share with a wide audience. With a good PR strategy, you can make sure your story is the one that gets told. That’s a lot less expensive than paying for ad space but it’s worth so much more.