s a PR agency that specialises in the built environment, we’ve spent many hours working with a vast array of contractors on their communication strategies. When we first launched Rumpus PR 15 years ago, the communications landscape for builders and developers was relatively straightforward – identify your main customers (existing and potential), and use the media to tell your story to them.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and that landscape has evolved beyond almost all recognition. True, we still have traditional media to communicate through, such as FC&A, and these remain a vital part of our recommendations when it comes to PR. However, audiences are engaging digitally, 24/7 which means every minute of every day is a potential sales opportunity.
So, how do contractors decide where their PR and communications efforts should be focused, especially when, let’s face it, there’s always something ‘more important’ on their to-do list? Here are our top-five tips for contractors looking to return maximum value from their PR efforts.
1. Review and plan
Firstly, pause, take a step back and spend time reviewing your priorities. Do you have any regions or sectors you would like to develop or target? PR planning should align seamlessly with your broader business objectives, so if your annual target for 2018 is to establish a presence in Scotland, for example, then your PR plan should reflect this.
Identify key media, online outlets and influencers in Scotland and create a short-term (three- to six-month) plan to outline how you intend to engage with them.
A combination of case studies, news stories and events is a good place to start.
Investing time into reviewing your previous communications activity would be beneficial, as this can often highlight successes that can be replicated, and activity that did not provide sufficient ROI.
It’s also important to plan for big events, such as industry conferences, and Government announcements that may impact on your sector and/or region. This will allow you to prepare statements or responses in advance, giving you a much better opportunity to secure interest from the media.
We’re now in what’s being dubbed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – a digital era that is fusing physical, digital and biological worlds. Every industry, sector and business is affected to some extent by technology, and many of them are beginning their transformation in readiness for a future led by digital.
Forward-thinking contractors have embraced digital channels – a critical move if they are to remain on the front foot. As mentioned already, consumers are seeking information online 24/7, and it’s vital that contractors harness the possibility and opportunity this presents.
But this goes beyond simply creating profiles on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; it’s about engaging with people in a way that they are comfortable with, that’s relevant and that resonates. Consider carefully what information people are seeking when they are on social media; the purpose of Facebook is very different to that of LinkedIn, and your content should be tailored to reflect that.
In addition to social media, digital also encompasses the wealth of influential online publications, blogs and vlogs that can be used. Research your priority areas and sectors to identify where your online influencers are, and build relationships with them. Whether that’s guest vlogging, providing an opinion piece to an online title or getting a blogger to retweet your news; online engagement is absolutely critical to ongoing success.
3. Be proactive (and reactive at times)
If there’s one mainstay when it comes to PR and communications, it’s having a hunter-style, proactive approach. The media, both on- and offline, can be a tough nut to crack, and when you throw an ever-expanding online network of influencers into the mix, you can be forgiven for thinking the job’s just too big.
However, being proactive when it comes to PR can reap significant benefits. Have an opinion on something and use that to proactively approach a journalist or influencer with a suggested comment or thought-leadership piece. More often than not, the media will welcome content such as this, as a relevant and well-timed piece of content is likely to drive traffic to their website or incentivise people to buy their magazine.
Being proactive also means nailing that PR plan we talked about earlier; planning for comment opportunities affords you time to compile a relevant response from your spokesperson, and means you’re more likely to ‘sell’ your pitch to the media ahead of your competitors.
Of course, while being proactive and planning for PR opportunities in advance is key, there is also an element of reactivity when it comes to comms. The Prime Minister’s speech, an unexpected sector announcement or the closure of a major contractor, can all lend themselves well to rapid response PR. Speed and efficiency are critical here; get your comment written and ‘sold into’ journalists ahead of your competitors and watch the coverage roll in.
As we’ve pointed out, there are many elements to a PR and communications campaign, all of which can support the business’ overall objectives. However, the most successful contractors are those that take a holistic approach to this activity; those that ensure their communications strategy is fully integrated and aligned with their wider organisational plan.
For example, if your PR efforts are focused on Scotland, but your sales and marketing team are busy canvassing in the South, then neither effort will be maximised or capitalised upon. Unite your strategy, align your thinking and integrate your efforts for greater impact and ROI.
PR is all about building and maintaining relationships with all of your stakeholders. Whether that’s journalists, bloggers, consumers or clients, with the growth of online, it’s critical now more than ever to ensure your relationships are as valued and valuable as possible.
Everyone has the potential to review your business, whenever and wherever they want. Word of mouth can now go viral, so it’s critical to create a strong reputation for yourself by building robust relationships both in and outside of your business. Remember, employees are as important as consumers.
Get to know your trade journalists, invite them out for a coffee, or drop them a note to congratulate them on a well-written article. Present employee-of-the-month awards and share them on social media. Thank consumers for good reviews, and respond quickly to the negative ones – it’s always possible to turn a negative into a positive.
Contractors have an unprecedented opportunity to seize the digital PR world and use it to their own advantage. By taking a proactive, holistic approach to their communication efforts, and aligning it completely with their wider business goals, they can truly engage with audiences across the UK and beyond.