December     2012
Good Buzz
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors


Building Awareness, Promoting High Quality

SANDY BOURSEAU

With the contract for public relations services coming to an end, ASHI staff was asked to send out requests for proposals (RFPs) and to invite the responders to present their proposals to the Board of Directors at the July meeting.

The Board selected the program presented by Public Communications, Inc. (PCI) for the new contract.

Here are some highlights from the PCI proposal.


PCI is well-known for its media relations expertise. We have just won the Best in Show Award from the Publicity Club of Chicago and the Public Relations Society of America's Chicago Chapter for media-heavy campaigns with proven results. These types of programs have allowed us to retain clients in long-term relationships that continue to meet and exceed their objectives.

We inspected you

As we prepared this response to your RFP, we wanted to know what others are saying about ASHI and home inspectors in general. We visited your websites and others, talked to colleagues, family and friends about their opinions and experiences with home inspectors, contacted a few Realtors® and Googled. Essentially, we did what many consumers who are likely to consider a home inspection do – we checked out your public face and paid attention to word-of-mouth.

Through our networks, we learned home inspections and home inspectors are perceived as either very good or very bad, with very little in between.

For example, Angie's List, a likely first stop for many consumers, lists 278 home inspectors of whom 120 received an "A" rating while 146 received an "N/A" because they went out of business within the last three years.

A Realtor source told us that the experience many people have with home inspectors is terrible because they don't understand what a home inspection does and does not include. Some homeowners are surprised that appliances aren't inspected and disappointed that they "spent $500 and nothing was fixed."

Other sources had similar stories, suggesting to us that your mission to set and promote standards for property inspections and to help the profession achieve excellence also should include "educate consumers about the content and value of an ASHI inspection." In fact, we were pleased to see that included within the scope of work.

In the news, home inspection is a popular subject among the real estate and business sections, sharing the latest warnings and trends with consumers. Many mainstream media turn to ASHI as a trusted source for updated statistics related to the housing market and useful tips for those in the real estate market.

We definitely agree that a well-designed media relations program, complemented by a focused social media plan, makes good sense for ASHI.

We often pitch reporters without having a formal news release. Our agency uses several media resources such as Profnet and HARO, where reporters post their requests for assistance with stories they are working on. We simply make a quick call or send a brief email to the reporters, producers, editors and other media personnel to propose our spokesperson. We also receive calls from media, asking us to suggest spokespersons or, at times, even story ideas. This is a result of our concentrating on building relationships rather than simply pitching, and attests to the professionalism and service orientation of our staff. With so many news outlets operating on a round-the-clock basis, we need to be able to respond quickly when opportunities arise.

Here is how we would proceed.

The Proposal for Building Awareness

Media relations

  • Not just "pitch and ditch"
  • What we want to say
    – Strategic plan
  • How we want to say it
    – Key messages
  • Who we want to say it to
    – Audience priorities

Media training

  • Help spokespeople understand how media work and what reporters expect
    – One-on-one role-playing
    – Field-test key messages
    – Structure in place for ASHI and media

Crisis counseling

  • 24-hour access to senior staff and your team
  • Considerable experience - on-site to virtual
  • Meet with you to prepare general crisis plan
    – Who decides it's a crisis?
    – Who needs to be involved?

Special events

  • New York desksides – work best with women's and shelter publications

Social media

  • Take a strategic approach to speak to core audience and grow your base as your channels become a trusted resource among online communities.
  • ASHI needs social media policy
    – Allow members to interact, but provide accountability

Internal public relations

  • Get to know the ASHI family
    – Homeinspector.org and ASHI.org
  • Determine what success means to you
  • Keep members informed of progress
  • Our clients never wonder what we are doing or why we are doing it

About PCI

  • Founded in Chicago in 1962
  • National firm
  • 55 staff, $5MM billings
  • More out-of-state clients than in
  • Worldcom Group Inc.
    –108 partners
    –96 cities on six continents
  • Award-winning work for clients from allergists to zoos

What you didn't ask for…

  • Pitching ASHI as a Superstorm Resource
    Within days of becoming ASHI's media representative, PCI began pitching the society to its contacts as a resource for Superstorm Sandy recovery-related information. Almost immediately, a national real estate publication asked for an update on statistics for an article. Traditional public relations tactics are being replaced with relationship building and PCI is off to a fast start, using strategic communications on ASHI's behalf.

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Why Public Relations?

From its inception, ASHI has chosen to invest in public relations services to promote itself and its members. The most obvious reasons for choosing public relations over related disciplines are both the bang for the buck and the fit with ASHI's message.

To appreciate ASHI's ongoing investment, it helps to know what is expected from a public relations program. There are hundreds of definitions floating around, but the one from businessdictionary.com works as well as most.

Public relations: "The profession or practice of creating and maintaining good will of an organization's various publics (customers, employees, investors, suppliers, etc.), usually through publicity and other nonpaid forms of communication."

In comparison, the same source defines marketing as follows:

"The management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer. It includes the coordination of four elements called the four P's of marketing:

  1. identification, selection and development of a product,
  2. determination of its price,
  3. selection of a distribution channel to reach the customer's place, and
  4. development and implementation of a promotional strategy."

ASHI cannot make business decisions for its members — dictate a specific report or determine the most marketable price for a member's services. ASHI can and does educate consumers about a need and build goodwill for its members across the nation. And, it does so in the most cost-effective way — reaching national audiences even though national advertising is beyond its reach. Entrepreneur.com recommends public relations for many of the same reasons ASHI has chosen this approach.

Entrepreneur.com makes the case for PR

On this website, public relations is defined as "the opposite of advertising, because in advertising, you pay to have your message placed in a newspaper, TV or radio spot." In public relations, your message appears as editorial content.

What's more, "publicity is far more cost-effective than advertising"… "has greater longevity" … "reaches a far wider audience"… "and, most important, publicity has greater credibility with the public than does advertising."

New Program Features Relationship Building

Over the years, ASHI has successfully created public awareness of the need for a home inspection and the value of using an ASHI inspector. The new public relations program recognizes the rapidly expanding ways we communicate today and will be communicating in the near future. It uses a strategic communication process to build relationships, the key to creating and maintaining good will for ASHI and ASHI inspectors. 

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Hanley Woods adds Home Inspection Nightmares, aka Postcards From the Field

ASHI members continue to be featured on the This Old House website (www.thisoldhouse.com). The Gallery posted in August was number XXVII. It provided even greater exposure for ASHI and ASHI members because it was picked up by the Hanley Woods Remodeling website.

ASHI is promoted in the lead to the Gallery: "With help from the American Society of Home Inspectors, here's another installment of the most horrifying things found during home inspections. It might be funny if it weren't so scary."

The names and location of the ASHI member appear with each photograph, reminding consumers who to call when they need a home inspector.

Sources: www.remodeling.hw.net and www.thisoldhouse.com

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Social Media Update

Popular Discussion on ASHI's Official LinkedIn

Here's a sample of what members are discussing on the Members-Only LinkedIn:

  • A member asking for feedback on buying a new water heater: tankless, power-vented or?
  • Continuing education or the avoidance of it
  • Is taking credit cards and paying the fees worth it?

What's on your mind? Join the discussions. Share your views and learn from others. Networking is one of the primary benefits of membership. If you are not already approved for the Members-Only Group, click here and ask to join. Once approved, you can start a discussion or join in on one started by any of the other 800+ participants.

Facebook

www.facebook.com/ASHIinspection

Once you have "liked" the ASHI Facebook fan page, share ASHI content on your business or personal Facebook page. Postcards From the Field, posted by ASHI, always are popular and funny.

ASHI also shares information about safety and housing issues. Whether ASHI is sharing something lighthearted or alerting the public to a serious safety issue, the Facebook page promotes the value of hiring ASHI inspectors.

  • 1,237 is our fan count (number of people who "like" our page).
  • Easily access the page by going to ASHI.org and clicking on the Facebook icon.

Twitter

https://twitter.com/ashi_inspection

It's all about tweeting, retweeting and followers.

  • Currently, there are 1,343 people following @ashi_inspection.
  • Looking for content? Follow ASHI on Twitter and retweet to your Twitter stream.