October, 2010

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Down Market? Ramp Up Your Publicity Program


ASHI promotes the value of home inspections to the public, to regulating and governing bodies and to others involved in real estate transactions. The society also strives to be recognized as the voice of the profession. ASHI makes publicity a top priority because it works.

From relative obscurity 30 years ago, home inspection is rapidly gaining acceptance as a necessary step in the real estate transaction process. Note the recent directive in the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that HUD revise counseling programs to include more advice to buyers on the importance of home inspections. (See July 27, 2010, press release under Advertising and Media on ashi.org.)

What's more, ASHI has become synonymous with the best of the profession. This was achieved by ASHI letting the world know about members' commitment to prescribed work practices, a code of ethics and all that sets the ASHI inspector apart from other inspectors — in other words, using principles of good business.

Promoting your company and profession locally also is good business, especially in a down market.

Choose the level that works for you

A full-scale promotions plan might include purchasing advertisements, using direct marketing techniques and launching a comprehensive public relations campaign with plans to develop press releases for the local media, e-newsletters for prospects and clients and, of course, using social media.

On the other hand, many home inspectors realize considerable success by focusing on a scaled-down plan and doing it well.
If social media are included in the plan, the basic principles and practices for promoting yourself and your business are applicable, but it may be necessary to acquire additional skills specific to realizing the opportunities presented by these popular communication venues.


When you pay, it's advertising

When you write your own marketing message and pay the media for space (in an electronic or paper publication) or the time (on the radio or television), that's advertising. When your message is contained within the editorial context of the media, such as news articles or talk show interviews, that's public relations.

Public relations vs. advertising

Public relations has two advantages over advertising:

  1. It doesn't involve expensive media buying, and
  2. It conveys your message with greater credibility.

Audiences tend to regard advertising with some skepticism. A clever phrase catches their attention, but they recognize it as clever.

Advice or information reported as news implies at least a certain degree of editorial endorsement, giving it value.

On the other hand, advertising is directly under your control. You can generate your own ad copy and place it when and where you believe it will bring the highest rewards.

Also, getting public relations-generated pieces picked up by the media requires an understanding of the needs and perceptions of individual reporters, editors and broadcasters.

A scaled-down plan might include introducing oneself to the real estate editor of the local newspaper or local radio station manager and promising to forward ASHI press releases modified for local interest and to be available to answer home-related questions.


Develop a nose for news

A nose for the news is the ability to recognize current situations that can be used as publicity opportunities and knowing how to create stories that will interest the media, or newsletter or social media audiences. Use research and creativity to learn to recognize and take advantage of opportunities.

First: Study the specific medium

Follow a reporter's byline in the paper or online to learn the types of stories he or she writes. Watch the evening news and talk shows. Pay attention to the reporter who does consumer advice or education stories. (But avoid investigative reporters who only are interested in negative stories or exposing fraud.)

Second: Tailor your story to suit their interests

An overly technical discussion of the ASHI Standards of practice, for example, would not win over a reporter who likes to provide specific money-saving tips or a blog-follower who wants to know what a home inspection includes.

When you notice stories or broadcasts that deal with timely topics such as home foreclosures, call or drop a line to the reporter suggesting a follow-up story on a related subject.

Learn to target your publicity

The same pitch letter and information can be sent to several persons or posted in several places, if there is interest in the same types of topics.

Appropriately targeting your stories not only saves time, it increases your odds of success. In addition, it avoids irritating editors and producers with inappropriate solicitations. This can jeopardize your chances of getting even appropriate stories placed by them.

Effective targeting also requires addressing individuals by name and title, rather than by title alone. Letters or
e-mails addressed "To the Editor" or to a misspelled version of the editor's name probably will go straight to the wastebasket or SPAM catcher.

Use a professional approach

When you're approaching the media, call to find out how a specific editor, reporter or broadcaster prefers to be contacted.

Many prefer e-mail, but it's surprising how many use the phone. If you discuss a story idea over the phone, be prepared to follow up with a letter or e-mail outlining the type of information you're able to provide and presenting your credentials as a source. Also include background material, such as press releases and/or brochures offered by ASHI. Your professional affiliation will serve to enhance your credibility with the media.

When you are electronically promoting your business to prospects and real estate professionals, take advantage of your ASHI membership by linking to information on the ASHI website. Your professional affiliation will serve to enhance your credibility with these audiences as well.

How to impress reporters

Think visual!

Reporters appreciate any way you can make their stories more interesting and their jobs easier. If you know what they're looking for, they are impressed with your knowledge and preparation.

If a newspaper reporter goes with you on an inspection and brings a photographer, keep an eye out for defects that photograph well. Foundation cracks, sloppy electrical or plumbing connections, visibly aged roofing — these are the types of things that illustrate your role as a home inspector.

If you entice a camera crew from a local station, remember to bring any and all of your tools and gadgets. TV reports love to show off equipment because of the entertainment quality. It also helps your image to be seen with specialized equipment in the service of the client. Wherever possible, point out the defects that will have significant financial impact.

How to get more mileage out of your publicity placement

Getting your name in the paper or being featured on a broadcast interview can be gratifying, but don't let the publicity end there: Package and merchandise your placement to reach an even greater audience. A newspaper or magazine article reprint (get permission first) serves as an excellent promotional handout or mailing. Depending on the nature of the article, you may want to distribute it to prospective clients or to real estate professionals. Be sure to post a link on your website and include a link in your e-newsletters.

How to deal with negative publicity

Although you'd rather not be involved in a confrontation, you may see something about your profession you think is not entirely correct or is unfair. The temptation to respond is strong, but not always wise. Before writing or calling to dispute a news report, ask yourself the following questions:

If, in your judgment, a response is warranted, consider the following options:

The same guidelines apply to social media sites. It's not wise to become embroiled in charges and countercharges.

How to deal with investigative reporters

Every city has some ambitious TV or newspaper reporters who love uncovering scandals to shock and outrage their audiences. Even though you have nothing to hide, you don't want their names on your mailing list.

Nevertheless, investigative reporters have a way of finding their target. If you receive a phone call from one, don't panic.

First, find out as much as you can about the nature of the story the reporter is working on.

Second, don't feel compelled to answer immediately. Ask for time to look into the matter before making a statement. If you're unfamiliar with the issue, don't try to become an expert in half an hour. ASHI public relations consultants know how to handle media inquiries. You are encouraged to refer reporters to ASHI headquarters rather than to adlib without preparation.

 Let all reporters know you are speaking as an individual home inspector. Advise them to contact headquarters for someone to speak on behalf of ASHI regarding policy.

More promotional opportunities

There are many promotional opportunities that belong in a home inspector's marketing plan.

Direct Mail Regularly send professional letters, brochures and publicity handouts to local real estate brokers and agents, attorneys and appraisers. Develop your mailing lists from professional associations.

Home Shows

 With an ASHI chapter or on your own, you can participate in exhibits at local home shows. Contact ASHI headquarters to rent the ASHI exhibit booth and to purchase reasonably priced material to distribute at the event.

Mall Promotions

Shopping malls frequently sponsor weekend promotions in their corridors. Check with the advertising departments of your local newspapers or mall management firms to learn the schedule and how to participate.

Promote yourself, promote your profession and promote ASHI by sharing your expertise with prospects, the media and the community.