Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bad PR and the Fence Contractor

There’s a story in this week’s FenceWeek about a fence company that puts offensive jokes on signs in front of its business. They got a lot of free PR - but not very good. Boycotts were launched, old customers came out to state how he's done this for years. ometimes, when the audience is big enough (think Bill Maher on TV), you can find a market for offensive jokes and you can get away with it. The first amendment, after all, may allow you do that (if it’s not pornographic) - free speech, etc. - but even if the constitution and your town zoning allow it, offensive jokes are bad PR and bad for business. Don’t do it. You will offend many more people that you will attract, and people don’t do business with companies that offend them.

“H.V., owner of Hamlet Construction in Ocala, said he stopped buying fencing from the B...s. He said his construction company buys about $100,000 in fencing annually from other area suppliers."I'm surprised other people haven't taken that position" on a boycott, he said. "I used to do business with him ... the sign is part of his personality. "I wish I was still doing business with him so I could tell him to stop putting ... signs up like that," V. said.”

But not putting offensive jokes on your sign is really not much of a stratagy.

Bad publicity happens; sometimes it’s out of your control and it is important to have a plan in place on how to handle it. A PR professional, Todd V from Performance Marketing, says this about bad PR:

“When a situation comes up, it's important for the individual
or company involved to respond quickly, in an honest and sincere manner
through one spokesperson. The more proactive the response is to bad
public relations, the faster the situation will get resolved. Also, by
limiting the number of people responding to the situation, a company can
better ensure that the response is consistent.”

Bad PR these days is also worse than it used to be, because of the internet.

There is a growing movement on the internet for user-driven content. There are many community based reviews of companies. Google and Yahoo allow readers to write reviews, and there are other reviews sites like Angies’ list. Many potential customers look to the web first. They make quick decisions based on these ratings. So be aware and be ready.

What happens when your company gets a review like this:

"This company installed our wood fence and, within a year, one of the posts
on our large gate split. I could not get them to return my phone calls.
Most of the time you can't even get an answering machine. Not
Recommended. One star."

Is this the company a potential customer who sees this will call first? One bad review can be very damaging if that is the only one. Make sure you have many good reviews to offset any bad ones. In general customers expect to be satisfied; but people with a complaint are far more likely to write a review then a statsified customer - it's just human nature.

So it's important to solicit the good reviews. Make sure you do a follow up. Call the customer to make sure he or she is happy. Send them a follow up questionaire. And when the customer is happy, ask them to write a review. Steer them to Angies List.

One company even said that they would donate money for each review to Toys for Tots. Not a bad idea. You can pick a local charity somewhat related to your business. Animal Shelter, Little League etc.

With the internet, assume each call you get, each job you bid, and each job you finish is a reviewer who will publish their thoughts on you for the whole world to see. Act accordingly.

That’s good PR.