PR Primer for Solar Panel Installers

PR Tips to Build Your Solar Company

Update May 24: #SolarChat, May 22nd, was an Twitter trend success, generating 2.5 million impressions.
Check out the great Solar Marketing and Public Relations tips in the recap!

By Glenna Wiseman
Founder, Identity3
PR Primer for Solar Panel Installers – Identity3 May 2013- Downloadable PDF

Over the last nearly 6 years in the solar industry I’ve experienced an evolution in the use of PR to drive marketing initiatives and business growth.

Singularly the press release stood as the focused vehicle to drive media visibility. The opportunities presented by today’s web environment now showcase the press release as a multichannel tool. The “DNA” of the press release destines it to generate press coverage but it is now evolved to heightened importance in a broader range of marketing initiatives.

A strong press release, in the context of a public relations campaign, drives content creation for online users, seeds the internet landscape with keywords critical to a company’s growth, drives traffic to a website, acts as fodder to fuel social media marketing and serves as an amplified voice for the company’s identity in off line and on line communities.

This primer for solar panel installation firms is not meant to be a complete guide to creating a full-fledged public relations campaign or even the “last word” on how to create, distribute, leverage and measure a successful press release.

This PR primer does come out of my experience in the solar industry and as a marketer and business builder. I’ve “walked in your solar installer company shoes.” Here you will find a primer to help you understand the evolved importance of PR as a competitive tool to grow your solar business from a PR and marketing professional within the industry.

This primer includes the following PR program elements:

  • Strategy & Management
  • Media Relations
  • Press Release Subjects
  • Press Release Writing
  • Distribution
  • Measuring Results

Strategy & Management

How do you want PR to help build your business?
Create a PR strategy tied to business initiatives & KPI’s
Your PR effort should support clear business initiatives and be held accountable to key performance indicators (KPI’s).

If you do not have an ongoing public relations campaign, then start small. No matter your beginning point, create a strategy that represents an incremental expansion of what you have in place now.

If you haven’t started an official PR effort, then you might begin with listing the milestones you see as news worthy for your company, identifying media outlets surrounding your offices, figuring out how or who is going to spearhead the effort, what benefits you could offer clients by helping them tell their solar story and finally, what KPI’s you will track and how you will measure results.

Your company PR efforts may have been sporadic and reactionary. Having some PR efforts in the past is very positive. Expanding your effort may involve ensuring you are not missing any of the key items listed above, adding metrics to measure your efforts and working to expand the editorial schedule and social media marketing efforts.

Measure KPI’s including website traffic to online press release, overall traffic bumps to the website on day or and week after release, lead generation from online inquiry forms and increases in activity on your toll free number. Website traffic can be tracked for no cost through your Google Analytics (GA) account. By tying your social media accounts into GA you can see referral traffic and how much it was increased during the release distribution. There are many other ways of setting up and measuring KPI’s for your PR efforts.These metrics can get you started.

Who is going to be responsible for the program?
Assign someone in the organization to manage PR or find a consultant or agency
If no one has direct responsibility for promoting your firm with solid PR strategies, you will suffer to the competitor who is savvy enough to dedicate resources to PR.

Make sure the manager handling PR is experienced and understands critical approval and scheduling parameters. If you do contract with a consultant or agency instill an internal manager with the task of working with your outside talent.You will not get the “bang for your PR budget buck” if you don’t have a clearly defined structure in place to work with the talent helping your firm.

Media Relations

Who are the reporters covering your subjects?
Find the reporters who care about your topics
You can assign the research task of identifying the reporters who cover your topics internally or hire an outside firm to assist you. It really depends on how wide and deep a reach you envision for your PR efforts. Starting small can be a strong foundation. Your research should at the very least include local press reporters who cover energy, solar, business and environmental subjects.

How do you become a quoted expert?
Introduce your company leadership and firm to local and key industry reporters
Create and distribute a “virtual Rolodex card” to introduce the subjects you and your company can address as energy experts. Let the press know what topics you can address on an expert level. Be sure you really can address those topics with expert status. Understand how solar fits into overall media topics and suggest connections reporters can use in a release.

Example
A solid approach to initiating media coverage is to research and write an industry roundup piece covering your region. The local reporter would then have a strong story of what is happening with solar in your region. Unbiased information helps the reporter put their spin on the story and their by-line. Information to cover includes the “who, what, when, where and why” of solar in your region: who is installing solar in your region, what do they offer in terms of current promotions, what financing programs are available to residents, what current utility rebates are still relevant, case studies on when your clients went solar, where are solar installs in the region and why did the property owners go solar. The piece would certainly quote your management.

The result: A solid update on solar in your region that puts solar in the spotlight and quotes your firm. Remember, of course, press coverage and how reporters use your material is not ever guaranteed. By giving them solid information you increase the odds of positive coverage.

Press Release Subjects

What is newsworthy about your company?
Work with management to create press release guidelines
Not everything is newsworthy. It will save you time and bring focus to your efforts if you identify what types of releases will serve your overall business objectives.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

Document and promote critical firsts
For example, you could highlight your first commercial project, your first net zero energy project, a milestone in the size of system you install, the first major install you are doing with a new solar panel partner, the first installation for a particular industry type, the first major installation by your firm in a particular city, and/or the first project in a unique funding program like HERO Financing.

Develop helpful, informative content
High quality content could answer solar buying questions in your area.  Make sure you understand your current customers’ information needs and their buying questions at each stage of their purchasing decision.  Use that information to develop content that is helpful to others.  By giving it a local twist you can use as blog material on Patch, a local city resource or as a locally distributed announcement.

Promote key company management hires
A company is as strong as its team. When you add a brilliant new person on the management level, you have a press worthy release. In addition to your local media, business publications and solar industry press, be sure to distribute the release to the executive’s industry publications and to the media of the manager’s home town.

Example
If you’ve hired a new Chief Financial Officer you could send the release to CFO Magazine. Now you potentially have visibility in a publication reaching other CFO’s and you communicate the seriousness in which you take the financial aspect of solar and renewable energy.

LinkedIn and your LinkedIn company page are also important visibility for the industry and other talented managers you might want to attract to your firm. Spend some time creating a vibrant LinkedIn company profile so you can use it for releases including those highlighting new talent strengthening your team.

What client centered solar events make sense for your PR effort?
Create PR / press worthy events and content
You could stage a residential solar “spin the meter” backwards party, inviting local media and neighbors to participate in a “solar home party” and find out how a home solar panel system really works. Be sure to document with video and photos for your blog coverage piece and social media promotion!

Commercial solar clients are particularly good press opportunities. In the right solar dedication event you can highlight your client’s sustainability message while involving key stakeholders on the solar installation team and in the community. By reaching to a wide circle of participants you can add press validity to your event and media campaign. See related post, “Help Your Client Tell Their Solar Story.

Press Release Writing

What is a boilerplate?  Why is it important?
Make sure your boilerplate reflects your company identity and marketplace value
A company information boilerplate is the standardized summation of your firm appearing at the end of each press release, prefaced by “About Company Name.”

This description of your company needs to be succinct, capture what you do, where you are located, and why you are unique in the marketplace. Your company identity should shine through the boilerplate in factual, objective, non-sales oriented language, written in third person. The description should be short and include your toll free number and website URL address. Keywords important to your company also need to be included.

Your boilerplate should be reviewed each time you do a press release for updates in growth figures, number of installations if that is part of your boilerplate and other significant information that has changed with your firm.

This aspect of your press release is an important opportunity to capture the spirit of your firm while delivering a journalistic-style factual presentation of who you are in the marketplace.

Note: Another key consistent aspect of each release you need to prioritize is the branding statement most firms put after their name in the first paragraph of a release.

Here is an example: “XYZ Solar Company Inc., the Midwest’s leading solar installation firm with over 5000 solar installs, today announced…” The descriptive element in italics is a company identity statement. When utilized repeatedly it will help reporters and stakeholders understand who you are in the market. Be sure your claims are factual!

Why are keywords important in a press release?
Keyword optimize your release
Optimizing your releases for the keywords critical to your business will help extend your existing SEO, or search engine optimization strategy. In addition to ensuring your important keywords are part of your press release boilerplate, the press release itself should include keywords, as should the headline and subhead. Other tips you can use to encourage traffic to your website from the press release include adding hyperlinks to the keyword phrases of the content.

Press release distribution services like PR Newswire have SEO optimization services you can use as part of your membership to analyze the keyword effectiveness in your release.

What other elements will improve your coverage?
Include graphics to increase the pick-up of the release

Graphics, photos, images and video feed will all increase the pick-up of your release.  It will also increase the odds that the release will be included in other coverage. Be sure you have tied the images into the release content and keyword optimization strategy.

If you are highlighting a solar installation, think about creating a page on your website with descriptive information, client testimonial quotes and multiple pictures of the installation. Then add a link in the release back to this supplementary information and photos. This will help reporters and online sources to cover your story.

Why should you use a professional to write the release and/or help you with the campaign?
Guidelines for using outside talent
Once distributed online, your press release lives forever.  A professional will ensure it is the best representation of your firm and the content you want to deliver. Content must be high quality, original, authentic and factual.

In a broader context, a professional can help you see and execute opportunities you might not have time or attention to exploit.

If your budget is small try using a PR independent contractor to put together one initial campaign. Make sure you understand what is required of you as the hiring manager, how many meetings the contractor will attend, how many revisions are covered in your contract, how the release will be distributed, what is the word count cost of any paid distribution service, what email and social media steps will be taken to promote your announcement and/or content and how will success be measured.

Once you see a smooth and successful round of deliverables you can move forward with confidence, having built a strong relationship with a talented person.

Who is on the “press release team?”
Identify the press release “team”
If the press release is part of an overall affiliate marketing campaign or solar project dedication event, for example, it will be more effective if it involves the marketing and PR professionals at the involved companies.

Creating and spearheading a team that includes other talent in our industry resident at solar panel manufacturing, racking, inverter, financing and software companies along with your client’s marketing professional can help you manifest a team effort leading to greater results!

Note:  Solar panel manufacturers, particularly, often have a co-op budget and program. Be sure to check with your manufacturer to determine if your press release initiative could be covered with co-op dollars.


Who needs to approve the release and when?
Know your approval cycles
If you are working with a team, affiliate marketing personnel or agency contact identify the amount of time each team member needs to get management team approvals. Generally each participating entity in the press release will need a certain approval time frame. Build your schedule taking everyone’s approval cycles into consideration.


Prioritize approvals
Additionally, prioritize who needs to approve first and who has the “final say” for the release to be distributed.  Make sure everyone on the team is clear about the approval and distribution schedule so the release is coordinated and “hits the street” | web at the same time.


Distribution
What is the distribution schedule?
Coordinate schedules
Along with understanding the approval requirements for the release and approval timing, be sure to coordinate the distribution schedule of all team members. If the release is going to be distributed by more than one entity, it needs to carry the boilerplate of each company. A synchronized distribution schedule will add to the potency and perceived professionalism of the release.


What is a news wire service and why should you pay for one?
News wire services

News wire services maintain extensive media outlet contacts, regionalized and categorized by the coverage type. They distribute your release to your geographic, industry and/or beat requirements. A strong advantage to using a paid news service is the media respect for the news wire service and the resulting online distribution. For example, you can distribute a California based release and receive pick up all over the world. Your release, company information and directive back to your website are thus seeded on the internet.

Public companies have very strict announcement requirements. As a private firm you can do highly regionalized release schedules and reap broad online exposure.

Here is a list of news wire release distribution services:

PR Newswire - http://www.prnewswire.com/

Business Wire- http://www.businesswire.com

Note:  Business Wire gives you the opportunity to set up a company profile page including logo, company information center and recent releases.

Market Wired -http://www.marketwire.com/

PR Web - http://www.prweb.com/

Web Wire - http://www.webwire.com/


A few of the many free online services:

Newsvine - http://www.newsvine.com/

PR Loghttp://www.prlog.org/

i Newswire – http://www.i-newswire.com/

Note:  Free services do not have the credibility with the press as the established, longstanding paid services.

Why is it important to put the press release on your blog?

Why is it important to put the press release on your blog?
Anchor release on blog for social media marketing
Post your release on your blog the same time as it is distributed via a news wire service. Leave off the boilerplate and translate it to the look and feel of a regular news piece. Once the story is posted you can implement your social media posting to help amplify the message. Make sure the blog links back to relevant pages for your team member sites and project profile page as appropriate.

How can you use email to get the word out?
Tailor lists to communicate via email
Your press release distribution strategy should include individual reporters on your email list and clients and other stakeholders as appropriate to the content of the release.

You may want to tailor the message depending on the mailing list. For example, media contacts should have “Press Release” clearly indicated in the subject line. Clients can be less formal approach along the lines of “We thought you’d like to know…” For increased amplification of your news and to maintain its timeliness you should set up your email distribution to coincide with the date and time of the news release.

Another way to leverage the same content is to include in your newsletter communications as appropriate.

Measuring Results

How can you measure the success of your press activities?
Key performance indicators
Effective PR can help you build your business in many ways including:

  • Generating new leads and clients
  • Increase traffic and search engine results for your website
  • Increase visibility in your community and industry
  • Generate goodwill with your solar clients
  • Open up new business opportunities and connections with new partners

You can specifically measure results of a press release including:

  • Resulting publicity in mainstream media
  • Number of online mentions and/or inclusion of parts of your release in true media outlets and respected blogs
    • If you use a paid news wire service they will give you a report of the pickup of the release.  As valuable as the “reprinting” of your exact news release may be, the true value is pick up of the main message of the release with a by-lined article.
  • Amount of traffic release drives to your website
  • Number of leads generated during time of release compared to “normal” lead flow
  • High quality link building
  • Inclusion in Google News and Keyword Alerts
  • Social Media Mentions, posts, shares, likes, Tweets!
  • Be sure to benchmark your website traffic and lead generation stats, for example, before the release distribution.

One of the most powerful keys to improvement is measurement.  What you track, you improve!

For more information visit, www.Identity3.com or email Glenna Wiseman at GWiseman@Identity3.com