Effective Public Relations for Solar Companies: Page 5 of 5

Ideally, the media kit includes everything required to tell the complete story of your announcement or initiative. For instance, say your company is holding an event to celebrate the completion of a pilot project demonstrating the commercial viability of your product. In addition to the media alert for the event and the press release announcing pilot results, the media kit should include photos of the pilot project, photos of the product, a product description, performance data from the pilot project, an event itinerary and company contact information. In other scenarios, such as the  announcement of an executive hire, you might need to include a company backgrounder (an “about us” document), a fact sheet and management or staff profiles.

It is also a good idea to build an archive of high-quality photo and video resources. Each week, we receive requests from journalists, partner companies or industry organizations asking whether Borrego Solar has photos they can use in various capacities. We welcome these requests because it not only validates our investment in aerial photography, but also provides coverage since we require a courtesy photo credit. In some cases, these photos run in articles that would not otherwise mention Borrego Solar.

Jason Morris, West Coast general manager and executive vice president at InkHouse, concurs: “Visual content is essential. Social media platforms are so pervasive, mobile content consumption is growing and media outlets increasingly evaluate reporters based on metrics such as story engagement and social shares. Graphics, video and other visual elements have never been more important to a PR program.”

Quantifying results. PR works in indirect ways, which challenges PR professionals to show a direct link between PR initiatives and increased sales or market share. Nevertheless, you can use metrics such as social media mentions, website impressions and earned media circulation in your reports to senior executives. Even if you are just creating a short coverage report, you should take every opportunity to quantify and communicate the impact of PR initiatives. The value of PR takes on a clearer picture if you can show that you are moving the needle in a positive direction.

When measuring the value of PR media results, PR professionals have traditionally grounded their conclusions on circulation, readership, reach, advertising value equivalency or impressions. Circulation is a function of the number of copies a publication has distributed or sold. You can find circulation numbers on a publication’s website or in its advertising or media kit, as well as via media databases such as Cision or Meltwater if you have a PR software subscription. Readership accounts for the fact that the total number of readers for print media is often larger than the circulation, due to pass-along readers. It is common practice to estimate readership by multiplying circulation by some factor such as two or three times. Ideally, publishers derive this value based on audience survey results. Reach describes the cumulative audience for television or radio. Broadcast monitoring services such as Cision or Nielsen provide these audience measurements. The advertising value equivalency (AVE) estimates the monetary value of earned media as compared to paid advertising. PR professionals estimate AVE based in part on size and placement. Finally, impressions are the number of people who may have been exposed to the coverage. For example, if an article appeared in both print and online for the same publication, it would have a number of impressions equal to the circulation or readership plus the number of unique website visitors. Subscription-based media databases or online services such as Alexa or Quantcast provide unique visitor counts.

At Borrego Solar, we also track website visitor traffic before and after publication of media coverage to get a sense of the impact a PR initiative may have on sales. While no single piece of data provides a true indication of sales resulting from PR, we can get an idea of what is going on by layering data gathered via new digital tools over more traditional metrics.

Marketing automation platforms, for example, can create trackable links or custom redirects that generate cookies capturing the IP address of anyone clicking on them. When we use these links and redirects in our press releases and social media posts, we can detect the unique activity associated with specific website visitors. Ideally, some of these visitors will provide a name and email address by filling out an online form, and will then become customers. If so, we can track that transaction back to the original press release or social media post via the custom redirect. If you do not have access to marketing automation tools, you can create a trackable link using Bitly. While you will not be able to track individual website visitors, you can track the number of times they clicked on the link and when they did so.

Google Analytics is useful for understanding inbound referrals. This service allows us to see what websites visitors were on before coming to our site. If someone clicks on a link to our website in an article that appeared in SolarPro, we see solarprofessional.com as a referral website. You can also use PR monitoring platforms such as Cision or TrendKite to track and compare your company’s media mentions versus those of competitors. The goal of this “share of voice” analysis is to ensure that your company has a stronger share than the competition.

Quality over quantity. To provide value, PR professionals must be familiar with the topics and geography that a journalist, publication or outlet covers before making a pitch. If you do not have a lot of resources to devote to media relations, keep your media list small and focus on those contacts with whom you have a personal relationship rather than sending out generic email pitches to a wide distribution list. You might get less overall coverage, but the quality will likely be better.

Prior to the release of Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm, many PR professionals used press releases as search engine optimization tools. Today, Google no longer places much value on press releases because so many companies have been publishing links to their websites without delivering valuable content. The best way to get your news out there while increasing website traffic is to have a good story to tell and to develop quality content. This means PR professionals need to stay current and adapt their message in light of changing public perception.

“Don’t be afraid to try something different,” says Antenna Group’s Setliff. “The face of the solar customer is changing, and it’s crucial to be responsive to that. If the story that’s worked for a decade no longer works, evolve it. If you don’t, someone else will.” Setliff concludes: “Smart messaging is the foundation of any successful PR program. Solar customers are savvier than ever before, and we’re nearing the point where consumers approach PV system adoption the way they approach purchasing a home appliance. If a solar company cannot articulate its value proposition or key differentiators, it will lose business to a competitor that can.”

Morris at InkHouse adds: “Companies need to focus on why they exist and not what they do. This boosts relevance to stories being written and reported every single day, while communicating a narrative that cuts across diverse audiences such as customers, investors and other stakeholders. Some solar companies still portray the industry as a scrappy underdog movement. While this gets solar supporters excited, that’s not the audience you need to move. It is time to shift messages and communications to a story of inevitability: The US and other major economies around the globe are not going back to coal and diesel as sources of energy, and advances in energy storage will continue to make renewables more economically attractive over time.”

CONTACT:

Sarah Horn / Borrego Solar / Oakland, CA / borregosolar.com

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