Division A
Category 3 - Institutional

Research/Situation Analysis: Home-Tech is an air conditioning and appliances service and sales company serving a five-county area from Sarasota to Naples, Fla., with headquarters in Fort Myers. The company handles in-home service calls for air conditioning and home appliances, with a strong emphasis on the sale of service agreements, which give customers unlimited service calls, priority response, and labor and parts on appliances for one annual fee. The company started in Fort Myers in 1981 and has grown from literally one man and a truck to 127 employees and a fleet of vehicles. While this region of the country was one of the hardest hit with home foreclosures and loss of jobs during the economic downturn, Home-Tech was in a better position than many companies because it never relied heavily on new home construction. Nonetheless, Home-Tech saw the sales trend of their services agreements flattening.  The company had not done any advertising in many years and had never run a public relations or media relations campaign. While their services were very popular with their current customers, they had very little recognition in the community. With plans in 2009 to increase ad spending, Home-Tech sought to support that investment by improving its community image with a public relations campaign that got the word out about the company, its services, and its values.

Objectives: 1) Position Home-Tech as a media resource by offering the company as an expert in the field of air conditioning and appliance sales and service, and entrepreneurial business.  2) Leverage the amount of community service participated in by Home-Tech by telling the company story.  3) Refine communications with customers and prospects to better articulate the company mission.

Implementation: The company’s founder and president was pitched to the media as an entrepreneurial spokesperson and successful self-made businessman to local and trade media. Other company leaders were pitched as experts in their subject fields, such as appliances and information technology. Home-Tech was nominated as an industry leader to the local economic development council’s Industry Appreciation Award, a prestigious honor for leading area businesses.  News releases on energy-efficiency programs, best practices in home maintenance, tax benefits and rebates on appliances, and Home-Tech’s tech training program and employee ownership were sent to regional media throughout the year to position the company as an expert in these arenas and good business partner. Softer aspects of the company were also featured in news releases and pitches such as the president’s passion for ballroom dancing, an uncharacteristic hobby for someone in his field.  In fact, he met his wife at a “Dancing with the Stars” type charity benefit for the Red Cross.  When they married, instead of gifts, they asked guests to make donations in their name to the Red Cross and the local daily newspaper featured a story on their special union.  Information on the company’s philanthropy in the community was the subject of ongoing news releases. The company ramped up their community relations efforts to have a stronger connection with the community by servicing the appliances and air conditioning units at the local Ronald McDonald House, CROW (the Care and Rehabilitation of Wildlife), and Eden Autism Services Florida’s group home. In addition, Home-Tech donated a bright red top-of-the-line front loading washer and dryer sets to Hope Hospice for raffle at its ladies luncheon attended by 700+ women, as well as to the Go Red for Women American Heart Association luncheon attended by 300 women who live in the company’s service area. The company started a Charity of the Month program, a unique way of thanking customers for their business by making donations in their names to selected charities each month, instead of sending corporate gifts. A nice note card is sent to each customer informing them of the donation in their honor. In addition, the company was title sponsor of the Ronald McDonald Ball and a major contributor to the Red Cross through the “Dancing with the Stars” event where the company’s chief financial officer danced to raise money for the charity. The CFO is also the incoming co-chair of the Go Red for Women luncheon in 2011 and a member of the Red Cross board of directors. Home-Tech donated a wine refrigerator to the SWFL Wine & Food Fest to benefit The Children’s Hospital and supports the Boys & Girls Club in Sarasota at its annual event. The company also used tax credits to support the building of two Habitat for Humanity homes and a news release was sent outlining the lifetime donation of $500,000 to that program.  A blog called “Techster’s Tips” was added to the website to offer quick tips to try and fix common appliance malfunctions for customers wanting to a self-serve solution, and news releases are posted online. A monthly e-newsletter is scheduled to launch in June that will highlight different features and information on the site.

Evaluation: The public relations campaign was highly successful garnering 89 print and online articles/mentions in local, national and trade publications and websites, 8 TV/radio mentions, 6 minutes in TV coverage, 54 minutes on radio. The company was selected for the prestigious Horizon Award as a general business industry leader by the Lee County Economic Development Council, and lauded at a luncheon of 800+ community and business leaders.  The Charity of the Month is in its 10th month and has given away $8,633 to selected area charities. The sales of service agreements increased by approximately 5 percent with minimal attrition.  Anecdotally, the president of the company says he often gets stopped by people who recognize him from his many community efforts and media exposure.

Budget: Agency fees: $65,000