Depending on how large your solar business is, advertising can be an expensive endeavour. However, getting the word out about the many benefits of solar power via public relations is a cost-effective way for solar businesses to get media attention for a fraction of the cost.
What Are Public Relations?
Public relations (also known as “PR”) can help promote a business or industry without the costs of advertising. In addition to traditional media like print, radio, and television, PR can also reach people through social media, email, newsletters, blogs, and other types of media. PR professionals issue statements to the media so they can tell a story that’s complementary to a company’s agenda.
PR is more akin to news than it is to advertising and it can be a potent part of a successful marketing strategy. Here’s how advertising compares with PR:
- PR is earned media while advertising must be paid for.
- PR can be more credible and less “salesy” than advertising, which tends to be more hyperbolic.
- PR builds trust while advertising builds exposure.
A good public relations article can appear in the news or the editorial sections of newspapers, websites, television, and radio. Advertising will almost always appear in a special advertising section.
Using Public Relations to Relay News
Public relations is about understanding the nature of news. Ask these three questions before creating a public relations story:
- What’s the story?
- Why should I care?
- Why should I care today?
☞ Pro Tip: A news story becomes even better if it is new, unusual, or there is a human interest angle to the story.
PR can make news by either creating a story or following up on another story. Let’s dive into each type of news.
Creating a News Story
The most common form of PR comes in the form of a press release which is a method of sharing your solar business’s story with news outlets.
The best reasons to create a news story press release include:
- Introduction of a new solar product, installation method, or feature
- Announcing a permanent change to prices
- Opening up your solar business to a new territory or market
- Hiring a new CEO, executive, or a famous board member
- Winning a prestigious award like an Intersolar AWARD
- Announcing a merger or expansion of business
Keep in mind that news to you may not be news to your customers. For example, if your business needs to add more installation trucks due to expansion, your customers probably won’t care about that information, even though it’s important to you and your employees.
☞ Pro Tip: Keep the customer in mind when deciding on a news story.
News Ideas For Solar Businesses
Here are some news generation techniques for solar businesses.
|Create news by getting a byline in an independent publication. The byline might be in an opinion piece, a blog post, a tweet, or a photograph.||Pitch an article to your local newspaper, Solar Power World, a hobby blog, or promote your Twitter feed.|
|Create events or speaking engagements in front of prominent groups.||Hold a solar power information session at your local library or host an open house at your business for customers to browse in a no-pressure learning environment.|
|Conduct a survey that can reveal interesting and newsworthy information.||You survey clients, suppliers, or peers by email or telephone. The survey’s results can be turned into a positive news story for your business or the entire solar power industry.|
Consider including colorful charts to make your point. (See examples here and here.)
☞ Pro Tip: Go to the website of a company you admire and browse their About or News sections to see examples of newsworthy press releases.
Following Up on a News Story
Following up on a news story that affects the solar industry in general or your specific business can be an opportunity to capitalize on its popularity. The story can be about almost anything, as long as it pertains to solar.
For example, winter storms like the one that struck Texas in early 2021, knocking out power to thousands because of an inadequate power grid can be leveraged by solar energy businesses.
Taking Advantage of Breaking News
When there is breaking news, television stations and journalists will look for experts to comment on the subject of the breaking news. These comments can be in real-time via video conference, in-person, telephone, or email.
Journalists and reporters usually have a list of contacts that they can call for interviews concerning various topics. When breaking news occurs that affects solar businesses or the industry, you can offer your expertise to reporters. Maintaining good relationships with journalists can keep you top of mind when relevant stories arise.
Taking Advantage of Trends
Following up on a news story isn’t just for breaking news. You can also take advantage of ongoing trends. For example, stories about the new US presidential administration, legislation, or hearings related to renewable energy would be a trend that solar businesses can use to create PR stories.
When it comes to public relations, many companies might be getting too caught up with social media and forget about traditional methods of getting the word out.
☞ Pro Tip: Set up Google Alerts that can notify you instantly of news about the solar industry so you’ll be ready to follow up on them immediately.
Using Social Media for PR
One of the most-asked questions about PR is whether social media will replace traditional media. The answer is: Not yet. Although social media has a place in public relations, getting quotes in the New York Times or Washington Post tends to carry more authority than a tweet or an Instagram story.
Getting wide exposure for a press release on Twitter can be difficult unless it’s topical and uses the right hashtags. Even then, there are so many factors and algorithms that come into play, “going viral” is mostly just luck.
But Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms are a good way to build relationships over time and interact with current and potential customers. That way, when you do need to release news on social media, you’ll get wider exposure.
How To Write a Press Release
A press release needs to contain five important pieces of information:
|Headline||Clearly explains why the press release is important and interesting|
|Press contact||How the media can get in contact with the company|
|Location||Where the news is happening|
|Body copy||The news you want to convey with the most important information first|
|Boilerplate||The name of your company, when it was founded, its missions, and the products you sell. (Optional: any major awards or honors your business has received.)|
A simple template of a press release will look like this:
- Headline of the press release.
- For Immediate Release and date of publication.
- Press contact information.
- Optional summary bullet points can be placed here.
- An introductory paragraph that introduces what the press release is about.
- The second paragraph will include details. Including a quote from a company spokesman in this paragraph is helpful.
- The third paragraph will include other relevant information that was not included in the above paragraphs, and anything else the readers should know about.
- The boilerplate of the company or organization.
Format Variations: Some press releases might put the headline and sometimes a subheading under the press contact information. There are other variations of placement in a press release, but the type of information is the same. Press releases are usually short and to the point.
Structuring the Body of Your Press Release
The body of the press release must answer the following six questions: who, what, why, where, when, and how. Each paragraph should be no longer than three or four sentences.
Including a quote from a company or industry spokesman will add credibility to the press release. The quote can go in any paragraph of the body.
The final paragraph is for closing remarks. For example, if a new product is a reason for the press release, it must include when the product will be released and where customers can purchase it.
Your Company’s Boilerplate
The last bit of information is the company boilerplate which is a short version of your “About Us” page. Don’t make it too long or it will sound like an ad instead of a boilerplate. The boilerplate is there to provide journalists a quick background of the company.
After the boilerplate, press releases should end with “###.” This is journalistic shorthand that indicates that there are no other pages to read.
More Tips For Writing Press Releases
Here are a few tips to write the best press release:
- Always write in the third person unless adding a direct quote.
- Speak to journalists, not consumers. (It shouldn’t sound like an ad.)
- Make it brief. A press release should be one page and around 400-500 words.
- Get to the point quickly by starting with the most important information first.
- Use few if any adjectives.
- Keep it objective by giving details instead of opinions.
- Don’t use jargon.
- Proofread and edit before submitting.
- Optimize with relevant keywords, but don’t stuff it with keywords.
How to Submit a Press Release to a PR Wire Service
Once you’ve written your press release, you must submit it to the media — like journalists, reporters, and bloggers. Your contact list should be targeted for specific industries, topics, and locations.
Building relationships with journalists beforehand can help your PR pitches have a better chance of being accepted. This is called PR outreach.
In addition to the media contact list, press releases can also be sent to PR Newswire, a popular PR distribution company. Sending a press release to them will get it published on some of the largest news sites on the internet.
Best Media Targets for Solar Businesses
Renewable energy is in the news every day. Since it garners much discussion, all solar companies should have a budget set aside for public relations.
The first thing a solar business should do is build a media target list. The media target list is where your press releases can be sent to get your name in the public view.
A solar business media target list should include well know publications like:
- Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
- Solar Power World
- Greentech Media
- PV Magazine
- Renewable Energy World
- American Solar Energy Society (ASES)
- Solar Magazine
- Solar Builder Magazine
- Solar Industry Magazine
Each publication should have the contact details of its staff listed. It is best to contact a section editor instead of the chief or overall editor.
There are also local renewable energy and solar energy associations that should be on your media target list. You should also include your state’s renewable energy associations as well as local universities.
Popular blogs should also be included in a media target list, like:
- Unbound Solar
- Pick My Solar
- Solar Power Rocks
- Smart Electric Power Alliance
- The Energy Miser
All solar companies, small and large, need an awareness of public relations and to set aside a budget for it in addition to their regular advertising budget.
Issuing a press release that contains genuine news can reach a wider audience than mere advertising alone can accomplish — especially for smaller solar businesses.
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