Contractors don't need to fear the media if they how to use it to their advantage.

How do you feel about the media? Many contractors, like much of the public, it seems, don't trust the "Fourth Estate," as journalists are sometimes called.

According to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, an opinion research company in Washington, D.C., 53 percent of Americans believe the press is politically biased. Even worse, 58 percent said reporters occasionally or regularly make up the news they report.

I've never seen a survey that specifically asked those in the HVAC or general construction industry what they think about the press, but I imagine the results would be similar. Many contractors feel the only time their industry gets any media coverage is when a company does something wrong.

With that perception, it's not surprising some contractors want to run when reporters call. However, they may be running away from an opportunity to promote themselves and their businesses.

I was reminded of that while listening to public relations consultant Joe Salimando's talk about working with the media during Sheet Metal Industry Week, a May convention in Las Vegas sponsored by the Sheet Metal Workers union and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SNIPS' coverage begins on page 14).

Salimando advised contractors to contact the media and position themselves as HVAC "experts" who reporters could tap as a source when writing stories about heating and air-conditioning issues.

"You need to be talking about this industry's stories, which I think are just incredible," he said.

I'm not sure how often the average newspaper or TV reporter works on heating and air-conditioning stories, but as a former newspaper writer myself, I know anything is possible, especially on a slow-news day.

And some contractors certainly have had success working with the press. During February's National Roofing Contractors Association convention, I attended a presentation by metal-roofing contractor Steve Kelchlin, or as he's known to San Diego TV viewers, "Dr. Roof." (See "Turning metal into money," June.)

Kelchlin is a tireless promoter of his company, West Coast Roofing. He plasters area neighborhoods with signs and even hosts roofing "shows," whatever those are. But his greatest success, he said, came in the mid-90s when drought-induced wildfires were destroying many Southern California homes.

Knowing that TV news crews would follow the fire trucks, Kelchlin began showing up at the scene, wearing his company's logo-emblazed jacket, offering to be interviewed. He explained that many of the damaged homes had wood-shake roofs, a material which was especially prone to fire damage. Coincidently, he also explained that metal roofs, such as the kind his company installed, were resistant to such damage.

It didn't take long for reporters to begin seeking Kelchlin out as a roofing expert, and he has the video clips to prove it. One TV reporter even refers to him as "Dr. Roof." He said it was better than any ad he could have run.

I had to laugh at Kelchlin's shamelessness, but it worked. Maybe there's a similar approach HVAC contractors can use. Maybe some already are.

Letters

Flat-rate pricing good for experienced contractors

I like flat-rate pricing (Editor's Page, June). If I was getting something done, I would like to know what it is going to cost. I'm a mechanical contractor specializing in heating and air. Way too often, I hear other contractors say they don't like flat-rate pricing because they do not know what they may run in to.

But I say if you are an experienced contractor, you should know what all is involved in your line of work. If a contractor cannot give a solid price for a job, then maybe the company is not experienced.

I would rather lose money on a job than tell a customer I did not know what I was getting in to.

Hutch Hall

Halls Heating and Air LLC

Union, S.C.