Ever find a fly in your soup? Or spot a roach in a hotel? People don’t like to think about pest control in restaurants, hospitals, schools and hotels, but it’s a reality. Orkin Commercial Services thinks about it a lot.

And when research showed that the nation’s 2nd largest pest control company – and largest commercial provider in the U.S. – was perceived primarily as a residential provider, Jackson Spalding was charged with debunking the myth.

The 2004 goal was to build awareness of Orkin as a premier commercial pest control services provider, while providing tools and information to the sales force to support revenue objectives. The communications strategy was defined to mirror the sales strategy, with a focus on organizations in food and beverage processing and service, health care, hospitality, education and facility management.

A supporting objective – and strategy – was to position Orkin as an expert in pest prevention and control, and as a knowledgeable resource in target sectors.

From the start of the communications program in January 2004 – with no existing media materials, a feeble Web presence, significant reluctance from customers to publicize their pest control initiatives, limited sales support materials and little to no awareness or topical interest with the vertical trade media – the team wrote a new 90-page commercial services Web site; scripted, filmed and produced an educational video; penned articles for internal newsletters and the intranet; developed a new media kit and supporting materials; completed nine written customer testimonials; secured placements in industry media for all of the target sectors; helped define the scope of service for a new Orkin offering; and defined, launched and managed a new vertical awards program for clients and prospects.

The team had to educate media about the importance of the topic before they could garner coverage. Once they had interest, the media often wanted testimonials. “Why should I let Orkin publicize my pest issues?” was the attitude of most customers, so messages and materials were developed to help convince customers to participate in case studies. Once coverage had been successfully secured earlier in the year, a new challenge was sustaining media interest so more coverage could be secured.

Research conducted by Orkin about pest control usage statistics showed that most organizations in the target industries already use a pest control provider, but due to a highly fragmented industry, Orkin’s market penetration into these segments was typically under 10%, indicating a significant sales opportunity.

The research, cross-referenced with existing company data on average revenue for customers by industry, also helped to prioritize target sectors for communications and sales initiatives. Existing Orkin knowledge and industry data about pest trends helped define the proactive media strategy. Metrics and processes were established for tracking of results.

Since data showed that most prospects use another provider, the overarching strategy was to aggressively engage in parallel efforts to increase awareness of Orkin’s commercial offering; position the company as the most knowledgeable about pest prevention in the target customers’ unique environments; and encourage prospects to reevaluate their current providers.

To showcase expertise on these topics, the supporting tactics were: seasonal pitches based on pest trends and bylined articles, customer testimonials to validate quality of service, and a quality recognition program with industry-leading partners. Once initial barriers to coverage were overcome and traction was achieved among target media, the media relations program was augmented to include pitching a series of articles by Orkin authors to garner repeat placements and demonstrate vertical insights.

First, the team built an electronic media kit to reintroduce Orkin Commercial Services to editors.

Based on industry/company research and interviews with leaders at Orkin, they wrote a 90-page commercial Web site. To illustrate the advantages of pest control in the food processing industry and position Orkin as a key provider, the team scripted, filmed and produced a video about improving scores on third-party audits, which was distributed to the sales force for inclusion in proposals and posted on the Web as the initial installment for the new “Orkin University Online.”

The team also researched, wrote and designed a checklist for restaurants to use in preparing for health inspections.

Orkin’s premier service offering for the food processing industry, Gold Medal Protection, became the springboard for a customer recognition program launched in 2004 to that industry (additional verticals to be rolled out). The team defined, launched, managed and publicized the awards program internally and
externally, establishing partnerships with The IPM Institute of North America and Today’s Facility Manager magazine to enhance the Awards’ credibility and ensure coverage.

The Awards generated rapid-turnaround case studies of winners to showcase Orkin’s consultative pest-management client partnerships, provided opportunities for Orkin’s branches and company executives to recognize and interact with their most valuable customers in a unique and meaningful way, opened doors for the sales force to propose service to the winners’ sister facilities, and generated additional media coverage to build awareness of Orkin’s most valuable commercial service offering.

Orkin and Jackson Spalding worked with the sales force and local branches to identify compelling customer examples to be used as case studies. The team then contacted customers, encouraged them to participate, conducted interviews with customer and branch representatives, wrote summaries, worked with the featured customers to obtain approvals and designed two-page slicks to be used in sales efforts and for media outreach.

A total of nine case studies were completed, two of which received prominent placement in relevant industry media. All case studies were posted to the Orkin Web site and distributed to the sales force via intranet for use in proposals and in conjunction with a new prospecting program introduced in 2004 by Orkin’s direct-marketing agency.

Orkin’s research and industry data show that pests follow seasonal trends. Armed with this information, the proactive media strategy was built in part on pest seasonality to make the pitches timely. In addition, the team culled more than 100 published editorial calendars to understand current areas of interest for each sector and publication. This effort identified potentially relevant plans for coverage, but also helped to craft a complementary and compelling proactive pitching strategy.

The team’s pitches were well received by media, with two in particular generating extensive coverage. The first was a fly-prevention story idea tied to news of a pathogen carried by flies that had shown up in the food supply. The other related to “green pest control,” and focused on new technologies and techniques that allow better control with less pesticide.

Many publications accepted the team’s offers to submit bylined articles. The result: nearly one-third of the coverage secured was written by Orkin and Jackson Spalding, enabling direct communication of messages. Of the 94 articles placed in 2004, 29 carried Orkin bylines. The proposed Orkin authors were strategically chosen for each pitch to line up with their expertise – the technical director for pest-related topics and the quality assurance director for vertical sector knowledge – and further validate the story ideas.

By using the same two experts repeatedly, the team was able to create an “aura of expertise” around both sources, leading to unsolicited calls for interviews from media.

To build on the success of 2004 (rather than be stymied by editors who had previously covered Orkin), the team implemented a late-year strategy to pitch a series of shorter articles to target media – the objective being to increase frequency of coverage, avoid the trap of editorial calendars that kept pest control coverage to a minimum, and appeal to the “quick read” format becoming more popular in the trade media. This strategy resulted in early commitments for 32 placements in 2005.

From 2003 to 2004, Orkin Commercial Services revenue increased by 5% and sales increased 2%.
Media relations efforts generated 94 placements; 5,268,240 impressions; ad value equivalency (AVE) of $241,060; and 126% ROI (or 226 percent of actual media relations spend of $106,706; excludes any multipliers for pass-along value).

Media placements were of high quality as determined against a qualitative scale, with 64 AAA, 26 AA and 4 A articles. The media relations campaign reached target audiences of food and beverage processing (27 placements), hospitality (17 placements), foodservice/food retail (17 placements), health care (10 placements), facility management (10 placements) and education (1 placement). The team has already garnered commitments for 37 articles in 2005.

Nine new case studies and 18 reprints were distributed through various channels to the sales force. Case studies were used by 51% of the sales force when pitching prospective customers, and 54% shared media reprints with prospects. 45% of the sales force uses the Web site at least once a week for information, materials and as a “brochure” for prospects. 80% of Advantage newsletter readers say it is a valuable sales resource. .

The Gold Medal IPM Partner Awards recognized 34 high-value accounts – from congratulations letters to on-site award presentations for winners, created more than 100 sales opportunities with sister facilities of the winners (follow-up contact lists and cover letter supplied by Jackson Spalding), generated nearly $6,000 (AVE) in media coverage, and created a 27% savings on case study development costs compared to non-Award case studies.