The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) is a 29-year-old professional society of independent home inspectors with 6,000 members.
A few years ago, ASHI's board made the decision that it really needed to solidify the brand. It came up with the ASHI Eperience to do so.
The ASHI Experience had a three-fold mission: to educate consumers about the importance of home inspection and the ways to choose a home inspector, to educate real-estate professionals about the value provided by ASHI members, and to educate ASHI members about the need for the program. ASHI worked with MS&L in the development phase of the ASHI Experience. When the campaign officially launched in January 2004, MS&L was on board to help build buzz among the public.
One of the biggest obstacles was resistance from some ASHI members, who had incurred an increase in dues to pay for the effort. Lisa Gunggoll, account group manager at MS&L, says the team had to make sure to come up with a portion of the campaign that would directly benefit the individual ASHI members. "We really had to be cognizant of tying it back to the members' bottom line," she says.
For real-estate brokers, the agency thought to tie the issue to reputation. To address the importance of home inspection among consumers and to get the attention of the media, Gunggoll says, MS&L decided to capitalize on the real-estate boom. "We all went out looking for interesting ways to tie into trends," Paterkiewicz says. Adds Gunggoll, "We had to give consumers an expanded reason for wanting a home inspection."
The first step was to revamp the existing ASHI website. Not only did the site allow consumers to contact ASHI inspectors in real time, but it also included a component that could be used as the basis for media attention: the Virtual Home Inspection, a tool featuring a 3-D home and highlighting its major structural systems as identified by ASHI standards of practice. "We used PR to draw people in ... to the website," Gunggoll says.
To promote the launch of the site and campaign, MS&L conducted a national media tour, meeting with key editors from such publications as The Wall Street Journal, Country Living, This Old House magazine, and Popular Mechanics. To address the idea of home inspection as something that is important for seniors, Gunggoll says, MS&L also targeted publications for that demographic. To capture the attention of real-estate professionals, she adds, MS&L and ASHI reached out to the National Association of Realtors and also established a presence at several of the organization's trade shows.
"PR-wise we gained a lot of notoriety," says Paterkiewicz.
ASHI garnered coverage in several publications, including Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Mechanics, and Newsweek. The number of unique visitors to the ASHI website has increased by 35% over last year. In addition, the number of actual searches performed for ASHI inspectors on the website is up approximately 30% from last year.
MS&L continues to work on promoting the ASHI Experience. Gunggoll says MS&L has tweaked an existing television PSA for distribution in the states in which ASHI did not receive a significant response during the first 12 months of the campaign. Additionally, the agency is reformatting another television PSA into a radio PSA.
PR team: American Society of Home Inspectors (Des Plaines, IL) and MS&L (Chicago)
Campaign: The ASHI Experience launch
Time frame: January to December 2004