Yellow Pages have always been a great medium for advertising your electrical business to homeowners. Nothing beats the tangibility and completeness of a big, annual reference book—like CEE News’ annual Buyers Guide, for instance. But these days it also pays to keep your business searchable online.

People like the speed and convenience of the Internet. Letting their fingers walk through the yellow pages used to be to the fastest way for customers to shop around. Now it’s faster for them to click directly to your business. With so many aging houses and so many new homeowners needing quick fixes, it’s a good bet to make your business easily retrievable through a good search engine, like Google. It’s also good idea to post your phone number and e-mail address prominently on the site.

Googling around for an electrician here in the Kansas City area—using “electrician,” “electrical contractor” and “Kansas City” as key search words—I was unable to find a firm right off the bat. (Please e-mail me at mharring@primediabusiness.com if you think I slipped past your company somehow.) Preparing last month’s Top 50 electrical contractors story, we were amazed to find that some of the nation’s largest electrical contractors have bad, slow-moving Web sites that drive potential customers away. Speaking of driving and customers...

Fuel-cell power plants. I’ve said this before in this space, but it bears repeating: Fuel cells offer a tremendous opportunity for future-minded electrical contractors. The hydrogen-based technology may never be a viable option for mass-produced cars—or at least in time for me to buy a good, used fuel-cell car—but it’s an excellent energy alternative for powering individual homes and commercial buildings. Though it’s probably way too soon to give up entirely on hooking clients to the utility grid, it’s a good idea to keep you eyes open for fuel-cell prospects down the road.

The new Big Eight. The Big Eight college football conference became the Big 12 a few years ago. The Big Eight accounting firms now number many more than eight—even with the imminent demise of Arthur Anderson. But, according to USA Today, there’s a new big eight on the block—the eight big companies that still have Standard & Poor’s AAA credit ratings. In the high-flying late 1990s, when even Barbra Streisand touted herself as a financial genius, plenty of companies maintained the triple-A rating. Now, many of these giant companies seem to be sinking in the sand of empty promises. For instance, The New York Times recently reported that the stocks of several large energy companies fell sharply as the industry was buffeted by fresh doubts about the continued viability of electricity trading. Curious thing about the new Big Eight: It seems to be comprised principally of companies that actually produce a tangible good or service, like successful electrical contractors do.

Reader’s humor is uniform. Hey, contractors—our humor well is starting to run dry. Please send more funny stories. Over and over again, we’ve been getting new variations on the same two old jokes: “Let an electrician wire your shorts” and “how do you keep an apprentice busy for hours?” (Answer: Have him search for something that doesn’t exist.) Please send more real-life stories. You can change names and locations to protect the guilty.

Days of wine and roses. Movies have always done a great job of showing the creepiness of public relations—from the corrupt columnist and sycophantic PR lackey of “The Sweet Smell of Success” to the oily, drunken pitchman of “Days of Wine and Roses.” Of course, movie PR people sometimes pale in comparison to the insidiousness of real-life public relations. (Take the recent example of a smarmy Washington D.C. PR firm’s idea to pitch American-way-values propaganda to the citizens of adversarial nations overseas—with Uncle Sam footing the bill.)

Here at CEE News, we maintain a great relationship with the PR firms. (We often tell them “thanks, but it’s not really a good fit for us.”) PR firms provide us with new product information and news leads that we pass on to you the reader. We also have a great relationship with people who sell CEE News ad space. (We don’t tell them how the sell the magazine; they don’t tell us how to fill it.) The trick for editors is drawing the line between good information and commercial puffery. The lines seem to be blurring in some magazines—or maybe they just look blurrier to my 44-year-old eyes.

We’ve noticed a trend toward trade magazines praising their industry manufacturers for no apparent reason—well, I guess advertiser money could be a reason. One national newsweekly (I won’t say which, but it wasn’t Time or Newsweek) recently ran an editorial criticizing the Food and Drug Administration’s slowness to approve new drugs while praising pharmaceutical companies’ speediness to invent new drugs. Opposite the editorial ran an ad spread for the American Pharmaceutical Association.

If you, the reader (with whom we should always maintain the best relationship), ever catch us crossing the line into the land of mercenary commercialism, please call us on it—literally. Or e-mail me at mharring@primediabusiness.com.