EEC Perspectives

The Care and Feeding of the News Media

sigmund_freudWhat do the news media want? Sigmund Freud spent a lot of time a century ago pondering a variant of that existential question – “What do women want?” Eventually, he concluded, it was best to ask them. And so it is with the news media, which many of us interact with on a daily basis.

A lot of utility spokespeople used to work on the other side of the fence, reporting, editing and producing news for newspapers, online news sources and radio and television stations. That’s valuable experience that gives those spokespeople a leg up on other media relations professionals who have not logged time as a member of the Fourth Estate.

But being an effective utility spokesperson does not require a stint in the news media. And regardless of whether you toiled in journalism’s vineyard earlier in your career, you can do a fine job if, as Dr. Freud suggests, you ask reporters, bloggers, editors and producers what they want – then make every effort to give it to them in the way they want it.

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Digital Meter Communications: Speak to the Middle

Al YankovicYou know a topic has gone mainstream when it finds its way into a parody song by Weird Al Yankovic (left). Weird Al’s video, “Foil,” is a lighthearted take on conspiracy theorists, a small but colorful segment of our population sometimes referred to as people who wear tin-foil hats.

You know who I’m talking about: the tiny segment of the population who see conspiracies everywhere. Black helicopters coming over the ridge. A New World Order led by the United Nations. A global economy run by and for the Tri-Lateral Commission. The Kennedy assassinations. Area 51. Gun control. President Obama’s birthplace.

As utility communicators, we sometimes have to engage with these folks in the context of advanced digital meters. And yes, before people get all worked up, “tin-foil hat people” is a pejorative term, as is its predecessor, the “flat-earth society.” But these are descriptive terms being used by some utility officials, typically behind closed doors, to describe people who fiercely oppose deployment of advanced digital meters. Read more »

Persisting in the Face of Failure

apollo-13Our society is not really keen on failure. If we wanted to assign blame for this, we could point to Apollo 13, the movie about an ill-fated mission to the moon in 1970. Faced with a catastrophic equipment malfunction and the potential loss of a lunar spacecraft and three astronauts, Ed Harris’ NASA mission control character famously asserted, “Failure is not an option!” And, despite daunting odds, the NASA team got the astronauts safely back to Earth.

Apollo 13 was a great movie, but only in Hollywood would failure not be an option. Outside Hollywood, here in the real world, failure is not only an option, it’s a pretty common outcome. Actually, given the crop of stinkers that has kept me away from movie theaters this summer, failure is pretty common in Hollywood too.

A while back, I started discussing success and failure in utility marketing and communications with Arnie Winkler, director of education and workforce development for the Northwest Public Power Association (NWPPA). But we had to cut our conversation short because I had a doctor’s appointment. Not 30 minutes later, sitting in my doctor’s office, I came across a National Geographic article on famous failures among explorers, such as Ernest Shackleton’s doomed attempt to cross the Antarctic a century ago. “Failure — never sought, always dreaded, impossible to ignore — is the specter that hovers over every attempt at exploration,” the article said. Read more »

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