EEC Perspectives

Overcoming Email Immunity with Face-to-Face Communications

connectEarlier this summer I was delighted to speak at CONNECT ’14, an absolutely terrific event for electric cooperative communicators and marketers sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

The heightened importance of direct, face-to-face interaction with members was one of the takeaways of CONNECT ’14, held in San Antonio. And while the specifics of marketing and communicating with electric co-op members is slightly different from communicating with IOU customers or the customer-owners of public power utilities, the general points are absolutely comparable and applicable.

Several CONNECT ’14 speakers said employees are a co-op’s number 1 asset, but in my session on “Getting More Bang for Your Communications and Marketing Buck,” few attendees said their co-op was making optimal use of employees as a communications asset. Virtually no one said their co-op had a program in place as part of their communications plan to organize and utilize retirees as valuable communications assets.

john-egan-energy-communicationsEmployees and retirees from across a co-op, IOU or public power utility have an important role to play as communicators, particularly as our communications channels multiply. Employees and retirees are the face and voice of an electric business that continues to be defined geographically. “Communications” is not and cannot be the exclusive purview of the Communications department. 

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Making Peace with Stakeholders Who Are Mad as Hell

peter-finch“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Forty years ago Peter Finch won an Academy Award for his haunting portrayal of television newscaster Howard Beale in the movie Network. Beale channels the rage of his age into a nightly newscast that predated reality TV by decades. The two-minute newsroom scene where Beale goes crackers on the air still gives me goose bumps.

Beale styles himself as the “mad prophet of the airwaves denouncing the hypocrisies of our times.” The man who wrote that line, Paddy Chayefsky, also won an Academy Award for his work, which was a black comedy informed by an “end-of-the-rope contempt for the corruptions, hypocrisies and humiliations of corporate life and the power of society’s image-makers,” according to Chayefsky’s obituary in The New York Times.

Increasingly, it seems Howard Beale has become every man and woman. We’re all fed up. Some of us may be better than others in containing our hair-trigger temper, but as a general statement, many of us are just one tick away from losing it. A particular product, service or interaction may not be completely awful, but still we lash out, disappointed less by the product’s failure than the time it will take to return or replace it. And, increasingly, we use social media to share our views.

Chayefsky’s name and Beale’s character are once more in the news with the publication of a new book, Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in the Movies. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asks what Howard Beale or Paddy Chayefsky would make of today’s corporate and media landscape. The Atlantic riffs on how Beale’s character created a template for today’s era of outrage.

The social, economic and consumer forces that drove Beale to madness are not only still with us, they have gotten exponentially worse over the last 40 years. Utilities cannot insulate themselves from today’s age of rage. In a recent column in Intelligent Utility, Kathleen Wolf Davis provocatively asked, “How pissed off are your customers?” Read more »

Celebrating a Milestone? Show Your Customers How Much You Care!

customersThe ads still startle 50 years later. As recounted in Bill Bernbach’s Book, Mobil Oil was celebrating 100 years of operations in 1965. The company earmarked $1 million (a lot of money back then) to commemorate the occasion. The chairman of Mobil met with Bill Bernbach, the legendary creative director of the Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) ad agency to discuss campaign ideas. Mobil’s in-house marketing team had drafted a poster marking the event, but Bernbach had other ideas, bold ones, which Mobil endorsed. And so began one of the most effective campaigns in advertising history.

What happened in 1965 between an oil company and its advertising agency is very applicable to utility communicators today — particularly given that so many utilities are celebrating 75, 100 or even 125 years of service. Read more »

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