EEC Perspectives

Utility Communicators: Where Were You the Day the News Died?

Credit: Amazon.com

Where were you the day the music died? For those of us of a certain vintage, we may recall Don McLean’s song about that awful day when a plane crash killed rock stars Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson, also known as the Big Bopper. McLean felt rock & roll would never be the same after that tragic loss of life, and he wrote an eight and one-half minute eulogy for it, titled “American Pie” (not to be confused with the movies of that name). Listening to an AM-radio shortened version of that song when I was growing up, I didn’t understand the allusions, but I liked the beat. Listening to it today, I still like the beat, but now I get most of the allusions.

So where were you the day the news died? If music can die, as people and animals and ideas and countries certainly do, why can’t news?

And if it’s not too late, what can be done to revive news’ heart, reinvigorate its soul and postpone its death? Or are we already too late?

 

Credit: iStock

I had those troubling thoughts recently after a utility spokesperson contacted me to point out several errors in an article I wrote for one of my journalism clients. I felt awful about my inaccuracies and I worked with the client to fix them as soon as possible.

My errors did not spring from malicious intent. I strive for accuracy in all my work, as I assume nearly all communicators do. Still, despite our best efforts, mistakes happen. Fortunately, my recent ones were easily corrected.

But as I recently listened to “American Pie” and I considered the errors in my article, I thought about the state of journalism in general, specifically what has been called “fake news,” and what it may mean to electric, gas and water providers.

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Warmest Holiday Wishes from EEC

 

girl-opening-present-compressor

Credit: iStock

Christmas is only a few weeks away. It’s always a special time in our home. I’ll never forget the Christmas Day years ago when our son Jack, then about age 6, bolted down the stairs and hurled himself at the presents under the tree. His expression was a mix of excitement (“Wow, there’s a ton of presents, I wonder how much of it is mine?”) and worry (“Please, no socks”).

 

fruitcakeHere at EEC, we honor the spirit of Christmas. But instead of lavishing our readers with gift cards, holiday sweaters or PlayStation 4s, we have chosen a humbler approach. This month, we’re regifting some of our most popular blog posts and Subscriber Exclusives of 2016. So take a break from shoveling snow, grab an eggnog, throw another log on the fire and take a look at what your peers at other utilities have been reading. It could make your life easier in 2017!

 

boulder-energy-future-compressor

Credit: City of Boulder

How Boulder is Redefining “Success”: The City of Boulder, Colorado, located 10 miles west of EEC, has been trying to leave Xcel Energy and launch its own distribution utility for many years. Within the electric industry, Boulder’s municipalization efforts have been widely followed, mainly because successful municipalizations are rare. Despite a wealth of talent and drive, Boulder has been losing more than it is winning at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and in the courts over the last year or so. With each new setback, the city has been redefining “success.” In other words, Boulder’s moving the goalposts. I’m beginning to wonder if the law, and Xcel’s deeper pockets, are starting to wear the city down. Although I still think Boulder could pull victory from the jaws of defeat, I don’t think that will happen. Click here if you missed this Subscriber Exclusive.

Communications Tip of the Month: The changes roiling the electric and gas businesses are forcing communicators to find new ways to create value for their companies. Resistance is futile but pain is optional. Find out what’s working and what’s not from your peers.

How a New Narrative Can Overcome Confirmation Bias: Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said or what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Confirmation bias is people’s tendency to remember facts (or even rumors) that confirm their existing viewpoint. Many customers don’t think particularly highly of their utilities, which blinds them to the good and innovative things many utilities are doing. But a new narrative can overcome confirmation bias, providing utilities follow a few simple rules. You can read all about it by clicking here for a copy of this Subscriber Exclusive.

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A Wild(e) Thought on the Value of Communications for Utilities

 

Credit: Biography.com

Credit: Biography.com

“A cynic,” Oscar Wilde once wrote, is someone “who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.”

That may offend electric and gas company officials with budgetary responsibilities. Since resources are not unlimited, someone has the (often thankless) task of deciding what will be funded and what won’t. Wilde’s comment may sting, but like many of his observations, this one contains a large kernel of eternal truth.

Budget Battles Inside Utilities

As a general rule, companies fund what they value, and don’t fund what they don’t. At the end of the day, not funding a function is equivalent to saying it’s simply not essential or at least not important enough to receive funding.

I don’t propose to substitute my judgment, or Wilde’s, for that of electric and gas leaders. I can’t possibly know as much about their operational challenges or budget dilemmas as they do. And I don’t want to engage in budget-shaming. But I have seen the consequences when electric and gas companies under-fund communications and marketing. So I hope this post will be taken as more of an early warning than a scolding.

Today’s budget environment inside electric and gas companies is extraordinarily difficult. Cyber security, infrastructure construction and system upgrades are jockeying with everyone else for slices of the limited budget pie.

I don’t advocate a spending binge on communications or marketing for all utilities at all times. But there are consequences to under-funding those functions. In more than a few cases, I have been asked to help electric and gas companies recover from under-investment in communications and marketing.

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