EEC Perspectives

Retirees: A Utility’s Secret Weapon in the Net Metering Battle

solar panels on houseElectric utilities across the country are getting PR black eyes on rooftop solar and net metering. The Washington Post, The New York Times and countless local news organizations have run articles on this national trend of homeowners putting solar panels on their rooftops. The controversy arises over net metering: what should homeowners pay to maintain the electric grid and preserve the option of taking utility-delivered electricity?

Dozens of electric utilities are in a terrible PR dilemma: How to break the bad news to the public — that they’re neither zeroing out their electric bill nor disconnecting from the grid — without looking like they’re anti-solar power. How did utilities get themselves in this bind and how can they get out of it?

Utilities are losing this PR battle because they brought a knife to a gun fight. The sooner they understand that, the sooner they can begin to recalibrate their marketing tactics, and perhaps recapture lost ground.

For the most part, utilities have not mobilized a critical communications and community relations asset – their retirees. Solar companies, meanwhile, are going door to door, signing up one customer after another. It’s the ultimate retail business model, and the solar guys have been on the offensive. They’re using face-to-face (F2F) marketing on a door-to-door basis. And utilities? Well, they’re playing defense, and not very well. Read more »

The Most-Important, Most-Important Function in Your Utility

don draper

The New York Yankees were deep into a mediocre season, so this summer I started binge-watching “Mad Men,” the drama about an advertising agency and its creative director, Don Draper, set in the 1960s. If you haven’t binge-watched that series, I highly recommend it – you get so much more out of a well-crafted show the second time around!

Draper’s character, played by Jon Hamm in the role of a lifetime, sometimes said things that were relevant beyond Madison Avenue and applicable 50 years after the 1960s ended. Near the end of the show’s fourth season, in an episode entitled “Blowing Smoke,” the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency faced a life-threatening crisis. Two departments, Creative Services and Account Services, were fighting over which should lead the agency out of its crisis.

As the departments waged a low-intensity conflict with each other, a member of Draper’s team asked him what they should do. “We’re going to sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us because we’re Creative – the least-important, most-important thing there is,” he replied.

Now there’s a sobering thought. Every department in a company is, by definition, “important.” Some department has to be at the top and some department has to be at the bottom, right? What if Draper’s bitter comment were true? Let’s fast-forward 50 years and ask ourselves, “Are communications and marketing the least-important, most-important functions in a utility?” Read more »

Employees – The Heart of Any Service Provider

egan-energy-1I walked down the airport jetway, physically tired but mentally energized after a very positive client visit. I recently switched my flying allegiance to Southwest Airlines, and I’m glad I did because this visit lasted longer than originally planned. Not all of our meetings could be held on Tuesday; some had to be moved to Wednesday. Rebooking my return flight on Southwest had none of the hassle and cost of the other airlines I had flown. And the more frequent departures worked just fine for me.

I was thinking of all the to-dos stemming from my trip when I walked by a poster from Southwest. “Without a heart, it’s just a machine,” it read with a close-up of one of its planes. Soon thereafter, the airline launched its Heart TV ad campaign.

Southwest’s campaign, and its entire value proposition, is highly applicable to utilities. Airlines and utilities are different in a lot of ways, but they share some important similarities. Both are asset-intensive businesses with billions of dollars of “big iron” on their balance sheets. A company’s profitability depends on using those tangible assets as efficiently and effectively as possible. Fuel is one of the largest costs for both airlines and energy utilities. Read more »

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