Utility marketers and communicators I speak with remain intrigued by the idea of direct interaction with their clients, contacts not mediated by email, social media, the news media or the contact center’s voice-response unit (VRU). They understand the power of personally connecting with customers.
But these utility representatives I speak with seem fixated on the logistical challenges of direct outreach: “We understand email has passed the point of diminishing returns,” they say. “But our community relations department only has three employees, and we serve over 100,000 customers. You do the math. How are we supposed to make personal contact with our customers?”
Well, why not invite them to the movies? A Florida locally owned utility, KUA (Kissimmee Utility Authority), has just wrapped its second season of “Movie in the Park,” and they report outstanding results.
A little background on KUA. It thinks—and acts—differently. Even among its public-power utility peers, it has created a well-deserved reputation for finding creative, cost-effective ways to connect personally with its customer-owners. A few years back, I profiled another creative outreach initiative from KUA: its grill-lending service. Don’t laugh—KUA’s Big Grill is a trailer-mounted, propane-fired, barbecue grill that boasts 40-square-feet of cooking surface, twin 40-pound propane tanks, a 35-gallon water tank and collapsible stainless steel food prep counters on each side.
KUA’s Big Grills have fed an estimated 189,000 people since the utility started making them available in 2002. That’s quite a lot of grilling for a utility with about 69,000 customers. And every time Uncle Bob and Cousin Sally line up for ribs, burgers and corn, they see KUA signage. The utility never had to attend or say a word.
OK, now that we’ve had our dinner, what’s next? How about a movie? KUA’s got that covered, too.
Chris Gent, KUA’s vice president of corporate communications, explains KUA Movie in the Park this way: “In 2014, KUA was approached by the City of Kissimmee to consider a sponsorship of a movie in the park event. The city’s monthly movie series, which had been running for several years, had a different sponsor each month but was poorly attended for a variety of reasons, including poor movie selection, a small inflatable screen/sound system and minimal event marketing. Their largest crowd to date was 500 attendees.”
At the same time, KUA had made the decision to stop participating in traditional consumer trade shows, mainly because attendees were only interested in door prizes, free giveaways and anything else that wasn’t nailed down to their booth. “We were looking for a new and better way to educate and engage our customers,” he said.
“After conducting some research, we concluded a Movie in the Park event could be successful if it had strong promotion and provided an enjoyable guest experience to movie-goers,” Gent told me.
KUA’s test movie event in April 2014 featured Disney’s blockbuster hit “Frozen,” and he said the event was a resounding success. More than 2,600 people packed Kissimmee’s Lakefront Park to watch the movie on a giant 14-foot LED screen, take photos with “Frozen” characters, participate in a costume contest and watch an air conditioning demonstration to learn how to stay “cool” but not “frozen” during the summer months.
“Feedback from that evening was spectacular, and we knew we had developed something special,” Gent continued. “KUA approached the city and asked to take over the movie series, which would run annually from October-March. The KUA movie series was born!”
KUA just concluded its second year of Movie in the Park. During that time, it has cleverly paired family-oriented movie titles like “The Lego Movie,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Polar Express” with energy trivia contests, lighting comparison booths and the efficiency of electric cooking. The utility makes free popcorn available at each event. It also has lots of fun activities for children and the family.
Communications Tip of the Month: If you’re not getting any bang for your buck exhibiting at home & garden shows, and you really want to engage personally with your customers, there’s a new and better way to go — bring your customers and families to the movies!
KUA posted a video of the activities at its last movie of the season, “Minions,” which drew over 2,800 people, KUA’s largest crowd ever.
Gent estimates the movie series has drawn nearly 25,000 in two years. Each event draws an average of about 2,000 people, double KUA’s initial goal. The utility enhanced the experience this year with a much larger 32-foot screen and a better sound system. Before the movies begin, people enthusiastically participate in the utility demonstrations, movie trivia and costume contests, he said. Kids jump on bouncy castles, tube down a snow track or bungee jump to their hearts’ content. A great night of family entertainment! Best of all, KUA paid about the same for one (highly effective) movie night event as it would for participating in one (highly ineffective) trade show.
KUA’s Movie in the Park series, like its Big Grill lending service, strengthens its bonds with its customers, at a cost-effective price. KUA is helping customers achieve a goal: more quality time with friends and children in a safe, fun, outdoor activity. What’s not to like?
The Spring Home and Garden Show circuit is probably kicking off in your area right now. If your utility has concluded, as KUA did, that those shows are no longer effective ways to interact personally with customers and other stakeholders, I encourage you to check out KUA’s Flickr album, where it has posted dozens if not hundreds of photos from its Movie in the Park series, then contact Chris Gent.
It may be too late to withdraw your participation in the spring cycle of home and garden shows, but there’s plenty of time to consider deploying your marketing budget dollars in more effective ways before your organization is recruited for exhibiting at the autumn cycle of those same shows.
Retiree’s – Your New Feet on the Street
Have you tried to mobilize your retired employees as an adjunct communications and marketing resource? Few utilities have. But one utility, Louisville Gas & Electric, has been mobilizing its retirees for over 20 years. Find out how LG&E is benefitting and what it learned along the way.
Click here to download John’s article.