Helpful Resources for Utility Communicators and Marketers

All of these resources are free. For additional samples of EEC’s work, please visit the Writing Services website page.

Communicating Through Crises

During COVID-19, heatwaves and wildfires, California's publicly owned electric utilities bolstered their public outreach. Customers took notice. In a survey conducted last summer in the midst of multiple once-in-a-generation crises, customers of California’s publicly owned electric utilities gave them high marks for the quality and relevance of their communications.

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AEP's Unique Crisis and How it Fought Back

American Electric Power (AEP) was hit with an odd crisis a few years back. The crisis occurred over a Thanksgiving weekend and involved an AEP employee, his neighbor's two dogs that got shot, and the eruption of a social media firestorm. Here is the presentation delivered by a senior AEP communicator at a conference sponsored by EUCI.

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The utility media relations function can help turn stakeholders into advocates, producing a wide range of benefits: lessened frictions, lowered costs, enhanced customer relations, increased cus-tomer satisfaction and improved brand equity. But when utility spokespersons have a tin ear or a heavy hand, they can create problems internally and externally: for executives, for customer service representatives, for legislative and regulatory affairs managers and for departments seeking to build infrastructure.

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The evolving electric utility business environment places special demands on public power governance. However, public power veterans and policymakers agree that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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How Redding Electric Utility Looked Inward to Better Serve Its Community In this article by Matt Williams for the Summer 2018 issue of California Water & Power magazine, see how Redding Electric Utility began a structural reorganization to keep up with the times.

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Preventing Your Next Communications Crisis

For utilities, some communications crises stem from unpredictable external events like severe weather. Others are self-inflicted wounds that derive from internal organizational issues. Skillful communicators may be able to contain crises once they erupt. But wouldn’t it be better—less painful, less costly, easier—to try to prevent them? Many communications crises can be prevented with careful planning and purposeful action. Sometimes luck plays a role. But have you ever noticed that well-prepared utilities seem to get “lucky” a lot, while less-prepared utilities can’t seem to catch a break?

You can start today on “the road to luck” by taking this self-assessment. Look at the questions included on this checklist and answer them honestly, “Yes” or “No.” Then score your answers and consider your next steps.

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Utility Employee Engagement

The strategy team is pumped: “This initiative will rock the market,” they say. With no shortage of excitement, and just a touch of hyperbole, they proclaim a new and brighter future is at hand.

Are they talking about your impending merger? The rollout of advanced digital meters? The long-sought-after upgrade of the customer information system?

It doesn’t matter. Whatever strategic initiative is underway at your utility, you will need engaged employees to implement it. And engaged employees in a utility are pretty rare today.

7 in 10 strategic initiatives fail. To increase the probability that yours will succeed, check out this article I wrote for Public Utilities Fortnightly.

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Do Unto Others…Going for Gold in Customer Service

Any public power utility looking for an established checklist and a clearly delineated road map to customer service excellence will be disappointed. There is no single path to excellent customer service, even though the desired result — happy customers — remains the same.

The goal posts may move continually as the expectations of customer-owners evolve, but the fundamentals of what makes for good customer service — compassion, know-how, communication, and respect — don’t budge.

That’s why public power utilities that deliver extraordinary service, including those regularly recognized for excellent customer satisfaction by J.D. Power, work hard to make sure serving customers is at the core of their organizational culture.

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Face-to-Face Communications Is Powerful, Postdigital Communications Tool

Are you experiencing email immunity? How about social media immunity? Who knew that in today’s hyper-digitized, always-on, over-messaged world, some utilities are looking to break through the noise by moving to a different level: engage in face-to-face (F2F) conversations. Three companies are finding success in F2F communications.

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Inside Out: How Natural Gas Companies are Addressing Cyber Threats

Since 1996, Carnegie Mellon’s cybersecurity experts have collected at least 1,200 publicly reported cases of insiders causing harm to companies and other institutions — but that might only be the tip of the iceberg. As physical and cyber threats become a company priority across all industries, here’s how natural gas utilities in particular can protect their physical and intellectual assets.

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Juggling Chainsaws: EEC’s 2017 Survey of Utility Communicators & Marketers

Utility communicators and marketers are juggling a lot of metaphorical chainsaws these days. One is “key messages,” another “customer preferences” and a third “technology platforms.” In this exciting environment, where choreography is everything, one false move can draw blood.

Utility communicators and marketers are under pressure to perform as never before. The market intelligence in this survey could keep you and your utility from under- or over-funding communications and marketing activities.

This unique and one-of-a-kind survey report will show you the trends of what your peer communicators and marketers are thinking, doing, finding and funding. And, it could help you save time and money!

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Next Generation Outreach: Digital Newsrooms

We’re living in an amped-up version of Snapchat, the communications app that lets you send videos or photos that last for only six seconds. This has become particularly evident in TV news, where the average sound-bite has fallen from 43 seconds (!) in 1968 to 18 seconds in 1976 to less than 9 seconds in 1988, where it pretty much remains to this day, Ryan Orendorf of Hahn Public Communications told attendees in this very engaging talk given at the APPA Customer Connections Conference in November 2016.

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Crisis Communications — Lessons Learned from Middleborough Gas & Electric

Sandy Richter, communications manager for Middleborough Gas & Electric, a locally owned gas and electric utility south of Boston, shares her presentation from a few years back on how she handled a crisis that erupted at her utility. This utility’s PR crisis started with an internal spat between the general manager and the treasurer over investment practices. This resource is absolutely indispensable for utility communicators eager to get some perspective on PR crises.

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Best Practices in Complex Issue Messaging

“Flue gas desulfurization units” may be a term that easily rolls off YOUR tongue, but it means nothing to the rest of the planet, including your customers. Utility issues are getting more and more complex, which means communicators and marketers need to work even harder to make complicated issues simple. If you can’t explain to your customers what you are doing and why, how can you expect them to trust and support you?

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Retirees – 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.

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Budgets, Gadgets & Price Increases: EEC’s 2015 Survey of Utility Communicators & Marketers

Egan Energy Communications conducted an online survey of North American utility communicators and marketers. The 16-page survey report, Budgets, Gadgets & Price Increases: EEC’s 2015 Survey of Utility Communicators & Marketers, contains the distilled findings of several dozen practitioners working to find the optimal blend of high-touch and high-tech tools and tactics.

Authored by energy-industry experts John Egan and Matthew Joyce, the report is a snapshot of what your peer communicators and marketers are thinking, doing, finding and funding.

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Preventing PR Pain for Energy Communicators

Communicators that work for utilities or oil and gas companies have their work cut out for them. Communicating effectively with the public on controversial energy matters like “Smart Meters” and “Fracking” is really hard. We don’t know of any company that has done everything right. And some companies have made communications mistakes that were, in retrospect, pretty elementary. Want to avoid making those same mistakes? Check out this article published in Natural Gas & Electricity.

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Is Our Value Rising as Fast as Our Prices?

Electric and gas utilities are increasing their prices, and that trend looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future. This article, published in Public Utilities Fortnightly, takes the form of a memo from a utility’s chief communications officer, Sam Soundbite, to his CEO, Bill Bigwig.

Sam acknowledges that all communications didn’t go as well as planned in the utility’s most recent price increase. He offers several specific suggestions for Bill to consider as they both contemplate a future with price increases as far as the eye can see.

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How Well Was Your Utility Prepared for The Promised Land?

Matt Damon and Gus Van Sant have a track record. The A-list actor and award- winning director first teamed up in Good Will Hunting. When Damon and Van Sant announced their second film collaboration, Promised Land, energy companies had good reason to be concerned. The film touched a hot-button topic in the energy field: production of oil and natural gas using a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” And, if Promised Land made a big splash, would that also soak the electric and gas utilities who have grown dependent on fracked gas?

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