EEC Perspectives

Crisis Communications: What’s Brewing Inside Your Utility?

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“Do you ever speak on utility crisis communications?” Barry Moline, executive director of the California Municipal Utilities Association, asked me in a recent phone call. I told him I did. He asked if I could speak on that topic at CMUA’s annual conference. I told Barry I would be delighted. Readers interested in my take on utility crisis communications can check my previous blog posts, like here and here and here.

True or False:  Most Crises Take Place Outside an Organization

Maybe true. Maybe false. What we do know is that crises take place inside and outside organizations. What also is clear is that it’s generally easier for communications professionals to discuss a utility’s crisis communication response to an external event like a flood or tornado. Communications tied to internal problems tend to be more difficult.

Other speakers on that CMUA panel were scheduled to discuss their crisis communications work on external events: last year’s California wildfires and the potential collapse of a spillway at the Oroville Dam, the state’s second-largest reservoir.

Where could I add value to that panel? What wasn’t being discussed? I thought about the role organizational culture played in internally generated crises that have engulfed businesses and people in recent years: sexual misconduct in the workplace; United Airlines dragging a passenger off one of its planes; performance-enhancing drugs in sports; the malfeasance of financial firms that created the housing bubble and the Great Recession; and Enron.

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Utility Marketing: Cash on the Barrel or Cash Down the Drain?

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Raise your hand if you think your utility marketing efforts are misguided.

Yeah, that’s what I thought. But rather than call out your utility’s marketing team, a less-confrontational approach might be to consider third-party research. That’s what today’s post is all about. You’re not saying it, I am.

For years and years, corporate checkbooks have played an outsized role in utility marketing endeavors, whether it was efficiency programs or some other endeavor. I’m referring to rebates, incentives and other cash utilities spend to understand the market, or prime the market, or transform the market, or shift the market, or outright buy the market.

Communications Tip of the Month: Money is only one of several tools at the disposal of utility marketers. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. That’s no way to build an effective marketing program.

Utility Marketing Programs: Checkbook or Creativity?

Earlier in my career, I worked for a well-regarded electric utility that was fighting marketing incursions from a gas utility. We had long dominated the market for residential new construction by incenting builders to put in electric heat pumps (instead of air conditioners and gas furnaces) in the homes they were building. The gas utility wanted to get furnaces into those new homes.

Back then, my utility’s primary weapon was its checkbook, and for a while, it worked: over 75% of all new homes built in the area had an electric heat pump. But then, it failed, largely because the gas utility had more creativity than we had money.

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Battling for Employees’ Hearts and Minds? Don’t Lead with “Reliable, Affordable and Safe”

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Those words might have worked as a rallying cry 75 or 100 years ago, when the U.S. was electrifying (right). Back then, working in the electricity business was a leading-edge, change-the-world endeavor, like working in the space program was in the 1960s or the perennial search for a cure for cancer.

But today, many utility employees need a more current, vibrant and relevant sense of purpose. “Reliable, Affordable and Safe” doesn’t stir anyone’s heartstrings. That’s not to say utilities should abandon those attributes and become, instead, unreliable, expensive and unsafe. But touting reliability, affordability and safety is akin to Southwest Airlines having a motto of, “Not crashing planes since 1967.”

Meaning at the Heart of Employee Engagement

Simon Sinek has been adroitly beating the drum for jobs with more meaning, inspiration and purpose for more than a decade. His book, Start with Why, and his TED Talk, which has been viewed over 36 million times, are powerful statements about people’s search for purpose and fulfillment.

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