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The Heat Is On For Utility PR Departments

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
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  • Jul 22, 2022
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With temperatures soaring across most parts of the United States, a good chunk of the public is merely thinking about ways to stay cool. And since school’s out and many people are on vacation, not that many people are paying attention to the news.

But even if a significant number of your employees are on vacation, your utility needs to be vigilant in its public relations efforts. The pressure (and heat) is on for you right now.

Although we haven’t heard about too many power-related problems thus far, blackouts or brownouts remain a possibility, especially since the high heat is so extended both in length and distance. Wildfires present another threat in many parts of the country; as you’re well aware, utilities are increasingly being blamed for accidentally starting them because of their equipment.

That’s why your utility should be providing daily recaps to the public about energy consumption and any problems you are encountering (or are potentially encountering). Feel free to send out brief press releases, and post regularly on your social media channels. You can even be somewhat playful over social media; an occasional “remember when?” post showing a massive snowstorm can be a way to virtually cool off, so to speak. It’s the same deal when you post a recipe for lemonade or another refreshing drink.

If something serious does happen – power shutdowns to avoid starting wildfires, widespread outages – you literally need to have near-continuous updates of the situation. If you’re not constantly providing information, you may be allowing someone else (someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind or, while well-intentioned, may not fully understand what’s happening). It’s crucial to control the message.

And given how slow the news generally seems in the summer, now’s an opportunity to get your utility some positive press. The media’s going to be reporting about the heat, so a power company is a perfect resource to tap.

In all probability, you have an evergreen version of a “ways to stay cool and save energy” press release. Dust it off and send it out.

Better yet, develop specific pitches related to how your utility handles hot weather. Invite a news crew to follow work crews tackling problems in the field or go behind the scenes at your control rooms that monitor power usage. Anything with interesting visuals can draw interest.

Even things without good visuals might make for a good story. Perhaps an explanation of how transmission grids work and how power can be moved from region to region might draw attention.

Or maybe you can interest a reporter in a story about how your utility specifically generates power. People tend to turn a switch and expect the current to flow; detail how that power was created, whether it’s something old-school like coal or something greener like solar or wind power. Visits to solar and wind farms make for good visuals, as does one to a hydroelectric facility.

If you offer any energy assistance programs for customers, talk them up. At the same time, keep nonpayment shutoffs out of the news, if at all possible.

Make things easy for reporters and photographers. Provide them with background, contacts, photos and/or video and anything else you can imagine. Respond promptly to any inquiries. Granted, this is all PR 101, but you’d be surprised at how many organizations fail to follow up their press efforts.

Ideally, given that there are heat waves every summer, your utility’s public relations department should already have a game plan in place should the worst happen. If you don’t, you should think about creating one, sooner than later.

Don’t be discouraged if your initial efforts are rebuffed. Media pitching is akin to cold calling, and you’ll be rejected many more times than someone will even sniff around one of your ideas. We still have six to eight more weeks of peak summer ahead, so there likely will be plenty of opportunities for the media to run with one of your ideas.

Finally, don’t forget that pitches that aren’t related to the heat have a better chance of being picked up this time of year. With schools closed, many businesses on light schedules and people at the beach or mountains, fewer pitches are making it into newsrooms. Less competition means there’s a better chance that a pitch that normally would be relegated to the delete folder might attract someone’s attention. It certainly can’t hurt to try.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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