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It May Not Be News to Your Utility, but it Might Be News to The Public

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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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  • Nov 16, 2021
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I’m not a gambling man, but I’d be willing to bet (figuratively speaking) that the things your utility’s executives think are news do not match what the public and – more importantly in this case – what journalists think.

Remember that by its very definition, news is something that isn’t happening every day. It also helps if whatever is happening is likely to appeal to a good-sized chunk of a media outlet’s readers/viewers/listeners/followers.

Therefore, while your utility might be proud that it won a trade press-sponsored award or that one of your executives was named president of the local Kiwanis chapter, the average person won’t care.

At the same time, it’s why something relatively unimportant or routine might become a big hit.

For example, from time to time you see reports about power outages caused by squirrels, usually from when they chew through wire insulation. Yes, it’s a nuisance to both customers and the utility itself, but have you ever considered pitching a story about it?

Explain why the problem happens and what efforts you’re undertaking to minimize future incidents. While not downplaying the outages, be a bit lighthearted and show empathy for the squirrels that caused the problem – and inevitably were zapped to death.

Why might this story work?

For one thing, people like animal stories.

Two, it’s unusual. Remember that “dog bites man” isn’t news, but “man bites dog” is.

Third, there are good visuals, especially if you can take a reporter up on a bucket crane to show the damage squirrels cause.

Fourth, there’s the general public curiosity factor. I know that whenever I see some kind of work crew out doing something, I wonder what’s happening – and I know I’m not the only one.

Fifth, not every day is chock-full of news. Media outlets plan stories for days when not a whole lot is happening. The media might not jump right to the squirrel story (I’m only using it as one example), but they may well keep it on a future story list waiting for the right moment.

Remember, that there is always space and time to fill – you don’t see blank newspaper pages, anchors sitting there staring off into space or silence over the radio.

Just keep in mind that when a media member does come calling, you need to accommodate them fully and promptly. Prep the employees who might be featured, too, to make for a smooth performance and ultimately positive coverage.

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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