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What Did Your Utility Accomplish in 2021?

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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...

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  • Dec 23, 2021
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The end of the year is a natural time for reflection: What positive things happened, what negative things occurred and what can we learn from both and apply it in the year ahead?

In all likelihood, your utility reviews its performance in multiple areas, including in terms of public relations (and if it doesn’t, it should).

A good way to review performance is by writing an old-school-style “family” letter. You know the kind – where your friends brag about how great their jobs are, how well their kids are doing, the new car they bought and all the fabulous trips they took during the year.

Yeah, sometimes they’re over the top, but your utility should consider a press release that’s akin to the old Christmas letter.

Even in a difficult year for just about everyone, you’ve likely had plenty of successes. It’s perfectly fine to tastefully toot your own horn.

Write about any awards your company won. Talk about your overall reliability rate. Mention any upgrades and improvements you completed in 2021. Discuss any betterment projects hatched this year that will be implemented in 2022. Tout any great new hires. Remind people about the events you sponsored. Spotlight green initiatives. And so on. You get the idea.

Of course, downplay any problems. For example, if weather events caused widespread outages, talk about how the utility community came together to solve the problem. Detail how future outage responses will improve based upon what you’ve learned. There’s almost always a silver lining to any negative event.

Pitch this letter to your regular media outlets, but don’t expect too much in the way of coverage. And that’s OK. Mention the letter on your social media and link to it so all can see it. Post it on your website. And consider including it as a bill insert or as a message emailed to customers.

Beyond the letter, now’s a good time to look at your utility’s overall public relations efforts.

Did they meet or exceed expectations or were they disappointing? Perhaps more importantly, how realistic were they?

In my decade of working in public relations, I found that clients were most often disappointed because they had unreal expectations (in fairness, PR firms often promise the moon, knowing full well that those lofty goals are unlikely to be reached).

Yes, everyone wants glowing profiles on the cover of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times or feature segments on the network news or CNN.

That’s unlikely to happen. Those kinds of things generally go to some revolutionary start-up that may or may not be changing the world, not a utility, which is considered a largely staid industry.

Matter of fact, when a utility makes the cover of a prestigious publication or is prominently covered in a major electronic outlet like “60 Minutes,” it’s probably for bad news, which is something you don’t want. It’s probably safe to say PG&E wasn’t too fond of the front-page coverage it got in stories about wildfires, its related bankruptcy and various fines it received.

So, if your utility’s “White Whale” is mostly a pipe dream, where does that leave you in 2022?

Stick to the basics, and it’s hard to go wrong: Promote the fact that you’re a good corporate citizen and community member that reliably provides power to its customers.

Focus on your consumer-friendly programs, whether they’re energy audits, old appliance buybacks or payment programs for financially struggling customers. Send out the evergreen safety advice on tree trimming and digging.

Highlight the technology you’re using to provide better service and meet today’s challenges. Remember that you probably have some visually appealing elements to incorporate into any pitches you make.

Suggest profiles of interesting employees, never forgetting that your rank-and-file employees may be more interesting than the executives.

If you’re enjoying an anniversary of some sort, a retrospective might prove interesting, especially if you can provide those aforementioned visual elements.

At the same time, if something negative crops up, be proactive in defending yourself and explain the situation. Radio silence is only warranted on rare occasions; remember that if you ignore a contentious issue, someone else (who probably isn’t friendly) will be setting the tone for you.

Remember that all positive coverage can be repackaged on your social media and website, so don’t overlook smaller outlets, which are likely to give you a friendlier shake anyway.

In summary, if you keep your expectations reasonable and continue to build your utility’s brand, you’re likely to meet or exceed your goals next year.

Best wishes for a great 2022.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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