Promoting Public Power8 min read
Public power systems provide the highest quality service in the nation. When looking at national averages produced by the American Public Power Association (APPA), public power utilities have fewer outages, shorter outages, a more balanced generation mix, better prices, better customer service and countless other advantages. To top all of that off, public power is community-owned and locally controlled, which means that public power utilities always have their community’s best interests at heart.
Understanding the importance of advocacy for public power, and recognizing that our employees and customers are often our greatest asset in advancing the message of public power, is the recipe for next level engagement.
While promotional efforts can often be thankless work, AMP recognizes those member communities that put in the extra effort to promote the great work of public power through our annual Awards Program. During the 2019 AMP/OMEA Annual Conference in September many AMP member communities were recognized for their outstanding work with an AMP Public Power Promotion Award.
However, award or no, promoting public power is vitally important to the health of individual utilities and the industry as a whole. Whether big or small, it is important for every public power system to invest time in promotional efforts. Though this can be done in a number of different ways, there are three areas of focus that can benefit every utility: engage your employees, make yourself visible and use all available resources — and remember: the extended team you have at AMP is always ready to assist.
Engage your employees
When it comes to maintaining good relationships, your employees are priority. Ideally, the employees of a public power system are its greatest promoters and defenders.
Have you ever been approached by a friend or family member with a question about their utility? Rest assured, your employees have as well, which is why it is so important that they are well informed about utility decisions and the benefits of public power.
By ensuring that your employees are kept in the loop on key decisions and major accomplishments, you are ensuring that they are spreading accurate and relevant information to others. By featuring them in promotional efforts, you can broadcast a more authentic message.
“Our employees are what make the Westerville Electric Division great,” said Chris Monacelli, City of Westerville electric utility manager. “It is really important for the public we serve to see the hard work that our staff does every day to provide safe, reliable power. I love when our employees get the opportunity to tell their story, and their passion and pride for what they do really shines through.”
The City of Westerville Electric Division was recently awarded with a Public Power Promotion Award for their The People Behind the Power video, which was used as a promotional tool to celebrate the utility and their efforts. The video, which prominently features staff members from throughout the Electric Division, was extremely well received and reached more than 20,000 individuals on Facebook alone.
Make yourself visible
Just as your line crews need to be visible when working in the field, your public power system should be visible in the community. From setting up an informational booth at your annual fair or festival, to holding a touch-a-truck event during Public Power Week, it is important to make yourself available to your community.
Customers may not give their electric utility a lot of thought until something has gone wrong. However, by providing more opportunities for the community to interact with and learn about public power, you can create a positive, lasting relationship with customers.
“Through the years, we have tried hard to engage with residents, not only to work with them on their power needs, but to educate and involve them in what it takes to provide reliable power to the public,” said Michael Dougherty, electric superintendent for the Cuyahoga Falls Electric System (CFES). “In 2018, CFES celebrated 130 years of providing public power to our city, and we approached the anniversary as an opportunity to expand upon those already extensive outreach efforts.”
Cuyahoga Falls was awarded with a Public Power Promotion Award at the 2019 AMP/OMEA Annual Conference in recognition of their efforts. Part of those efforts included a Public Power Week event, during which local residents were invited to the Electric Department building to meet staff and learn about the utility, how it operates and the history of public power in Cuyahoga Falls. The event was educational and kid-friendly, and resulted in a great deal of interaction with local residents.
“We found that providing the opportunity to ask questions, see some of our equipment and hear first-hand about what it takes to deliver safe, reliable power was very well received,” said Dougherty. “It helped to enhance our customer-owners’ awareness, understanding and appreciation of their public power system.”
No matter how far we come in the field of communications, face-to-face interactions will always be important. Being invisible in the good times can lead to greater scorn in the bad. Build strong relationships now, and you will always have someone in your corner.
Use all available resources
When is the last time you reached out to your local radio station? Are you sending press releases out to your local paper? Local news is an excellent and underutilized resource for promotional efforts, and it is important that we take advantage.
Local media outlets —papers, radio stations and television —regularly welcome local content, and utilizing their reach is as simple as sending an email or making a phone call. When you’ve accomplished something or have an announcement to make, these local sources should be the first places you turn to. If you build a relationship with the local media outlets, you are more likely to get your content published.
In addition to traditional media, social media must become a regular part of your utility’s operations. Social media has become an important part of everyday-life for many people.
Facebook may have started as a place where people could stay in touch with friends and family, but for an increasing number of people, it is where they go to get their news. Twitter may seem like nothing more than silly comments, but it is actually one of the world’s most useful resources for quickly disseminating information to a large number of people.
Whether you prefer traditional media or new, you should be using every tool at your disposal to meet your customers where they are.
Following their involvement in the APPA’s Light Up Navajo initiative, a program intended to bring electricity to unelectrified homes throughout Navajo Nation, the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation (DEMEC) undertook a broad promotional effort to inform the public of their good works.
“Just like a diverse power supply portfolio increases your reliability, a diverse outreach portfolio increases your visibility,” said Heather Contant, director of media relation and communications for DEMEC. “As generations and lifestyles become more diverse, your outreach has to become more diverse as well. To promote DEMEC’s involvement
in Light Up Navajo, we wanted to reach customer stakeholders, local media, government officials and other influencers. In order to get that message to a wide audience, we needed to use various media sources.”
DEMEC used every tool at their disposal, including social media, newspapers, government tributes and more to get the word out to their stakeholders, and the results were a huge success. When all was said and done, their message reached more than half a million people.
Building a strong relationship with employees, customers and the community as a whole is extremely important to the success of public power, and there is no better time to start than now.
“The days of sitting in the background and letting your work speak for itself are quickly changing,” said Patrick McCullar, president and CEO of DEMEC. “With dozens of ways to reach people, if you don’t share your story, then you can’t be a part of their conversation or decision-making process. It’s all about growing a relationship with the customer, rather than just being one of their monthly bills.”
For some, this can be an intimidating process to begin, but it is important to remember that a little bit can go a long way. Paducah Power System has undertaken a number of promotional efforts over the years, but perhaps none is more successful than their charitable giving drive.
“For 23 years, we’ve been putting up Christmas lights at the city park and asking visitors to donate cash and canned goods for the benefit of the community,” said Andrea Underwood, director of human resources and community relations for Paducah Power System. “In that time, we’ve raised more than $700,000 and nearly 1 million pounds of canned goods for area helping agencies. That is an incredible amount of assistance, and it demonstrates that even with limited resources, we can do a lot to make things better for the people we serve.”
Efforts like Paducah’s can go a very long way in showing public power customers that their utility is an important part of the community. That is why it came as no surprise when the APPA awarded Paducah Power System with a Community Service Award at their Annual Conference in July.
“In a time when customers demand more in regards to service and value, promoting public power reminds people that, besides affordable rates and reliable power, we are an essential part of their lives and community,” said Underwood. “We want them to realize that our value is much more than that number on the bill they receive each month.”
AMP wants all of our members to be more than a number on their customers’ bills, which is why we have made a number of promotional materials and toolkits available to our members on the Public Power Connections page of the Member Extranet (login required).
Members are free to access and download these toolkits and materials including social media graphics, pre-drafted op-eds and press releases, videos, sample scripts and more. Additionally, the APPA has a number of similar resources available through their website. As an AMP member, your membership to the APPA is part of the services AMP provides, giving you access to all of their resources.
Additionally, AMP’s External Affairs team always has an eye out for legislative issues that might require intervention. If you would like an introduction to one of your representatives, need help with a legislative issue or have questions about politics or legislation, they are available to help.
As always, AMP is here to assist our members in their outreach efforts. Should you have any questions about promoting public power or accessing the promotional materials available on the Member Extranet, please feel free to contact Zachary Hoffman at [email protected], Michael Beirne at [email protected] or Holly Karg at [email protected].
Public power has a great story to tell, and no matter how big or small your utility, we all have a part to play in telling it.