Powerful Words

Sometimes it’s not enough to get the job done. That’s what our friends in the utility industry were talking about at the EUCI Conference in New Orleans last Thursday and Friday. Getting the lights back on safely and quickly has always been priority number one. But these industry experts have realized that their customers, regulators, and the media want real time information, provided in a way they can understand and share.

During the conference, Con Edison’s Mary McCartney laid out how her team tackled this gargantuan task during Superstorm Sandy last October. As Sarah Pagliasotti at Portland General Electric also emphasized, it’s very important to work hard to make sure customers and communities understand what to do before the storm hits.

Understanding that the media shapes the perceptions and the moods of these key audiences is at the foundation of a media relations strategy that Global Strategy Group presented to the attendees.

The need for 24/7 content drives everyone from broadcast news veterans to bloggers. Utility communicators have a tremendous opportunity to provide the images, soundbites and stories that can help shape the public dialogue during major storms and prolonged outages. And furthermore, they know that if they don’t provide the context, someone else will.

GSG highlighted a 5-phase strategy that encourages utilities to identify the assets they can make available to reporters, coinciding with different phases of storm restoration activities. The key is to spend “blue sky” days (that’s industry speak for whenever it’s not stormy!) preparing content and developing content approval processes that allow them to respond with flexibility and autonomy during an adverse weather event.

While those in the utility industry might sometimes lament being “behind the curve” when it comes to external communications, that’s not what we experienced today. Kudos to the participants – many of our current and former clients – who recognize that words carry their own important kind of power.

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