The energy sector now accounts for about 15 per cent of the worlds' total water use.

This is the startling figure shared in March by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in conjunction with World Water Day, and is based on the IEA’s most detailed analysis to date of the energy sector’s impact on water sources. The supply of clean drinking water is also reliant on energy: energy is used to collect, transport, distribute and treat water.

The interdependence between water and energy is called the ‘energy-water nexus’. And as the battle for the centre stage heats up with increasing column inches dedicated to this critical issue, energy and water firms need to have a cohesive and targeted approach to PR if they are to communicate effectively around it.

Demand drives sustainability issues

Certainly, the pressures are building. The UN predicts that by 2030, the global population will need at least 40 per cent more water and 50 per cent more energy. Already 768 million people lack access to clean water sources, 2.5 billion people have no decent sanitation, and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity.

Moreover, the energy industry itself is undergoing dramatic change and one that will drive a significant increase in the amount of water it consumes. A recent report from the US Energy Information Administration forecasts that natural gas will begin generating more electricity than coal by 2035, largely as a result of the shale boom. But hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is a water-intensive process; it can take millions of gallons of water to frack a single well.

Given the potential impact of the growing demand for water not just on the viability of future energy projects, but on existing operations and the additional costs anticipated, it is essential that energy and water companies adopt a proactive approach to addressing the issue of water sustainability. Those that get it right will be able to ride the wave that is poised to wash away the industry as we know it, and use a strategic approach to PR to keep one step ahead.

Essential energy PR steps

The key to brand survival is in effectively communicating a defined set of messages, while always keeping sights set firmly on overall business goals.

Of course, the energy sector has faced many PR challenges as a result of the changes seen over the last decade – from the liberalisation of energy markets across Europe, to the emergence of the smart grid and the growing penetration of renewable energy sources.

A lack of consumer engagement is all too often cited as a key issue for energy companies who are looking to innovate ahead of the changing market and experience has shown that more attention must be paid when adopting a more focused communication and PR strategy. There are three important steps that energy and water firms could take from a PR and marketing perspective to make the most of the changing market, while broadening and refreshing their campaigns overall:

1. Evaluate existing strategies

If your PR and marketing efforts are focused on appealing to your current address book, it’s time to consider a change – and time is of the essence. Begin by recognising the challenges being faced by your current audience; note the challenges that you are, and the ones that you’re not answering in your PR outreach. Then define new target audiences and the publications that they are reading, and note the challenges they are facing that your solutions can solve. Once you have outlined these key challenges, you can begin to identify several topical angles for PR campaigns, which will demonstrate your solutions to these key challenges. Bringing in external assistance at this stage can help by providing a fresh perspective and ensuring you establish a new strategy quickly, and provide a rapid response to news and events as they break.

2. Become famous for your thinking

Use your messaging and expert industry knowledge to develop a new, currently unexplored focus point, which addresses your target audience’s challenges and effectively grabs your readers’ attention. In the crowded media market, quality content is essential. Make use of informed copy, research, facts, statistics and third party contacts to give journalists everything that they need to develop your story.

3. Foresight for future trends

Campaigns take time to plan and implement, so the ability to spot future trends is invaluable from a PR and marketing perspective. Make sure you keep on top of the news by setting up relevant alerts that are delivered direct to your inbox. It can also be extremely worthwhile to bring in external PR support in this area. After all, it’s their job to always stay informed of the news and spot potential opportunities.

Following these three vital guidelines and adopting a more strategic approach to PR and marketing communications can ensure your firm’s voice will be heard, while helping it to actively engage with wider audiences on topics that affect everyone. Crucially, by being proactive, your firm can always keep one step ahead of the changing market.

This article is the first in a two-part series; keep your eyes peeled for the second part which will look at the ways that social media can be used as part of a rigorous and fully intergated public relations campaign.

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