Developments in the energy sector directly impact on the global economy, the environment and everyday life. And, like most industries, the energy sector has important messages it needs to communicate to governments, businesses and consumers.
PR provides a valuable, engaging and cost-effective platform for getting these messages across. It is also vital for promoting brand awareness and reputation management, not least in the event of a crisis. But if an organisation is going to make its campaign a success, it must ensure that its agency has the energy sector expertise to address a number of challenges:
Climate change. Global warming. Carbon emission reduction targets.
These are phrases repeated time and again. But while the general public might have thought change was afoot at the Bali climate conference in 2007, by the time Cancun came around three years later (notwithstanding the anti-climax that was Copenhagen in-between), confidence in the ability of the world’s governments to reach agreement, and then to actually do something positive about these issues, was reaching an all-time low.
However, creative thinking and a fresh approach can overcome ‘green fatigue’.
There’s no more money. At least that’s what the government and the front pages of the papers would have you believe.
But while it might not be quite as bad as the Great Depression, businesses are feeling the pinch. And if your business offers products or services to other businesses, you have an even harder sell on your hands.
PR can arm you with clear, concise, and innovative messages which, delivered in the right way, will ensure those holding the purse strings will listen and take notice.
The people you are selling to aren’t the only ones tightening their belts. Those operating in the cleantech sector are particularly reliant on external investment, yet the type of finance coveted by small cleantech companies remains scarce not just because of the credit crunch, but also because of regulatory uncertainly.
And since savvy investors look for real returns over the longer term, investment in cleantech is seen as risky. Consider the UKs Feed-In-Tariffs: 12 months ago it looked as though midsized solar was a brilliant investment. But following a recent review of the subsidy, favourable winds now blow in the direction of small-scale turbine technology. Add this to the fact that many start ups are not backed by established firms, and the scale of the challenge becomes apparent.
So how do new entrants overcome this? If you want to attract quality investment you need to be pushing out messages through PR that validate the long-term commercial viability of your product or service, and that you are not over-reliant on government subsidy.
Fighting for space: too many start ups?
Start ups are not just fighting for investment, but also for ‘airtime’. Whereas the UK energy industry’s ‘big six’ or the large utilities in the US are assured of coverage, smaller companies must fight hard to be heard – especially when trying to communicate with both end users and potential investors.
That said, there are opportunities out there. Creating issues-based thought-leadership articles and reacting sensibly and quickly to breaking news can give you a real “in” with editors looking for quality content. Ultimately, if you give them what they need, they will come back for more.
The quick-fire nature of energy regulation and legislation means PR collateral can quickly age. Indeed, an article caught up in the approvals process might be rendered obsolete by the time it receives the go ahead.
As in other markets though, volatility comes with opportunity. Making use of the wealth of expertise and sector knowledge entrenched within your organisation to identify and respond to the key issues and changes thrown-up by the energy sector’s volatility can not only kick-start your energy PR campaign, but ensure that you sustain prominence in the media.
Informing & shaping public opinion
Public opinion holds huge sway on the energy landscape.
Yet there is so much more to the energy industry than rising prices, shortages in supply, and the devastating impact of disasters. A chart explaining the carbon savings delivered by nuclear power instead of coal-fired plants, or figures showing how a utility is taking a big profit hit due to increases in oil prices do not tend to make the front page.
If your organisation operates in the energy industry, no doubt you will have to tackle sensitive issues, calling for a careful approach to shaping messages in a way the public will both understand and empathise with. Complex situations must be discussed clearly and sensibly, and PR can help you identify and refine the key points.
Solving the energy mix conundrum
One of the most difficult challenges faced by every government today is finding the right energy mix that ensures security of supply, affordability for the people, and the most sustainable sources with the least environmental impact.
The reality is that there is a myriad of energy solutions available and no single cleantech or renewable is likely to reign supreme in the foreseeable. If communications managers get their PR strategy right, and avoid getting into a “my method is better than yours” argument, they can stay one step ahead of the competition.