Too Much Information

Lance Morgan

Photo by Allen Brewer

Those of us living inside the Beltway are consumed by political minutiae. By consuming a daily diet of dyspeptic discourse about policies and candidates, we believe we gain insight into which party is gaining momentum and which candidate is best positioned to claim the White House in 2016.

But an interesting piece in the current National Journal calls into question the predictive benefits of all this information and jabbering. Alan Abramowitz, a professor of Political Science at Emory University, has created the “Time for Change” model for predicting presidential winners. Since 1988, he has correctly called the popular vote in each presidential election.

Incredibly, the model is based on only three variables: the incumbent president’s approval rating, the GDP in the 2nd quarter of the election year and the number of terms the president’s party has occupied the White House.

So we yammer on about the size of the media buy in Montana’s 3rd Congressional District (trick factoid), or the new app that allows campaigns to post campaign ads in your cereal bowl (trick factoid, I think) or the other communications wizardry that dominate modern campaigns and coverage, and very little of it actually matters. The quality of the candidates and the campaigns, and other variables, do make a difference, but only at the margins.

Although political pros don’t buy the theory – probably because acceptance would deny them the opportunity to buy the items their current incomes now allow -- it does make some sense.

The vote for president is intensely personal. Do I like the guy in the White House (yes, guy, until Hillary or Elizabeth or Sarah get elected)? How’s the country doing? Haven’t the Ds or Rs been around too long? Answer those questions, Abramowitz said, and you can pretty much guess who’ll win.

Abramowitz handicaps the 2016 race in the piece, (“Predictive Intelligence,” Feb. 14). It’s worth a read. As Mark Twain once said: “Interesting, if true.”


A Digital Strategist Reacts to a Teenager’s View on Social Media

Millennials will soon surpass Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest demographic group, so it’s no surprise that marketers are showering them with attention. With a population of approximately 75 million, Millennials represent almost 25 percent of the U.S. population. By 2017, these digital natives are projected to spend $200 billion annually, and brands are clamoring to understand how best to market to the largest consumer generation in history. 

A recent series of posts by teenager Andrew Watt (Part 1 and Part 2) have garnered industry attention and reignited a dialogue on Millennial use of social media. I was particularly struck by the reaction of social media scholar, Danah Boyd, to Watt’s opinions of the most popular social platforms. While Watt shares his observations on his generation’s use of social media, Boyd’s “old fogey” rebuttal reminds us that broad generalizations can be dangerous. These differing perspectives highlight the fact that Millennials are hardly a homogenous bunch, and the conversation underscores several strategic imperatives for developing an effective content marketing program:

1) Establish a platform strategy - With the list of social platforms growing by the day, it is crucial to define (and redefine) marketing campaign goals and continually reassess social media platforms that resonate with target audiences. Focusing efforts and resources on audience-relevant social platforms helps ensure strategic pay-off and improves the chances of developing a responsive community for your campaign. We must continuously evaluate our approach to ensure we are tracking with our audience interests.

2) Stand out in the crowd - People produce and consume A LOT of content, so social news feeds are crowded. On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they log onto Facebook. People want to be intrigued and entertained, so successful marketing depends on creative campaigns that stand out and immediately captivate your target audience. Rather than creating messages that appeal to “insiders,” use focus groups and market research to help inform your creative approach.

3) Understand content curation - As we already know, content is king. Social platform algorithms help users personalize their feeds to feature content that will generate the most engagement. Community insights either gathered through research or through social platform analytics (like Facebook and Twitter) allow you to tailor your messaging and increase your engagement opportunities. It’s not a one-size fits all space -- unique messaging based on audience interests helps drive campaign success.

We live in an age of almost limitless audience data that affords marketers the opportunity to personalize creative and increase campaign effectiveness. As marketers look to engage an extraordinarily diverse and social media savvy population, it’s never been more important to do your homework and invest in a strategy that affords your brand flexibility to adapt as key audiences – and social trends – evolve. 


Jokes are No Laughing Matters

Lance Morgan

Two of the sports world’s most visible people provided a nice lesson last week in the benefits and liabilities of using humor when speaking with the media.

In his annual Super Bowl press conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the conflict of interest inherent in the NFL’s paying for a law firm to investigate “deflategate.” Whatever you think of the question, recall that Tom Brokaw once said, “There are no bad questions. Only bad answers.” Goodell gave one. In his response, he rhetorically asked whether the inquiring reporter would pay for the investigation. In a private conversation, the remark would have been amusing and sensible. After all, if the NFL isn’t going to pay for the probe, would the media, or anyone else? But in the press conference setting, and uttered without the trace of a smile, Goddell’s answer was sarcastic, defensive and not at all funny – and he was pilloried for it.

On the other hand, Tiger Woods showed a lighter side that’s been frequently missing during his years of golf domination. Following a horrendous round of 82 (we should all have such troubles) at the Waste Management Open, Woods could have easily avoided the media – and probably would have not very long ago. Instead, he opened his press availability by saying “I’m only here to avoid the fine,” a quick-witted and laugh-out-loud funny reference to the Seattle Seahawk’s vocally challenged running back Marshawn Lynch. After an obviously painful round of golf, being able to laugh at yourself – and make others laugh with you – can’t help but make a positive impression and may be a sign that Woods realizes his image doesn’t just depend on what he does inside the ropes.

So if you’re keeping score at home, the results this week are: Self-deprecation 1, Sarcasm 0. Not a bad thing to remember to tell our clients.


International Trade in the 114th Congress: What to Expect

Jim Meszaros

Business groups and U.S. global companies start 2015 with optimism that the Obama administration and Congress can work together to address major items on the U.S. trade agenda this year.

The first task is for Congress to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) without ceding its own authority to shape agreements. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of House Ways & Means, both want to move TPA forward early in the session, to ensure the initiative is not overshadowed by other issues as the year progresses.

Simultaneously, the administration is working to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a comprehensive trade agreement being negotiated among 13 countries across the Pacific, by mid-year, so it can be submitted to the Congress for ratification. How quickly these talks are completed depends on whether the U.S. and Japan can agree on trade liberalization in key trade sectors, such as auto and agriculture.

With a new European Commission now in place, negotiations will also continue on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Brussels. Progress has been slow on these talks, with the most difficult issues yet to be addressed.

Other items on the U.S. trade agenda include renewal of the expired Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program and the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA), which expires in September. Congress must also reauthorize the Export-Import Bank’s charter by June 30. And USTR will be working to advance the post-Bali multilateral Doha agenda in time for an end-of-year WTO ministerial. Finally, as the administration moves ahead on agreements, they will want to demonstrate they are monitoring enforcement of trade laws, especially with respect to China.

Bilateral cooperation on trade this year will be dependent on larger issues dividing Democrats and Republicans, from immigration to health care and tax policy. Equally challenging, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress must build a coalition of pro-trade supporters within their own caucuses to patch together the majority needed advance legislative initiatives.

With the U.S. economy now in its sixth year of growth and job creation, companies and business groups say improving America’s global competitiveness should be at the center of U.S. policymaking in 2015 – and that includes jump-starting America’s trade agenda.


Cutting Through the Hype: A Data Science Primer for PR Pros (Part 1)

Chris Rottler

Whether you’re talking about big data, data science or analytics, one thing is clear: there is a lot of buzz and hype when it comes to gaining a competitive advantage from data. In this blog series, I want to focus on the potential of data – both big and small – and applications and approaches to quantitative analysis in the area of communications.

It’s not hard to see why there’s so much confusion around the utility of data. A quick review of the Harvard Business Review’s data analytics section, for example, reveals a volume of articles and perspectives that can leave even data scientists, let alone managers, not tuned in to the industry, confused.

To clear things up, let me first answer this: What makes big data distinct today?

There is some consensus – depending on who you ask – on what makes big data unique, and it comes down to the “Four V’s”: volume, the scale of the data; velocity, the rate at which data is generated and captured; variety, the different forms of data; and veracity, the uncertainty of the data available. Put simply, big data is distinct today because we are generating, analyzing and applying more data more quickly than ever before. To put this into perspective, we now create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. That is so much data so fast that it has been estimated that 90 percent of all the data in the history of the world has been created in the last two years alone.

Another important aspect is the affordability of capturing, storing and analyzing large data sets today. What was once only financially feasible to a handful of organizations is now a viable method of analysis to anyone who wants to make data-driven decisions.

So does a data set need to be big to derive any value? Of course not, and for the most part, the approaches to analyzing big and small data sets are similar, minus some technical considerations that are specific to working with big data.

So where does analytics fit into a communications campaign? Analytics can be broken down into three categories: descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analysis. These map to various communication activities, including – but not limited to – audience research, advanced segmentation, optimization and evaluation. In this blog series, I will discuss some of these areas in more detail and outline relevant approaches, whether it’s applying a data mining algorithm for advanced audience segmentation or using basic statistical analysis to measure content performance on social channels.

The veil of big data and data science is thick. Hopefully, this series will cut through some of the noise so PR pros can approach data systematically and use it as a strategic asset.


Energy and the Environment in the 114th Congress: What to Expect

John Files

With Republicans assuming solid majorities in both the Senate and the House, contentious national debates around energy and environmental policy will likely become more visible. They are also likely to be fueled by the competing pressures of increased expectations around global climate talks and oil prices that continue to decline. Here’s a look at some of the flash points and implications:

The Keystone XL pipeline has been cited as a policy priority by GOP leadership, with incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying it’s his first order of business. The related legislation is expected to pass, but the White House swiftly warned Congress on its first day in session that President Obama would veto it. The measure may be further complicated by a series of unrelated minority amendments or tied to another bill, such as the long-stalled energy efficiency bill first proposed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) as a bipartisan measure or to a spending package. Such moves could make a presidential veto on the pipeline’s approval harder to justify.

Energy and environment committees in the Senate will now be chaired by Republicans. Energy and Natural Resources will be chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Environment and Public Works by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Murkowski has identified drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as an early focus; Inhofe is widely known for rejecting human influence on climate change. Watch for wrangling between the White House and Congress on major legislation that targets EPA climate regulations, boosts oil and gas drilling, expands natural gas and coal exports, cuts funding to environmental initiatives and reduces tax credits for renewable energy.

Global climate change will be a major component of the international policy landscape in 2015. The next round of negotiations related to a binding rule for countries to abate their greenhouse gas emissions is scheduled for Paris in December; in the wake of recent climate developments between the U.S. and China and the recent climate summit in Lima, an agreement is expected to be reached. Still, such a treaty is unlikely to pass the Senate. There are other hurdles too: conservative pushback could prove to be an obstacle to shaping American public attitudes toward the negotiations, and influential countries such as India are under heavy political pressure to prioritize economic development and alleviate energy poverty over mitigating climate change.

The Obama administration is moving on a number of high-profile environmental regulations, including those governing the use of coal ash and requiring a tighter standard for ozone. Notably, the EPA is writing new climate regulations, with a plan for existing power plants likely to be finalized by summer. Since all federal agencies operate under the authority of the executive office, the new Congressional balance will not directly affect the rules. But they will face legal battles in the coming years, and could be reversed if Americans elect a Republican president in 2016. Indeed, the Supreme Court this spring plans to consider arguments in a suit challenging EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

American financial services, entertainment companies and big-box retailers are not the only organizations grappling with cyber-security; the topic has long been at the forefront of multiple federal agencies with energy oversight, including the Department of Energy, the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – especially surrounding electric transmission and generation. Given the risks that cyber-attacks pose on the electric grid and other infrastructure, and the crippling consequences of such attacks, regulators and lawmakers are expected to elevate energy-related security protocols in the coming year.

Adam Dolin contributed research to this article.


5 Things We Heard at Camp

Eben Gilfenbaum

Powell Tate team members attended Roots Camp earlier this month -- a two-day digital advocacy and fundraising “unconference” where the attendees set the agenda and lead the discussions. It’s an opportunity to hear from a diverse group of online campaigners about what’s working, what’s not, and what’s new.

The digital campaign space has matured to the point where there weren’t any major new breakthroughs on the agenda this year. Instead, many of the sessions we attended focused on refining strategies and tactics to mobilize more people more effectively around the causes they care about. Here are five great examples every organization running a campaign could benefit from:

1. Game the Facebook News Feed

Facebook may have slashed the number of followers organizations can reach without paid promotion, but there are still ways to maximize organic reach. According to a Facebook representative who presented, their algorithm monitors the types of content each user engages with — videos vs. photos vs. links — and populates their News Feed with their preferred types.

Organizations can take advantage of this fact by posting the same content in multiple formats. If you’re promoting a video, for example, post the video natively in Facebook like you would normally, but also create a second post using the link to the page on your website where the video resides. That way you’re maximizing your organic reach by catering to the video lovers and the link lovers among your followers.

2. Don’t Ask People to Tell Their Story

Asking supporters to share their story is a tried and true engagement tactic. But using the word “story” can actually decrease engagement because it can make people feel like you’re asking for a fully articulated beginning, middle, and end. Testing has found that asking supporters to share their “experience” performs better because it’s a word people can identify with more easily and doesn’t need to be presented in a formal structure.

3. Find the Right Amount of Creepy

Digital campaigns collect a trove of useful information about their advocates -- from the issues they care about to when and how they are most likely to take action. Organizations are often hesitant to use this information for fear of coming off as creepy. But like with anything involving communications, it’s all about knowing your audience and framing your ask accordingly.

Telling advocates you’ve noticed they’ve taken several actions around a piece of legislation, and should take action on a related issue can be effective with the right audience. But some people might find it too much like big brother. An alternative approach would be to tell advocates you need dedicated people like them to take action. That way you’ve framed what you know about them in a way that feels relevant and natural without being too forced. 

4. Compel, Don’t Just Tell

Whether you want your audience to write letters to their legislators or share a post with their friends, break-through campaigns rely on more than their call to action to get their message across. What sets a great campaign apart is powerful content that excites, inspires, and compels people to action without even needing to ask. Every time you create a piece of content, ask yourself whether your advocates would take action if you removed the call to action. If the answer is no, you may want to rethink your approach.

5. Go Beyond the Base

Any successful grassroots campaign needs to activate the base. Thanks to the democratization of powerful online targeting tools — from native Facebook targeting to turn-key analytics products that mine national voter files — campaigns can remain lean and efficient while branching out to acquire new supporters beyond their core audience. This is especially important for organizations working on popular issues where competition for the attention of the base can be fierce.

The key to successfully expanding beyond the base is to test content among a number of potential audiences and scale up your efforts for those groups that demonstrate interest at a reasonable cost.

A big thank you to Chris Collier, Michelle Crowson, Katie Lancos, Evan Von Leer, and Megan Wright who gave up their weekend to attend Roots Camp and who contributed to this post.


The Cutest Story Ever Told

Katie Hudson

What happens when the beloved story of Rudolph gets a furry feline twist? Watch multiple kittens brave the winter cold, make headlines, and ultimately deliver holiday joy.

A very big thanks to the Washington Humane Society for making this video possible. After viewing the video, be sure to visit http://support.washhumane.org/adopt? to adopt a character of your own.

From all of us at Powell Tate, we wish you a very happy holiday season. 


Powell, Tate, and Ryan win big at PR News PR People Awards

Carolyn Sofman

This week, our founders, Jody Powell and Sheila Tate, were again honored for their significant contributions to public relations, public affairs and politics -- this time with induction into the PR News Hall of Fame. This recognition comes on the heels of their induction into the Hall of Fame of the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter in September. Together, Jody and Sheila were an unstoppable duo committed to bipartisanship and civility; innovative thinking and exceptional client service; and perhaps most important, teaching and mentorship. Their vision, legacy and influence lives on here at Powell Tate.

We also want to applaud our colleague, Tim Ryan, who PR News named Public Affairs/Government Communicator of the Year for his work in leading the integrated, multi-media marketing and communications campaign to launch the Health Insurance Marketplace at HealthCare.gov. He developed and managed a campaign that helped educate, engage and motivate more than 8 million uninsured Americans to find health care coverage.

Heartfelt congratulations to Jody (and his family), Sheila and Tim and thank you to PR News for recognizing their significant and lasting contributions to the communications profession.


Higher Education in the New Congress, Part II: Prospects for Progress

With the change in control of the Senate and Senator Lamar Alexander taking over at the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the prospects for progress, or for bipartisan accord, on higher education in the 114th Congress seem mixed. On the one hand, Sen. Alexander is highly knowledgeable about higher education and is respected within the sector, as well as having a reputation for bipartisan collaboration when need be. On the other hand, his staunch opposition to “government regulation” sets the scene for confrontation with the Obama administration over the President’s agenda to link federal student aid to college affordability and employment outcomes – even though the Administration may ultimately be able to proceed on these initiatives without Congressional agreement.

What does this mean for the various stakeholders in higher education?

  • Leaders of higher education institutions who oppose new “rankings” – who are probably in the majority – can take heart from the strengthened role of their new majority ally in the Senate
  • For-profit higher education leaders may have mixed prospects: Senator Alexander is anti-regulation but he has criticized the for-profit sector for poor programs
  • Data providers and companies promoting better student outcomes will find more support for the benefits they promise as opposed to highlighting data privacy issues

Overall, the higher education sector can expect to be the subject of intense political debate in the next Congress. There could be bipartisan accord on the objective of student outcomes; but there will probably be partisan disaccord on any new regulations to help achieve this. The cost and access crisis for higher education will continue and probably sharpen: we could see some dramatic responses from the new Republican leadership as well as from the Administration. The reputation and relative position of colleges, universities and other higher education providers across North America will be under scrutiny and competitive pressure as never before.


Higher Education in the New Congress, Part I

Photo by Alberto G.

The central, overarching problem facing higher education in the U.S. is its ever-rising cost. In the past, the wondrous diversity of American higher education seemed to set us apart from other countries, continue to promote the social opportunity underlying the American promise and add to our attraction as the global destination for students everywhere. Much of that vision seems empty today: private colleges are mostly beyond the reach of all but the wealthy, for-profit colleges are under attack for adding to debt without bringing employment and public universities – the education bedrock of the American dream – are constantly struggling with reduced funding from their state legislatures.

The Obama administration and Congress have been wrestling with these challenges – above all access and affordability – and the incoming Republican leadership will certainly give them priority attention. The spotlight will be on the Chairman-elect of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). No one can claim that the new Chairman is unfamiliar with the topic: after serving as Governor of Tennessee, he was President of the University of Tennessee (1988–1991), and U.S. Secretary of Education (1991–1993). Generally considered a political moderate, Sen. Alexander has broadly supported attempts to promote efficiencies, simplify regulation and improve outcomes from higher ed.

Senator Alexander can be expected to oppose some of the high-profile initiatives on costs and affordability already launched by the Obama administration, including:

  • A college ratings plan – a U.S. News & World Report-type ranking compiled by the government – based on data on graduation rates, earnings and debt;
  • A new regulation linking federal student aid to a threshold of debt to earnings for graduates of for-profit institutions.

Alexander and the Republican majority support:

  • Rolling back regulations, including redundancies identified by the ongoing Task Force on Government Regulation in Higher Education;
  • “Starting from scratch" on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act;
  • Reducing the overall number of student aid programs;
  • Reducing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from 100 questions to just two: student household size and family income;
  • Proposing a budget containing $90 billion worth of cuts to the Pell program; and
  • Competency-based education reforms.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine what the change in Senate leadership is likely to mean for various stakeholders in higher education.


The Power of Patients:  Speaking Up and Sparking Change in Health Care

Michelle Baker

Pregnant with her first child, Melissa Thomason faced an emergency delivery. After kissing her newborn son goodbye she was immediately medivaced to another hospital for open-heart surgery. She faced many long, grueling months in the hospital then recuperating at home and was haunted by nightmares about her many surgeries. Rather than withdrawing after her experience, Melissa faced her fears directly and headed back into the hospital – this time as a patient advocate determined to speak up about ways care could be improved and made more compassionate.

Other patients around the country are also tackling complex, tough issues in health care, and sometimes in the aftermath of tremendous, heart-wrenching loss. Helen Haskell founded Mothers Against Medical Errors and worked with providers after her young son died due to an adverse drug event and failure to rescue. Rosie Bartel worked directly with a hospital to introduce a new hand-washing program after a staph infection forced her to have her leg amputated. Alicia Cole spent two months at the hospital including one in the ICU due to hospital acquired infections. After an extended recovery she worked with hospitals and the state government to pass and implement key infection prevention legislation in California.

Until recently, after experiencing medical harm, patients often felt they had no choice but to line up with teams of attorneys to be vindicated and heard. Today, patients, families, physicians, nurses and hospital administrators candidly talk about how to improve care. Consequently, patient advocates are literally helping change the way health care is delivered in our country.

Patients have facilitated the extension of 24/7 visiting hours in the ICU, implemented bedside shift huddles where family members are directly involved in care decisions, crafted restraint-use limitation policies for patients with dementia and specified communications protocols for non-English speaking caregivers. And, increasingly, hospitals are formalizing roles for patients as they establish patient and family advisory councils and involve patients and family members on key committees and boards.

Patients and families are walking the halls of hospitals and working in partnership with medical staff to improve care. They are reaching into their communities, offering support and insights to others struggling with medical issues. And they are connecting around the country through webinars, blogs and social media to share best practices and coordinate efforts.

At Powell Tate and Weber Shandwick, we are thankful for the opportunity to support the network of patients whose courage, compassion and tenacity has contributed to the great work of the Partnership for Patients campaign and other medical quality initiatives across the country.

We’ve learned much in our collaborations to showcase best practices in patient and family engagement and foster national momentum to drive better quality of care nationwide.

These health care heroes – patients, families and providers – are truly making a difference for others in need of safe, effective and compassionate care. 



4 Tips for Defense Companies in the New Congress: Everything old is new again

Greg McCarthy

As one defense policy expert told us after the Congressional election, in the world of defense, “Everything old is new again.”

While congressional leadership on defense policy will change – Senator John McCain of Arizona will become the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas is expected to secure the support needed to become the next House Armed Services Committee chairman– automatic spending cuts to the defense budget remain the “boot on the throat of the Pentagon.” And there appears to be little hope that any faction in Congress will organize the votes to reverse the cuts.

A few pieces of advice for defense companies based on our experience in past years’ battles:

Do Not Listen to Anyone Who Tells You it is Between Your Company and “The Customer”: The government customer has lost control of their budget and cannot be relied upon to save your program. Every fight– whether you are the incumbent or challenger – requires a comprehensive and integrated public campaign that involves Congress, the media and grassroots engagement.

Engage the Media: Implement a coordinated and sustained campaign to explain the benefits of the program to defense, congressional and regional media. Messages conveying the strategic, tactical, political and economic benefits of a program, and the consequences of its elimination, should be developed for each set of media based on their interests.

Activate Grassroots: Remind members of Congress of the economic benefits of the program that reach manufacturing and workers around the country who contribute parts and services to the program and that will be detrimentally impacted by its elimination. Activate – at the parochial level and in Washington – those partners to educate their members of Congress on the importance of the program to the economy of their district.

Support the Customer: While an industry’s military customer can make the case for the benefits of the program to the warfighter, they are often limited in their contact with members of Congress who have specific oversight authority. Companies can provide support by using multiple communications platforms and media channels to explain to a wide group of influential members of Congress the technological, strategic and tactical advantages of their products and services.

Things will probably get worse before they get better. Commit to fight with all assets available or resolve to potentially lose business.


The Era of Engagement: Keeping Your Lights On?

Adam Dolin

Photo by Michael W. May

The electric utility industry is evolving. With potential service disruptions lurking like volatile energy prices and natural disasters, utilities are accelerating their search to become more resilient in the face of these challenges. One tactic that has become increasingly popular is called demand response.

Imagine saving 20 dollars on your monthly energy bill just by using your large appliances at different times of day, recommended to you in an email by your utility company. With demand response, this is becoming reality.

Demand response acknowledges the notion that both utilities and customers can maximize their financial returns by ensuring that transmission and generation infrastructure is not overburdened by too many users at the same time; running your laundry when everyone is watching the Big Game is more costly for both parties.

According to Gene Rodrigues, a vice president and demand side strategies expert at the consulting firm ICF International, utilities will continue to improve upon the ways in which they “operate with their customers.”

The $297 billion dollar utility industry has entered the Era of Engagement. By communicating more effectively with their customers, utility companies ensure a clearer pathway to a more efficient and sustainable business model in the face of potential market disruptions. The reality is that companies that continue to look for ways to work with their customers to the benefit of both sides will establish competitive advantages within their respective sectors. 


The Long and Short of Social Media Relations

John Files and Amanda Koons

Digital newsrooms are searching for new readers, clicks, shares, likes. In this ever-changing ecosystem, public relations professionals can play a central role as convener: connecting media, informed sources, engaged influencers with story ideas, fresh content, engaging data and information – and perhaps most important, driving traffic to articles, commentary and other news segments.

Social media channels can foster this dynamic exchange; they offer seemingly endless possibilities for aligning our jobs with those in media – ease and immediacy of content sharing, greater use of multimedia assets and the ability to reach larger audiences. And, to be sure, they can be an effective tool for directly engaging journalists. But before you start tweeting pitch ideas at every reporter you follow, consider these basic tips:

  • Build your own brand.
    • A concise and compelling profile can make the difference between being followed and being ignored. To bolster your personal reputation and, ultimately, to give your pitches credibility, your channel should reflect your expertise and insights. Show your wit and personality, but establish yourself as a professional who values genuine relationships and serving as a valuable resource.
  • Research first, outreach second.
    • Everyone reviews reporters’ coverage before sending an email pitch. Likewise, social media can teach us a lot about reporters and their interests. Check out their recent posts and look for interactions with other PR professionals. Most important, read their profile bios – they often describe their background; signal what they care about; and highlight other experience. Use this information to your advantage.
  • Heavy on Twitter, light on Facebook.
    • Many journalists (perhaps most) have active professional profiles on Twitter – they engage with sources, other media and share breaking news and promote stories. Facebook, however, continues to be more commonly used as a social network for friends. That means – in general – if you don’t know a journalist personally, do not friend them on Facebook or spam them on this platform with pitches. (If you have personal relationships with journalists, Facebook can clearly be an effective way to stay engaged and to help foster connections; see #4.)
  • Focus on relationships.
    • Engage journalists on social media before pitching them. Read their posts. Comment and share their articles. Retweet and offer your opinion on issues relevant to their beats or industries and issues they cover. Sustaining a dialogue can be as beneficial as an outright pitch. Remember: media relations is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • After the pitch, follow up.
    • Journalists receive so many @ mentions per day that following up with them is critical. If a journalist has written an article based on your pitch, thank them via social media to cultivate your relationship for future outreach. But don’t stop there. You can help drive traffic to their content – consider using paid budget to support stories by promoting them on owned channels as well as other news and content channels through syndication tools such as Outbrain. 

The bottom line: Social media can be an effective tool for establishing relationships and for pitching journalists. But, at the core, these channels are for building and growing networks. A recent Harvard Business review article found that about 65 percent of writers said they thought it was important for PR and media specialists to establish a personal connection before pitching. Look beyond the pitch toward long-term relationships.

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