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Consider the Unusual, Unexpected in Pitching your Utility

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As part of what it billed as “squirrel week,” The Washington Post published a story detailing what a nuisance squirrels can be to electric utilities by chewing power lines and causing outages.

It’s a terrific story that leads off with an entertaining anecdote from Michael Hyland, the senior vice president of engineering services with the American Public Power Association (APPA).

And it has some hard numbers to make its case:

“In 2015, the APPA decided to start calculating what it calls the Squirrel Index, asking members to share data on squirrel-related outages. In 2018, the system reported 1.6298 squirrel-related outages for every 1,000 customers,” the Post reported. “Extrapolating from that, the association estimates that last year, squirrels caused 244,137 power outages across the nation. Squirrels have been more successful than any cyberterrorist.”

I guarantee you that the story was well-read because it ticks off all the boxes of what makes for a good story. It has hard numbers, relatable incidents and good writing – no confusing jargon and some clever wordplay.

Remember that news, by definition isn’t something that happens every day – or that people normally consider.

When people think of power outages, they most likely think of storms. The fact that the humble squirrel is such a pest probably has never registered.

The takeaway for your utility’s public relations department is to look for something out of the ordinary. Everyone’s familiar with stories about how to save energy, updates on storm damages and hearings on rate increases. Find the seemingly innocuous thing that’s not familiar and promote it like crazy.

A utility has lots of moving parts and behind-the-scenes things; surely, there’s something unique that you can pitch. It doesn’t have to be important – just interesting.

And remember when pitching that timing is everything. During a busy time, journalists will find more pressing things. But on a slow day or week, those kinds of stories are welcome

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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