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The Value of Public Relations to Your Utility

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Anyone who’s ever worked for a public relations agency know that when the economy goes south, their jobs may well be on the line.

That’s because when companies experience economic difficulties, they look to tighten their financial belts. Often the first things to go are spending on public relations (as well as marketing and advertising); and when those contracts disappear, PR agencies suddenly have underworked staff on hand, resulting in layoffs.

All that said, sharply cutting your utility’s public relations budget or department in rough times is not a wise move; in fact, it’s usually a bad one.

It’s easy to see why PR is the first thing to go. Its value is hard to quantify. A front-page story in the local newspaper about your utility is nice to see, but individually it doesn’t add anything to the bottom line. Given that utilities aren’t customer driven like retail firms, you’re not going to be adding new business.

Meantime, other expenses that subtract from the bottom line can’t be eliminated; if there’s a storm that results in massive outages, you’re going to be racking up overtime getting the power restored. There’s no other choice.

Still, there is value in public relations.

Most utilities enjoy prominent, albeit low-key stature in their communities — and that’s in large part because of PR. All those energy-saving programs you offer, the organizations and events you sponsor and your stellar service record all must be promoted by your public relations team.

In other words, your public relations efforts are required to help build your brand. That requires an ongoing process — a steady stream of press releases, social media, media placements, sponsorships and events.

Yes, I realize that if a budget crunch is severe enough, something has to give, including the public relations department. And there probably is some room to make cuts, but a scaled-back effort is far superior to no effort at all. The damage done by having a limited budget will take a long time to correct once better economic times return.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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