Some public relations is pretty straight forward. You're an airport, say, and you'd like to tell people when you are open, when you are closed and where you can go. Or a car manufacturer - that's a pretty clear offer. But how about utility networks, the people who bring you things like power?
Here’s a comms challenge. Everyone in your region uses your services – about 5m people – and some people literally can’t live without it. They don’t have any choice to use another company and they also don’t have a choice as to whether or not they pay you.
Most of the time they won’t even realise you’re there – unless there’s a problem. Then they may need to contact you, and fast, but that’s rare.
So how do you communicate who you are, what you do or how to get in touch? And how do you measure success when you’re not trying to win new business or sell anything?
It’s a challenge utility network comms teams face every day.
Wherever you live in the country, there’s a company that owns and operates the local electricity network of overhead lines, underground cables, substations, wooden poles and pylons transporting electricity to your home or business. And no, it’s not National Grid.
So here’s a quick industry overview if you’re not already in the know...
Customers pick their electricity supplier (British Gas, Eon etc) and pay them around £600 a year. That bill covers:
- electricity generation (coal, gas and nuclear power stations)
- the national transmission network (this is where National Grid comes in, taking power from power stations and passing it to local networks)
- the local distribution network (companies who take power from National Grid’s network and connect it to your home via their own regional networks)
- the supplier’s own overheads (account management, environmental charges, VAT etc).
So the distribution company is part of the chain. A very key part of the chain. For Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria, that company is Electricity North West. If you have a power cut, as around 40,000 people did in our patch due to the Boxing Day storms, you’ll need to contact us.
Our engineers, overhead linesmen and contact centre staff provide a 24-hour, 365-day service ‘keeping the lights on’ and restoring faults caused by weather, vandalism or equipment failure. Not to mention the £2bn we’ll be investing to maintain and improve the network over the next 10 years. And that’s a story replicated across the country.
We’ve got a great story and an important story to tell. Utility networks aren’t really about assets – the cables and wires that transport power. They’re about a fundamental service that enables people to live and work – and the importance of effective comms cannot be underestimated.
Jonathan Morgan is external communications manager at Electricity North West.
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