Scroll down to register for EEC's next free webcast coming up
on November 18, 2020!
Reporters to Energy Industry:
“Help Me Help You”
Jerry Maguire is a great movie with a lot of memorable lines. Perhaps you recall, “Show me the money? Or maybe “You had me at hello”?
Both are great lines. But for today, I’m going to focus on another classic line from that movie: “Help me help

If you haven’t seen it, the movie stars Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr., all of whom won awards for their parts. Cruise is a sports agent, Gooding is his high-maintenance client and Zellweger is Cruise’s character’s love interest.
Credit: IMDb.com

Cruise’s character is trying to get a contract extension for Gooding’s character, a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals NFL team. But his client’s behavior is making Cruise’s task more difficult. Finally, at the end of the rope, Cruise pleads with his client: “Help me help you.”
So what does this have to do with energy communications and marketing? Everything! And while today’s content focuses on the oil and gas industry, it is 100% applicable for electric, gas and water providers.
The Media and the Energy Industry Need Each Other
A recent virtual conference sponsored by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) featured a TV reporter, a print editor, and a subject-matter expert who works with energy companies and also speaks to the media. Marshall Zelinger (left), a reporter for the local NBC TV affiliate, was one of the speakers.
Credit: 9News
And he was asking energy company communicators to help him.
“I have to become ‘an expert’ on different topics each night,” Zelinger said. “It’s hard enough when you have a non-expert trying to convey complex information to a general audience. We need to present information in a way people can understand. Help us do it right,” he urged.
Zelinger is no newbie slouch either. He has over 15 years of experience in front of the camera and has won Peabody and Cronkite awards for his investigative reporting. But he said he can’t tell a story accurately, effectively and fairly if all he has is a dense, technical report or a press release filled with buzzwords.
Speaking for all reporters, he told the COGA conference, “If we struggle to understand an issue, that means we need more help from the industry. I truly don’t get some of the buzzwords the industry uses.”
For example, when companies use qualitative terms like “low risk” or “quite infrequent” to try to explain public health risks, that further muddies the water. Are we talking one additional case of cancer per 1,000 people? Or per 1,000,000 people? 
“Explain it to the media like we’re five years old so we can explain it to our audience,” he pleaded.
Really? Is This the Best You Can Do?
The special video needs of TV reporters such as the ongoing need for fresh, relevant b-roll, also were called out by Zelinger. “If you can help me show something visually, that leads to a better story,” he said. “Anything that explains a process is helpful.”
That’s a request that energy communicators provide broadcast media with current archival footage or sound clips that can be used in a report.

Build Credibility by Telling the Truth — Proactively

Zelinger was joined on the COGA panel by Megan Schrader, editor of the opinion pages for The Denver Post. She talked, as an editor and a mother, about how accurate, proactive disclosure can increase a company’s trustworthiness.
Schrader, a former reporter in Oklahoma, recalled an episode a few years back when it was suggested that earthquakes in that state, a rarity, might be partly caused by the underground disposal of enormous amounts of water from oil & gas drilling. She recalled, “The oil industry said, ’No, No, No, it’s not us,’ but it turned out it was. That didn’t do much to help the industry’s credibility.”

She contrasted that with a local construction company working on a big road project that ran through central Denver. The company proactively reached out to nearby neighborhoods to let them know they might be hearing and seeing construction activities during the night, and they apologized in advance for the disruption they could cause.
“That company did great, proactive work. The oil industry could do a better job at being more transparent on the front end. More information, if it is accurate, leads to more trust.”
The panel’s moderator, Chris Wright, (right) chairman and chief executive of Liberty Oilfield Services, agreed. “Communications need to be honest and trustworthy,” he said at the August conference. “When I feel people are being honest and sincere, I am immediately drawn to them.”
On the topic of global climate change, a topic of central importance to electricity companies, Wright said, “We know a lot, but we also don’t know a lot. Be honest in your communications. Humans are dominantly emotional beings.”

Credit: Liberty Oilfield Services

Zelinger of 9News agreed: “Thick, fact-laden reports don’t help companies when the community is facing unknown risks. They don’t lessen community concern. I often err on the side of emotion and empathy when reporting on energy issues.”
Dan Grossman (left), the panel’s third speaker, agreed. “Appealing to emotion is a great way to advocate for something because we’re emotional beings.” Grossman, the senior director of state advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), added: “I have exploited lapses in credibility when companies or people are less than transparent.”
“Greater transparency leads to greater credibility,” he added. EDF has worked alongside the oil and gas industry in adopting rules to protect the environment in Colorado. “I’m proud to work alongside the industry, but collaboration isn’t possible if one side plays ‘hide the ball’ or cherry picks data.”
Credit: EDF
For example, Grossman said, “Methane emissions have gone down in the Colorado oil and gas industry. But across the nation, methane emissions from the industry are up.”
PR Rule 1: Don’t Lie. Ever.
The comments from Grossman, Zelinger and Schrader came a few weeks before The New York Times published an article based on a recording of a different oil and gas conference, held in 2019, where oil and gas leaders discussed how they could message about methane emissions, which have a significant negative effect on global warming.
The story the industry has been trying to tell the public, according to the article, was not truthful. Methane emissions from oil and gas operations continue to rise, exacerbating global warming. Methane, according to the Times article, has as much as 80 times the heat-trapping impact as carbon dioxide emissions over a short period of time.
Publicly, these oil and gas executives were saying added regulation of so-called “fugitive emissions” of methane was unnecessary because the industry has gotten those emissions under control. In fact, as the industry officials acknowledged at their 2019 conference, that was not true.
Having been both a reporter and a spokesperson, I can say it’s hard enough for a reporter to tell a complicated and technical story like methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, or carbon emissions for power plant owners, even if they are given truthful, honest information.
But when an industry is less than truthful, it creates new problems for itself.
Everyone’s got their own set of rules for effective media relations. I assume most if not all of them include, “don’t lie.”
The news media can’t do an honest job reporting energy or water stories without help from communicators who work for oil and gas companies, electric companies, gas distributors and water providers. But those communicators need to be honest with the media. And if they’re told to lie by higher-ups, they need to push back. Because today, there’s nothing harder to keep than a secret.

Clip Credits: YouTube/Movieclips Photo Credits: iStock unless otherwise credited


"Changing Up Customer Communications
During COVID-19"

Wednesday 11/18/20
12:00 Noon (MDT)

From suspension of late fees and disconnections to community food drives and enacting new customer-assistance programs, many utilities are doing a lot to help their customers and communities. It is not enough to do the right thing. During the pandemic, utilities must show and tell their customers — gracefully, tactfully, and humbly — that they are doing the right thing.

We have asked two leaders in utility customer communications, Bobbi Schroeppel, VP, Customer Care, Communications, and HR, at NorthWestern Energy, and David Mehlhaff, Chief Communications Officer at the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities to speak on these and other issues facing utility communicators and their customers during this pandemic.

This webcast is free to EEC's utility subscribers and will last about 60 minutes. Plus, you will have the opportunity to ask questions of the speakers as well as your peers via the Zoom session.

Click on the button below to reserve your seat today!

The utility media relations function can help turn stakeholders into advocates, producing a wide range of benefits: lessened frictions, lowered costs, enhanced customer relations, increased customer satisfaction and improved brand equity.

When utility spokespersons have a tin ear or a heavy hand, they can create problems internally and externally: for executives, for customer service representatives, for legislative and regulatory affairs managers and for departments seeking to build infrastructure.