The tdg crew has been working in the energy industry - and with electric utilities in particular - for more than two decades. One of our favorite organizations to work with is Black Hills Corp. They approached tdg to help one of their subsidiaries tackle a very particular public relations challenge.
Black Hills Energy needed regulatory approval for a pair of electrical rate increases in 2012. Rate increases are about as popular as Congress, cockroaches, and Nickelback, and the utility’s previous increase became contentious. Public reaction was vocal, very negative, and stuck in the community’s collective memory.
This time around, BHE brought tdg on board to help craft its message in simple, easy-to-understand terms and show that the real financial impact of the rate increase would be minimal. BHE President Chuck Loomis explained tdg’s fresh perspective would counter “DUG - dumb ol’ utility guys.”
tdg sat down with BHE’s communications team and outlined a plan. Collaboration was key, and our teams had regularly scheduled work sessions onsite at BHE headquarters. One of our first tasks: discreet focus groups to gauge the reaction of arguments for a rate increase. We used that insight to help write the news release to announce the filing. Working with BHE’s in-house marketing team, we created print materials that showed customers just how low their electric bill is by comparing their average daily energy cost with, say, the cost of a typical latte. We developed a mobile-friendly microsite with an online rate calculator to show customers exactly what effect the rate case would have on their bills.
Before the official announcement, tdg provided interview coaching to key BHE personnel. We then reached out to the regional media to set up a series of one-on-one interviews with Loomis inside the shuttered and outdated Ben French power plant - a very visual illustration of why new power generation was needed.
Finally, even before the announcement we set up a meeting with the Rapid City Journal Editorial Board to let BHE officials make their case directly to the opinion leaders.
BHE’s two rate cases were approved without the type of public outcry that came during the last round. In fact, the community hardly batted an eye. The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission trimmed the final increase, but it also approved the phased-in proposal for recovering the cost of building a new plant. Since then, Black Hills Corp’s in-house communications team has used our PR strategy as a model for other rate cases at their other subsidiaries. They continue to collaborate with tdg on elements of these strategies.