2013 | 05 | 24 Public Relations in the Age of the Energy Turnaround
Although the German public advocates the government’s energy turnaround (Energiewende) in principle, many cannot figure out what it is really about: In a current survey of 150 PR professionals, nearly 60 per cent rate the quality of communication on the turnaround as poor or very poor. At the same time, 90 per cent of those questioned believe that effective communication could help all social classes support the energy turnaround.
Since the communication is at the heart of what our agency does, all the more so on the energy turnaround, we attended a round-table discussion organised by the German Journalists’ Association NRW on the topic “Public Relations in the Age of the Energy Turnaround” in Essen, Germany on 16 May.
The following speakers took part in the discussion: the communication bosses of RWE Deutschland [a large utilities company], Sebastian Ackermann, and of the VDE [German Association for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies], Dr. Walter Börmann, as well as the journalist Michael Gassmann and the chairman of the board of the Solar Energy Association in Essen, Professor Rolf Schwermer. They discussed the following questions: What kind of an impact does the energy turnaround have on public relations? Which roles do social media play at RWE, VDE and at a solar energy association? What are the media generally interested in?
“Before there was wide public support, but now the public is focusing more and more on the issue of costs”, said Gassmann and added, “the euphoria can change very quickly”.
Communicating More Concretely and in More Detail
“The business model of RWE has been unsettled for the last two years, which has led to a 180-degree turnaround of the company’s image”, said Ackermann. The communication at RWE will become more detailed; the company has to communicate more concretely and find out what the target groups would like. In addition, it is necessary to allow a dialogue to take place. “Ideologies help no one. We have to act differently, communicate eye-to-eye and increase the dialogue with our citizens”, said Ackermann.
RWE has underestimated social media’s significance far too long and initially only reacted to it. Thanks to a Greenpeace spot on YouTube, RWE woke up two years ago. Now the company integrates social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter into its end customer campaigns.
For the solar energy association, which makes an important contribution to the energy turnaround “from below” and aims to bring together many people, social media do not play an important role at the moment. It communicates, for example, through flyers. The association gains new members via its internet site or via campaigns such as renting solar rickshaws.
Reaching End Customers with Social Media
The technology experts of VDE do not communicate using social media either, since the subjects are too complex to be packed into short news snippets, said Börmann.
We see this similarly: An important part of our agency’s work is the preparation and placement of technologically complicated articles written by professionals for professionals. For this, social media makes little sense. But if it is a matter of topics that interest the general public, we also use social media channels such as Twitter, Xing and Facebook.