Effective communication is the benchmark of any successful endeavor. The ability to express key messages is a significant underlying principle that can determine an effort’s fate before it even begins. Looking for a job? Better be able to articulate your value in a concise and convincing manner. Seeking to advance a public project? Hope that you have already secured commitments from key allies and have an effective outreach campaign to convey the project’s importance to the public. Since its founding in 2006, Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) has placed an emphasis on developing an effective communication strategy designed to increase the understanding of domestic energy issues and their importance to the U.S. economy and to broaden the debate over energy to include both large and small energy consumers. Separating us from other organizations, CEA has created and used a proprietary blend of traditional communication outreach activities with a focus on building relationships through stakeholder relations. This involves cultivating relationships between seemingly disparate industries and organizations in order to help solve problems and achieve the larger goal of broadening the debate on U.S. energy policy. CEA has successfully developed and facilitated relationships among organizations such as the Union of Operating Engineers, Nucor Steel, the University of Nordland (Norway), National Tank Truck Carriers, ExxonMobil, various chambers of commerce, Airlines for America, National Small Business Association and so on. This guiding principle has resulted in tremendous growth over a very short time period. In fact, CEA has grown from a single entity with a handful of supporters to an entity operating out of seven U.S. regions and enjoying the support of more than 200 affiliate members.
At its core, CEA seeks to engage new audiences and entities and encourage their involvement in supporting responsible energy policies that will advance the U.S. economy and empower the U.S. consumer. Given that few entities exist to achieve this goal, CEA first had to overcome a handful of obstacles—chief among them, the fact that energy issues, with their complexities and nuance, are typically left to energy producers and policymakers to debate and discuss. But we feel both energy-consuming entities and individuals have a major stake in the energy debate and should take a larger role in discussing and engaging in our nation’s energy opportunities. CEA worked to build a broader understanding of energy’s importance among individual and corporate citizens throughout the United States.
To that end, with support from the City of Houston and other sponsors, CEA organized the nation’s first major gathering focused exclusively on energy development. Appropriately titled Energy Day, the annual event provides citizens an opportunity to learn about various forms of energy and cutting-edge technologies that are shifting the industry landscape and advancing our economy. By any measure, this event has been a tremendous success, drawing nearly 30,000 attendees over two years. However, more than raising awareness, the event also encourages youth participation in the energy sector through the associated Energy Day Academic Program. This program includes a series of six unique, city-wide, energy-related competitions aimed to motivate, challenge and inspire young minds to seek careers in science and technology. Thus far it has also been an outstanding success, awarding 59 Houston area students a total of $12,000 in academic awards.
Leveraging regional chapters, CEA has also engaged in extensive community outreach at events across the United States, from NFL football games, to state fairs and NASCAR races. The purpose in attending these events was simple: Identify potential supporters—individuals who understand the importance of energy to our economy and way of life—and to increase identification of the CEA brand and create action on public issues of importance to energy consumers. As a result, today CEA enjoys an expansive list of supporters that exceeds 300,000 individuals, a majority of whom have been active on at least one critical energy issue in recent years.
Of course, while local outreach is critical, national engagement across traditional and developing communication platforms is equally important. For this reason, CEA has placed great focus on aggressively pursuing earned media opportunities. In fact, in 2011 CEA was referenced by the media in more than 15 U.S. states, resulting in just shy of 100 earned media hits that reached nearly 79 million Americans. This resulted in CEA being featured in such well-known outlets as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Times, Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Human Events, Fox News, Fox Business News, CNN and C-SPAN, to name just a few. A significant part of this success centered on CEA’s effort to anchor U.S. energy policy as a key issue in the 2012 presidential election. As part of this effort, CEA, in conjunction with additional stakeholders, hosted a series of energy summits across the United States where Republican candidates and representatives of the Obama administration highlighted their views on needed U.S. energy policies. These summits drew into clear focus the respective candidates’ views on energy issues, ensuring that the topic remained at the center of the election. In fact, during the second presidential debate, Governor Romney and President Obama talked about energy policy for the balance of several minutes. We think this is in no small part a result of our efforts to bring energy issues into the national campaign.
While traditional media attention is a critical element in any outreach strategy, no communications picture is complete without paying close attention to social media and online communications. In that vein, CEA maintains an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. On Facebook, in particular, we have strived to make this a useful resource that provides a truly interactive experience to visitors. Upon landing on our page, a user is connected with information on a variety of energy topics through the sharing of relevant news items and graphics that provide information in an easily digestible format. The medium has helped amplify CEA messages, and we reached more than 3 million people in 2012 through social media alone, with a large percentage of those community members taking an active role to support affordable energy through public comment periods on various federal initiatives.
CEA has also made significant efforts in reaching online outlets, blogs and other new media sources with information relevant to the national discussion on energy. In 2012, our efforts resulted in coverage in more than 170 different blogs with a collective viewership of 455,000,000 people on such topics as the Keystone XL pipeline, shale gas development and nuclear energy. This effort was also a large driver in CEA’s efforts in the 2012 campaign cycle.
All of these efforts, when taken together, have resulted in an increased level of awareness and activity on key energy issues by members of the public. An example of this can be seen in the ongoing consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline. Given the project’s importance to the U.S. economy, and recognizing it would face significant opposition, CEA used the support network we built through these communication platforms, and in conjunction with other partners, rallied supporters to take part in the public hearings and file comments in support of the project’s approval and construction. As a result, citizens filed more than 600,000 comments in support of the project, providing needed balance to a contentious comment period on a project that is critical to North America’s new energy future. CEA pursued and achieved similar success in conjunction with the public comment process on needless endangered species listings in Texas and other regulatory issues across the country.
In an effort to further develop relationship capital among CEA and its affiliate members, we have also helped to launch and grow the Energy Producing States Coalition. This coalition brings together state legislators from energy producing states across the nation to discuss shared issues, challenges and concerns associated with energy development. Launched in 2012 and already boasting 41 members from 9 states, the coalition is proving to be a useful forum that will be critical in providing needed advice and perspective to multiple parties, including lawmakers and regulators in Washington, D.C. It also provides a laboratory for idea sharing and coordination between policymakers, regulators and the organizations they impact.
While much has been achieved, much more remains to be done. Keeping effective communications at the forefront, CEA is pursuing an aggressive agenda in 2013. We will release our biennial report to Congress, outlining policy recommendations that will show policymakers how to implement a balanced energy policy that expands development of all domestic resources and furthers efforts to conserve energy. We will host more than 20 forums across the United States that will focus on energy development and its impact on the economy to keep energy issues out front in the public dialogue. And we will continue to expand the already diverse list of energy-consuming organizations that count themselves as members of Consumer Energy Alliance.
After six years, CEA stands tall and proud in recognition of its accomplishments, and we look forward to the future with optimism for the continued success we expect to achieve. To date, our efforts have established a first-of-its-kind coalition that provides a unique and previously absent voice to the American consumer, while also raising awareness among the public about actions they can take in Washington, D.C., and in their respective state capitals to make energy more efficient and affordable for all.
David Holt is the President of the Consumer Energy Alliance, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports the thoughtful utilization of energy resources to help ensure improved domestic and global energy security and stable prices for consumers.