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Storm Season is Here: Are You Being Proactive with Your Marketing Messages?

April 11, 2022
How utility providers have worked to implement marketing messages to their customer base and find proactive ways to lessen the overall impact storm season has.

Spring is usually a wonderful time of year. It almost feels like a reprieve after months of intense cold, combined with darker and shorter days. Spring marks a season of change where people get excited about the long, warm, sunny days ahead. But as the old adage goes, "April showers bring May flowers." Unfortunately, in the case of many utility companies around the United States, those "showers" can create major havoc.

With the climate of the world changing so rapidly, weather patterns are becoming increasingly unreliable. As a result, storms are getting harder to predict, even within the confines of a designated storm season.

The spring storm season can be a challenging time for many utility companies and their customers. There can be a constant deluge of storms and storm-related disasters that follow in its wake. As a result, utility companies have to find new ways to communicate with their customer base and build trust along the way.

Often, customers may place blame on trees as they tend to down power lines and are usually seen as the main culprit of the outages. However, when energy service providers help educate the public and communicate the benefits of proper vegetation management, these misunderstandings will decrease. Trees are not the enemy to utility providers but rather can work in tandem to help lower energy costs by up to 20%.

There are some incredible examples of how utility providers have worked diligently to implement effective marketing messages to their customer base and find proactive ways to lessen the overall impact storm season has. Of course storms will always be a constant, but the ways in which energy service providers navigate them can be ever-changing.

What to Do Before a Storm Blows In

To a certain extent, storms are unpredictable occurrences that can be hard to prepare for but not impossible. Taking proactive measures to prepare for the storm season is essential to minimizing the amount of damage and miscommunication following an outage. CenterPoint Energy, Black Hills Energy, and PSEG Long Island have tried and tested methods of preparing for the storm season.

CenterPoint Energy relies on the immediacy and widespread advantages of social media platforms to communicate with a wider number of people quickly. Additionally, it has also developed a subscription-based, cost-free program so customers can receive the most updated information ahead of stormy weather. Through CenterPoint's Power Alert System (PAS), the energy service provider can also receive general safety reminders and alerts regarding CenterPoint's own prep work. Customers can receive the message through any of their preferred communication methods. CenterPoint also uses the PAS to alert customers of outages and give estimated times of when they should expect a resolution. CenterPoint has found great success in this type of direct customer contact.

Black Hills Energy has found success in using social media and its personal communication channels to reach the most amount of people in the shortest amount of time. In addition, the Black Hills Energy team monitors the weather daily during all its most turbulent storm seasons. The Black Hills Energy utility provider teams will intensify their communications efforts to address service challenges, deliver on customer outreach needs, and work tirelessly to restore power outages during the storm season.

"We're committed to consistently sharing important safety reminders, tips for preparing homes and businesses, and steps to help proactively manage energy use no matter the temperature or conditions," said Ashley Campbell, regional manager public relations, Black Hills Energy. "Spring is a great opportunity to highlight safety, as our customers tackle spring cleaning projects, explore energy efficiency projects, and prepare their yards for seasonal planting."

PSEG Long Island takes a communications-heavy approach to ensure its customers are well prepared before the storm season. PSEG Long Island includes informational pamphlets within important customer information like bills, and the pamphlet is customized to the time of year as well. PSEG Long Island also utilizes all forms of digital communications such as emails, press releases, and all forms of social media. Marketing also plays a significant role as PSEG places advertisements in newspapers, online, and on the radio to inform their customers about the dangers of storm season.

As is evident from each utility company, communication is key in preparing everyone for the oncoming season of storms.

How Trees Play a Role for Better or Worse

At the Arbor Day Foundation, the world's largest nonprofit dedicated to planting trees, trees are the center of everything. However, one important nuance to note in the outgoing communication is that the Foundation prioritizes tree maintenance along with tree planting. CenterPoint Energy, Black Hills Energy, and PSEG Long Island all prioritize trees because of the value they bring and find different ways to work alongside trees in the communities. Each provider sets aside time and resources for essential tree care management and maintenance.

CenterPoint Energy contracts various tree crews to hang door cards before their regular scheduled circuit trimming. They end up visiting roughly half a million homes each year to prune vegetation away from CenterPoint facilities. Black Hills Energy often encourages its customers to reach out with questions or concerns regarding how tree trimming works around powerlines. Black Hills Energy also has vegetation management programs that regularly prune and trim overgrown and diseased trees that pose the most threat during a storm. PSEG Long Island dedicates time to educating the public about proper tree care and maintenance through helpful videos, easily accessible online. It also lays out the roles and responsibilities of customers and the provider to ensure there is a minimal role of miscommunication.

Energy service providers who are involved with the Arbor Day Foudation in some manner whether it's though the Energy-Saving Trees program or the Tree Line USA recognition program, have a sincere interest in working with trees and not against them. Energy-Saving Trees is a program that helps utility providers distribute free trees to their customers, by focusing on homeowner education of right tree, right place to maximize the impact of each tree. Tree Line USA is a program to recognize best practices in public and private utility arboriculture, demonstrating how trees and utilities can co-exist for the benefit of communities and citizens.

Always Be Prepared

To take the spring storm season seriously, utility companies must embrace the idea of always being prepared. Energy service providers spend time and resources on being prepped ahead of the season to ensure the least number of storm-related outages that may occur. Whether it's data analysis, additional prep work, or specific allocated departments, utility companies are finding ways to help reduce the damage caused by storms.

CenterPoint Energy relies heavily on data analysis throughout the year to identify hotspots of places that would have the largest amount of any types of outages. It takes this information and draws up line or tree work that aims to improve service reliability. Black Hills Energy has local teams with time-tested procedures they implement as soon as a big storm rolls in. The teams have highly skilled linemen ready to start working and emergency vegetation management teams to address any tree-related issues. PSEG Long Island believes in year-round reliability. It has an emphasis on being a reliable energy provider for its customer base.

"Our reliability management department works with vegetation management, electric service, overhead and underground lines, transmission and distribution design and operation, as well as the asset strategy groups to develop a plan each year in order to reduce storm-related outages," said Mark Cerqueira, manager of vegetation management, radio & telecom, PSEG Long Island. "Some steps include a more aggressive tree trim program, stronger poles, more switches on the network, and stronger conductors."

Whichever method is used, the goal is the same: to be more prepared for the storm season and to ultimately reduce the number of storm-related outages as much as possible.

Communication is Key

One of the many things in common that CenterPoint Energy, Black Hills Energy, and PSEG Long Island have is a commitment to being prepared in the face of an impending storm season and making this time of year as painless as possible for everyone involved. Much of what makes this process easier for utility providers is the almost constant and varied forms of communication for the customers. In the age of the internet, constant connectivity can practically feel like a burden, but it can almost feel like a boon in cases like these.

Storms may never get easier to predict, but the way utility companies prepare for them has certainly come a long way. Armed with the knowledge of best practices and procedures, companies find new and innovative ways to build trust and reliability with its customers. With a lot of preparation, proactive communication, and homeowner education surrounding strategic tree planting, those April showers won't bother customers quite as severely.

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