Renewable Energy’s Growth…In the Media

The beginning and end of the year are the best times to work in media because it forces us to look back and summarize what happened. It’s less about chasing stories and more about shaping an honest narrative that readers can identify with and understand. Over the past month, every publication devoted to clean energy has released its top stories and trends for 2012, and have already moved on to making their predictions on what to expect in 2013.

In foraging through my 2012 “best of” lists, one story popped out at me the most: Todd Woody’s “Renewable Energy Winning Mind Share If Not Market Share.” It’s a simple post that covers Factiva’s findings on the mentions of various forms of clean energy in the world’s major print publications in 2002 and then in 2012. As a communications professional, this is important for two reasons. First, it saves me hours of drudgery producing clip compilations and Excel spreadsheets for clients interested in this data for planning purposes. Woody and Factiva just gave it to us for free: thank you.

Secondly, it shows how far we have come. I have been working with renewable energy companies, their trade organizations and environmental advocacy groups exclusively for 4 years. I’ve noted how receptive outlets are to my calls and pitches now versus when I first started in 2008. From CNN, MSNBC and Fox News to Dow Jones, Bloomberg, and Platts, reporters are more familiar with things that I once had to take 10 minute explaining to even get my foot in the door. From my experience, the depth of their questions has improved, suspicion of our releases has lessened, and interest in follow-up stories is more frequent.

What Factiva’s numbers highlight to me is the attitude shift in mainstream media outlets from sometimes skeptical and vague, to more often informed and balanced. There are a variety of reasons for this. The first is the President’s focus on “green collar” jobs and the political fights on Capitol Hill that were created due to his successes, and failures, on the issue. The second is the explosion of clean energy-specific publications, whose quality is close to, or on par with, their fossil energy counterparts. These publications have proven to be both timely and relevant sources of information about the industry, often connecting clean energy growth to the domestic and global economies.

The third reason is the introduction of communications professionals into the clean energy space. Many clean energy companies have realized that just sending out mass press releases is not a communications plan. Reporters, especially those covering broad topics, have little time to sort through the mountain of emails they receive each morning and throughout the day. Tailored approaches to pre-selected, targeted audiences with clear and concise messaging are essential to developing a brand and, most importantly, to cultivating relationships with influential bloggers and reporters at outlets your audience frequents.

High definition photos, videos and interactive websites that tell a story are becoming a necessity instead of a luxury. Old fashioned cold calls and email pitches are still important, but in order to push the envelope in media visibility, communications professionals are supplementing traditional outreach with creative campaigns that cut through the clutter and give reporters and broadcasters something worth covering.

I suspect mainstream media mentions of renewable energy to steadily increase over time, but what I don’t know is what the coverage will look like and for how long. Shaping a clear picture of a company’s purpose, its relationship with its customers, and where it fits into the local and national economy will be the key to PR success in the coming years. The more frequently clean energy companies invest in this, the more fairly and frequently they will be viewed in the media.

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I am Deputy National Press Secretary for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, with a background in sustainable business and environmental advocacy campaigns.

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