BC Hydro’s PR Investment May Reap Powerful Rewards

BC Hydro, a major electric utility company in British Columbia, seems to have learned from Netflix's painful experience with raising rates and dealing with the ensuing consumer backlash. The utility is seeking to hire as many as 10 public opinion research firms and 15 media relations agencies to gauge and respond to public sentiment as it gears up to increase rates by as much as 3.9% in both 2012 and 2013, according to the Vancouver-based Times Colonist.

In addition to the price hikes, BC Hydro is developing a number of major projects, and the 10 research companies would conduct qualitative and/or quantitative research to gain insight on the opinions, attitudes and behaviors of the general public and stakeholders, reports the Times Columnist. The 15 communication companies would then provide BC Hydro with media advice including training, writing press releases, analyzing issues, conducting risk management and organizing public meetings. 

For PR pros in small and thinly stretched organizations, the thought of having so many communicators may seem gluttonous. However, consider that BC Hydro, which serves 1.8 million customers, has faith in the power (no pun intended) of good public relations. The first line of the company's Who We Are section on its site states that "BC Hydro is dedicated to taking an open and transparent approach to communications," and provides access to annual and quarterly reports, project-specific information and its annual corporate communications plan.

All too often we hear about organizations that are unprepared to handle the PR demands associated with price hikes (see "Getting a Customer Price Increase Right: Come On Down, Public Relations"). It's doubtful we'll be saying the same about BC Hydro in 2012, because communications is being woven into the pricing strategy from the start.

[Update: B.C. Hydro said in a statement on Feb. 9 that it has canceled its request for outside communications companies and would instead "continue to review how we can efficiently provide information to our 1.8 million customers throughout B.C," reports the Times Columnist.]

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