Winner: Pepco Holdings, Inc. – A Change of Direction
In recent years, Pepco Holdings, Inc., particularly its Pepco utility, struggled with service reliability and restoration issues that led to a customer satisfaction nosedive and indicated there was a need for “a change of direction.”
PHI faced negative press, customer anger, political backlash, protests and media ambushes. With a new communications leader in place, an aggressive vision was crafted to improve PHI’s reputation among its almost 2 million customers. This included strengthening the communications team, developing and implementing an integrated communications strategy and turning around the company’s image.
One component of that turnaround involves media relations, and Pepco wanted to transform relationships with local media through proactively and transparency. With no solid relationships, reporters in the Washington, DC metro media market didn’t trust Pepco or PHI. Increased transparency was key—and was implemented during Hurricane Sandy, when 13 reporters embedded across PHI, including four reporters, a still photographer and a videographer from The Washington Post—the utility’s most vocal critic.
This idea caused alarm internally because of vulnerability in opening up completely to media outlets; but the company had previously learned that media wanted transparency, and without it, it did not report accurately.
After Hurricane Sandy, The Washington Post published a glowing article entitled “Inside Pepco: how the utility kept the lights on during Hurricane Sandy,” which was a direct contrast to its article, “Why Pepco can’t keep the lights on.” Critics such as NBC 4’s anchorman Jim Vance and news radio WTOP staff reported that Pepco was prepared and responded well to the storm, and positive to neutral tonality continued in all media markets across the footprint.
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