Imagine 1,800 energetic high school students descending on the nation’s capital for a week of sightseeing, immersion in history and making of lifelong friendships—all while having fun and learning about the cooperative business model.
This is the objective of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Washington Youth Tour, but it does not capture the magic of exposing teenagers from rural areas to a world they have only read about in textbooks and challenging them to stretch outside their comfort zones.
To understand the true heart of Youth Tour requires being a part of the program—and two Ruralite editors did that last week.
Mike Teegarden spent the week embedded with the Arizona/California delegation of 43 students. Pam Blair journeyed to Washington, D.C., with the 18 Oregon students and two chaperones, then met up with the 31 students representing Florida cooperatives. She ended the week shadowing the Oregon group on legislative visits with Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden.
Combined, Mike and Pam took more than 4,000 photos and gathered dozens of comments from students about their experiences. The information-gathering continues, all in preparation for four-page feature articles planned for the September editions of Ruralite, Currents and Florida Currents magazines.
This was Pam’s second time attending Youth Tour.
“I am amazed at how much is packed into a few really long days,” Pam says. “I also am impressed with the quality of students selected for the trip. They already are leaders among their peers, and truly are the next generation of leaders for our cooperatives and our communities. They really appreciate the investment their cooperatives make in them through the Youth Tour trip.”
Mike, a first-time Youth Tour attendee, was impressed by the maturity of the students, and recalls a moment that stuck with him.
“What surprised me most was seeing how excited the kids were after meeting with their congressional representatives,” Mike says. “I can’t imagine being that excited about meeting a politician when I was their age. Several of them had wonderful experiences and left feeling like they really do have a voice in how things are run.”
What is your lasting impression from NRECA’s Washington Youth Tour?
This article was co-written by Victoria Hampton and Pam Blair.
Where should you put your message: online or in print?
Both, says Ruralite Services CEO Michael Shepard. He joined the utility communications cooperative in 2016 after a career in newspapers and magazine publishing.
“One of the things we struggle with as communicators is the transition to digital and online messaging while still understanding what works in print,” says Michael. “Do not look at digital as a complete transition from print. It is more complicated than that.”
Consider each message your utility wants to share. Some work best in print, while other messages should also be shared on social media or a website.
Science of Print
“Print remains extremely valuable as a place to tell stories,” says Michael. “Print is great for a message people aren’t necessarily looking for—a message you’re bringing to them. Make it as compelling as possible; tell a fascinating story readers were not expecting to learn.”
Science backs up the power of print. A 2015 study by the Canadian neuromarketing firm TrueImpact used eye-tracking, brain wave measurement and questionnaires to compare the impact of print messages with email and online messaging.
The report found direct mail—materials you hold in your hands—are easier to understand than digital messages.
“Direct mail requires 21 percent less cognitive effort to process than digital media, suggesting it is both easier to understand and more memorable,” the report states. “When asked to cite the brand (company name) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70 percent higher among participants who were exposed to a direct mail piece than a digital ad.”
Questions Drive Digital Content
Websites and social media are ideal for question-driven messages. Outage updates, high-bill questions, immediate safety concerns—these are questions consumers seek answers to online.
“Folks are turning increasingly to digital sources (and away from radio and TV) for instant information,” says Michael.
Digital platforms (website, social media, videos) help utilities provide succinct information to consumers quickly.
More than half of the average website’s traffic comes from mobile devices. Utilities need to make sure their websites use responsive design for easy mobile-device viewing. Content should be geared toward answering the common questions driving consumers to the website.
Print helps readers discover stories. Websites answer questions. How does social media fit into a communicator’s toolbox?
“You can use social media to get out a serious message about something but in a more lighthearted way,” says Michael.
Social media can be used to help followers discover stories about their community, much as you see in print. It can also be a key communication channel during an outage. Share pictures of damage, restoration efforts and expected time to restore power.
Keep digital messages simple. A 2015 study by Chartbeat, a media analytics partner, found 55 percent of website visitors spend less than 15 seconds actively reading a web page.
Think social media results are better? Think again. A 2012 PNM Resources survey of utility social media accounts found the best of the best—utility accounts with high engagement—attract only about 12 percent of a utility’s customer base.
Compare digital reach to Ruralite magazine’s last reader profile study. Fifty-eight percent of readers surveyed in 2013 read the magazine for 30 minutes or more. And when asked how many of the last four issues these people had read, 76.4 percent reported they had read all four issues. Since an average of 1.9 people read each issue, that means 477,286 out of 624,720 potential household readers open and read every issue of Ruralite magazine.
“The reality is that—at least for our industry—digital has an extremely modest impact. There is very little website, app and social media traffic, especially when you compare it to how many utility consumers read the print version of their statewide publication or utility newsletter,” says Ruralite Managing Editor Curtis Condon. “Digital and print are not equal in terms of their effectiveness or value.”
Michael agrees, encouraging utility communicators to use many—not just one or two—communication avenues to get the word out.
“Do not look at is as, ‘This goes here now,’” says Michael. “You may need to include five or six elements across different platforms to have a full communications plan.”
Print vs Digital: Which is Right for Your Message? from Ruralite Services on Vimeo.
This is a story from the Winter 2017 issue of OnLine, our quarterly newsletter. Get more great ideas here.
Every service territory has its own beauty, whether your power lines sit high on a ridge overlooking the valley or sink deep into sandy soil near an awe-inspiring ocean scene. Celebrating local scenery is a great way to paint a picture of your utility—especially when that image is admired 365 days a year.
Custom calendars—especially calendars showcasing local places—are packed with value, since calendars stay in your members’ homes all year long. Your logo, meeting dates and efficiency messages stay top of mind when they refer to the calendar every month. Calendars allow your utility to become a printed mainstay in consumers’ households for 365 days.
Let your consumers provide the images for your calendars, while showing off their skills photographing the region they love. A contest may seem daunting. Never fear. We have the materials you’ll need for a picturesque pitch.
Request a contest package
In the package you’ll receive
- Contest timeline
- Website text
- Customizable ads and story for local pages and/or local newspapers
- Social media posts
Ask your editor for the package. Don’t have an editor? Email email@example.com.
Before you receive your package, let’s talk about the timeline. Here is an outline to start building your contest:
Decide what kind of prize you will give winning entries (Bill credit? Gift card? Lots of praise?).
Set a deadline for the end of July or early August. Be sure to allow time for a judge to pick winners and for your editor to design your custom calendar. I am often available as a judge (MikeT@Ruralite.org).
Introduce the contest on your local pages. A sample story and layout are available from your editor.
Promote the contest on your social media channels. When space is available, place a reminder ad in your local pages.
Place a final reminder story on your local pages. Remind consumers of the fast-approaching deadline on social media.
Send contest entries to judge(s). Allow one to two weeks for review. Submit winners to your editor for calendar design.
Edit website page about the contest to let visitors know it is now closed.
Run a story on your local pages featuring contest winners. Share when and where the calendar will be available.
Remind consumers to use the calendar for important community and utility events. Share the story on social media channels.
All utilities battle returned mail. Do you know how to protect yourself from returned postage fees?
In June, Ruralite Services received 3,285 returns for all four publications. Ruralite began using the post office’s full-service intelligent mail barcode a few years ago, allowing members to receive most address returns electronically. There is no charge for the first two offenses. After a utility has been told about an address problem twice, they are charged 31 cents for each return. The barcode system saves Ruralite members about $21,000 annually on address-return postage fees.
Only 185 of June’s magazines were physically returned to Ruralite’s office (the rest were electronic returns). Each paper return costs 57 cents.
Addresses should be fixed promptly. Otherwise, the problem compounds monthly. Not only do you lose the money spent on printing and mailing, you pay for repeat address offenses.
What Triggers Returns?
Returns stem from two main causes: old or improperly written addresses. If a consumer moves, the post office forwards first-class mail for a year. Magazines use the more affordable periodical rate, and are only forwarded for 60 days. Then they are returned to Ruralite Services and, eventually, the utility.
The other return trigger—improperly written addresses—is a tougher challenge. There are five steps you can take to ensure most of your magazines make it to consumers safe and sound.
1. Make sure mail pieces are properly addressed. Street names need to be accurate, not abbreviated or shortened to what it is known by locally. Include St., Ave., Pkwy., etc. in the address. Having an address formatted correctly can result in huge savings. The per-piece rate ranges from 14 and a half cents for a perfectly addressed local label to just over 47 cents for an improperly addressed magazine not in the local area.
2. Include secondary information (suite, space or apartment numbers). Not having these details can cause the mail piece to have a higher postage rate because of the missing information or, due to periodical delivery rules, the mail piece can be returned for insufficient address.
3. Be accurate. If Apt A is used and it should be Apt 1, the mail piece could be returned for insufficient or no known address. Most mail carriers will deliver the mail piece, but some postmasters tell carriers it is incorrectly addressed and should be returned.
4. Cut excess hyphens. Do not use a hyphen unless it is an official part of the address. For example, using ‘PO BOX 3500-148’ when it should be ‘PO BOX 3500 PMB 148’ will not help the piece be presorted, so you will be charged a higher postage rate.
5. Add STE and PMB. When working with suite and private mail boxes (PMBs) in an address, the proper format should be ‘123 ABC STE 10 PMB 151.’ An address of ‘123 ABC 10-151’ will be charged the highest postage rate for that area, and has a greater chance of being returned by the post office. Proper formatting gets the best rate and ensures delivery.
Delivery Rules for Letters vs. Magazines
Bills and magazine postage follow different rules. Letters are sent first class for 47 cents each. First-class mailing delivery standards require the post office to make every attempt to deliver the mail.
Magazines are sent at a periodical rate—less than half the first-class price. But the periodical rate does not meet the same standard of delivery. The better the address, the better the chance of having mail delivered.
Want to help your annual report shine? Clatskanie People’s Utility District in Clatskanie, Oregon, bundles it with its member calendar. They insert the award-winning solution into a local newspaper. Everyone within two zip codes receives a copy each November.
“The calendar is a great annual report vehicle,” says Clatskanie PUD Customer Relations and Services Manager Sarah Rossi. “Our customers get something useful with the calendar and are more likely to read some of our report since it is in the same document.”
Ruralite’s annual 32-page calendar offers customizable pages. Clatskanie PUD uses the pages to share:
- Letter from the general manager
- Board of directors list, photos
- Audited financial data, graphics
- Statement of income, balance sheet
- Candid staff photos
In the 2015 calendar, each month’s dates are paired with a 1930s through 1960s-era picture of an important local event, local business or iconic local streetscape. Sarah sourced the pictures from the Clatskanie Historical Society, the local library and members of the community.
“People love our calendars with historic local photos,” she says. “They look forward to receiving them each year, and get upset if we don’t send them out early enough. People send them to relatives that used to live in Clatskanie and now live out of the area to help keep their connection to our community.”
Ruralite Assistant Editor Jennifer Brown and Graphic Designer Duy Mai work closely with Sarah on the annual project.
“Duy and Jennifer are awesome to work with,” says Sarah. “They both do an excellent job understanding my vision of what theme and overall look I want for the calendar. Duy finds a way to take my ideas to the next level, bringing the design to life in our combined report and calendar.”
Clatskanie PUD’s 2015 combined calendar and annual report won first place, Best Annual Report, in the Northwest Public Power Association’s 2015 Excellence in Communication Contest. Click here to see the report.
Want a Memorable Calendar?
Ruralite’s calendar provides an affordable way to keep your logo and message in front of readers all year long. You can customize a few pages in the common calendar or put your mark on all 32 pages, like Clatskanie PUD.
The common calendar showcases reader-submitted scenic and wildlife shots from across the West. Make the calendar more helpful by using a black overprint plate to add important dates (annual meeting, scholarship deadlines, rebate reminders, community festivals and more). For a special touch, use our 4-color custom option to switch out some or all of the pictures with shots from your community.
The deadline for 2017 orders is September 23. Allow extra design time if you want a custom calendar similar to Clatskanie PUD’s version. Ask your editor about special discounts to make custom options more affordable than ever in 2017, or contact info@Ruralite.org.
What makes your community great? Chances are the combined heart and soul of your city has a lot to do with the individuals who chose to live there. Take Columbia Basin Electric Co-op’s Darryl Houghtelling for example. He ran the 2015 Mount Everest Marathon and returned to his community to share is adventure.
What about the many people who find a niche market within utilities’ service territories. Surprise Valley Electric’s Mikie Royer wanted to save her people money when their loved ones passed away, so she created Old West Coffins.
Sometimes the character of your community is seen in the people who run the tried and true local businesses. Blachly-Lane Electric’s Horton Market has been owned by the same couple for 43 years.
No matter where you live, the passions of the people in your community shine. Gather inspiration from the February feature stories to get new ideas to capture local characters.
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