Using PR to protect the interests of the wind sector

WORLDWIDE: Slower growth, increasing competition and falling prices are just some of the challenges facing the global wind industry in many of its established markets. All this is set against a background of economically tough times, so why should manufacturers, investors and owner/operators pay for public relations?

Those with management experience know that PR can be highly effective and even essential in certain situations. Unlike marketing - which is geared towards maximising turnover - well-executed PR allows companies to establish, enhance and maintain their image in the eyes of political leaders, other actors in the supply chain and the wider public.

Political lobbying is an important element of PR and is particularly important at times when energy policy is in flux or when the details of new standards or incentives need to be hammered out. For example, in Germany there are several factors supporting continued growth in wind energy, including the existence of a suite of renewable energy subsidies, a planned nuclear energy phase-out and political commitment to replacing an increasing proportion of fossil-fuel generation with renewable sources. However, this does not mean the wind energy sector in Germany can relax. It needs to continue to state its case at the political level, not least because the wind industry must be ready to negotiate adjustments to feed-in tariffs and overcome difficulties in securing sites.

Like its counterparts in many other countries, the German wind sector needs to ensure that political decision makers act as its advocates - and this can only be achieved through lobbying.

Lobbying is a key priority for industry associations, which produce position papers, reports and other information used by politicians and others. Industry associations present and explain the wind sector's most pressing concerns. For example, the European Wind Energy Association's current "Freedom for Electricity" campaign draws attention to the need for electricity grid integration across Europe in order to accommodate growth of the wind sector. The campaign cleverly presents electricity network integration as the next logical step in the free movement of goods and services across the region.

Individual companies active in the wind sector can also initiate lobbying, either on their own or together with other firms that share similar concerns. Contacting political decision makers is a useful approach and it is often easier for a company located in a particular region to educate their local member of parliament or other elected official than it is for a national trade association.

It is important to involve politicians in PR-related events such as inaugurations and open-door days. A good politician wants to understand the businesses that operate in his or her constituency, and a professional PR firm can be highly effective in ensuring politicians are kept up to date with corporate developments.

Wind companies can also air their views on energy policy, timing statements to coincide with key political decisions or debates. Local and regional media outlets will generally welcome a local firm's views on changes to national policy. Other target audiences for PR include potential investors and firms in the same supply chain. Such audiences tend to value concrete facts, financial and technical details, and well-founded arguments. This makes PR an ideal tool to employ, as it is more likely to succeed than advertising with such audiences.

External communications professionals are well positioned to provide an expert, outside view and to assist in goal setting - and then to take the next step and execute a successful PR action plan.

Christine Andersen and Iris Krampitz are experienced PR consultants specialising in renewable energy. For more details, visit www.pr-krampitz.cominternationaloperations.

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