Con Edison, the utility that provides electric power to most of New York City and New York's Westchester County, is a company with a lot to say about energy conservation, efficiency, and its employees.
Over the past few years, the company has discovered that video makes saying those things a lot easier.
"We've really embraced video in our communications," Ann Cameron, director of creative services for Con Edison, told an audience at Ragan Communications' PR and Media Relations Best Practices Summit at her company's headquarters. "We use video to have conversations with our customers, we use video as a PR tool for our media relations work, and we use video to tell our corporate story."
Instead of messages coming from a faceless company's press release, they now come from personable, friendly Con Ed employees speaking directly to the viewer. The public, its own employees, and the media have all taken notice.
The right messenger
"Con Edison's brand is its people," Cameron said. "It's not about the pipes and wires; it's about people."
In 1999, Con Ed started showcasing its employees through its "On It" advertising campaign, in which black-and-white photos of employees' faces went up in the New York subway and in other spots around the city. That program evolved into one where the utility put employees' photos on the sides of trucks, where they offered up energy-saving tips via word balloons.
Around 2010, Con Ed's communicators began thinking about ways to give employees another stage: videos on the company's YouTube channel. In those videos, employees stand in front of a white background and offer tips on how to save energy—by buying a more efficient air conditioner, turning off their computer monitors, printing less, etc.—while animated visual aids pop up around them.
The videos aren't heavily scripted; employees speak off the cuff. Con Ed does screen testing with each employee to see how well they'll do on camera.
"They're having a conversation," Cameron said. "When we go into a studio, we do an interview."
To encourage employees to take part in the videos, Con Ed pieced together an internal video of outtakes and testimonials from the first batch of employees who did their own videos.
The videos featuring tips aren't the only ones that include employees. The company also posts videos of staffers doing volunteer work at the local YMCA, local public schools, or a park helping to plant trees. Other videos showcase employees on the job.
Remote videos cost around $3,000 for the company, which has an in-house editing suite, to produce. Studio videos that require more graphics cost a little more.
Getting the word out
Con Edison's communications team posts many of its videos to YouTube, the company website, and Facebook, but Cameron said she knows people aren't exactly hungry to seek out new content from a utility.
"People don't get out of bed saying, 'I wonder what ConEd.com has going on today? Maybe I could check in for a new video program,'" she joked.
So the company sends a lot of links out by email. Con Ed has a list of about 1 million addresses to which it sends regular email blasts. It gets a click-through rate of about 4 percent, Cameron said. For example, one email blast asked, "Want to save on your electric bill this summer?" and included a link to a video about a rebate program.
"I'd say we have virtually no unsubscribe activity," she noted.
Some email blasts get huge responses. About 30 percent of people who received an email about last year's Hurricane Irene, which included links to outage resources and a video explaining how Con Ed deals with outages clicked to see the content.
Appealing to the press
The utility also uses video to reach out to the news media. When Hurricane Irene was coming, Con Ed's video team recorded crews preparing for the storm by tying down equipment. The videos went out to news outlets embedded in a press release.
"We knew that everybody in New York was going to be talking about it," said Alfonso Quiroz, media relations manager for Con Edison.
The company has offered video of employees working to news channels as B-roll—which is especially useful because news camera crews can't go into manholes to capture employees on the job. The communications team has also pitched some amazing stories. For instance, three Con Ed employees foiled a robbery attempt in January.
Con Ed initially interviewed the three employees for an internal video, but later embedded that video in a press release. News channels and newspapers came calling, and the employees were prepared for it because they'd had some practice.
A reporter at the local ABC station said the video in the press release was a huge help, because not all stories that look good in descriptions on paper turn out to be great for TV.
Videos help get bloggers' attention, too. When one blogger posted with questions about why Con Edison has a Facebook page, the company's Facebook managers responded with an explanation. The blogger was amazed.
"What would have been bad was a very corporate response," he said in a follow-up video. "The response I got actually shows that they care."
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.