Customer Service
Community Engagement

Six tips to celebrate the holidays in your public power community

As public power utilities, you are woven into the fabric of the communities you serve — not just because you power homes, businesses, but because you're committed to community service. This dynamic is perhaps most apparent around the holidays. This time of year is perfect for reminding your customers who you are as a public power utility and why you do what you do.

Here are six tips for celebrating the most wonderful time of the year" in your community, based on what other utilities like yours have done over the years.

1. Embrace tradition

The holidays are all about tradition. Take this opportunity to highlight the traditions that make your community special. As part of its centennial celebration a few years ago, Easton Utilities in Maryland took a lead role in resurrecting a local tradition. From the 1950s to the 1970s, a giant Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, perched atop a downtown building around the holidays. The utility assembled a team to bring Rudolph back, and it was a great success. For the return celebration, Easton employees dressed in holiday costumes and distributed antlers and light-up noses to kids, as well as hot chocolate and other goodies to the crowd. Rudolph's return attracted media attention not only locally, but also from The Baltimore Sun and WBAL radio in Baltimore. "As an important part of this community for 100 years, we at Easton Utilities are reminded of all the great traditions our town has built," said CEO Hugh Grunden. "Bringing Rudolph back seemed just the right kind of Christmas present to bring joy, hope, and wonder to a new generation."

2. Hitch on to local events

There are many opportunities for your utility to support local holiday events — parades, tree-lightings, food drives, and other charitable events. Consider taking part in these events either formally or informally — by encouraging or enabling employee participation. Grand River Dam Authority in Vinta, Oklahoma, encourages employees to work together to make the holiday season brighter by participating in local Christmas parades. One year, the utility even decked out a bucket truck to pull a float in the parade. A utility presence at these events sends a clear message that the utility is part of the community and cares about more than just providing electricity.

3. Consider contests

Nothing spurs community engagement like a little friendly competition. A few years back, Gainesville Regional Utilities in Florida held an online holiday photo contest for which GRU customers submitted photos of their holiday lighting efforts. Photo, video and musical contests often create great fodder for your utility's social media feeds. And they are a great way to highlight the talent and creativity in your community.

4. 'Tis the season for energy efficiency and safety

Promoting energy efficiency and safety to customers is a no-brainer during the holiday season. You know your customers are pulling old lights out of the closet and stringing extension cords across their homes and yards. While lighting up the house and trimming the tree are fun activities, it's easy to waste energy and create unsafe conditions. Taunton Lighting Plant in Massachusetts sends out a press release with tips on saving energy during the holiday season. Seattle City Light in Washington devotes an entire webpage to educating customers about the benefits of using energy-efficient holiday lights. Franklin County PUD in Washington sells energy-efficient holiday lights at its office and shares a "Christmas Light Cost Calculator" on its website. The Electrical Safety Foundation International's website has many resources you can use to share electrical safety and fire-prevention messages with customers.

5. Warn customers about scams

It's not just in Home Alone — we know thieves don't take vacations around the holidays, they actually step up their game. According to a press release from Omaha Public Power District in Nebraska, those who prey on utility customers are being extra aggressive this year. OPPD is warning customers not to fall prey to phony bill collectors who claim to represent the utility. OPPD has already received dozens of reports from customers who got scam phone calls, and the number is expected to rise. Most of the recent reports have come from churches, restaurants, and other businesses. This time of year, it's essential to reach out to your customers to equip them with the tools to fight back against scammers.

6. Give back to the community

Your utility should challenge itself to find ways to "give back" each year. Last year, a team of Keys Energy Services employees spread holiday cheer to children in need by donating more than $1,600 worth of gifts to a local school program. Whether it's through organized events or by letting a local organization borrow a bucket truck to hang decorations, it's a win-win when your utility can be a positive force in the community.

What are you doing to celebrate the holidays? Share your photos and videos on social media and tag @PublicPowerOrg or use #PublicPower. Exchange more ideas with colleagues on the APPA Public Communications Listserv at [email protected] "