Talking energy with Canadians needs innovation

July 21st, 2015 | by Larry Clausen

Innovation and technology is the hallmark for Canada’s energy industry. New methods and advances have improved conventional resource production and set the path for new energy sources.

This past week, at the Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference in Halifax, government and industry discussed innovation as an integral part of advancing the nation’s energy opportunities. Creative approaches will examine better ways to extract oil sands, produce natural resources, push alternative energy sources ahead, advance environmental enhancements and improve stakeholder relations.

The energy industry is very sophisticated but greatly misunderstood by Canadians. Despite investing into a wide range of communication programs and initiatives, the industry has failed to gain the trust of Canadians. This creates an impediment for timely advancement of energy opportunities.

Communication campaigns by individual energy companies and industry associations are plentiful, and for the most part, carefully designed and implemented with engineering preciseness. Information is balanced with scientific facts, complete in details from economics to environment to social, detailing the value provided. Yet, success in communicating has eluded the industry.

Now is the time to focus the energy industry’s attention on innovation in communication. Not to diminish some very creative campaigns, the day of hammering out key messages for targeted audiences may not always be effective. This is especially so if those messages are highly factual and hold no emotional relevance to the audience.

People are busy. They don’t have time to try to understand the complexities of the energy industry. They frankly don’t care. The emotive link that must be achieved – and surprisingly not yet been done – is that energy is an essential part of one’s life.

If Canadians believe and understand how energy is important to their day to day living, then they are likely more receptive and trusting of the people producing energy. They will link that without energy, their lives are severely impacted, and conversely with energy, how their lives are lived.

The industry must move away from fact-only based communication. It needs to find “fun” ways to reach out to Canadians where they live and play. The goal is simple – first brand energy as an essential part of living, and second, as important to Canada.

The tools for communication should be highly unexpected by people. Think of pop up, interactive fun displays providing experiences in neighbourhoods, the local mall or at special events. Create excitement with a travelling Cirque du Energy. Give children ways to explore energy through vehicles that roll right up to school grounds. The imagination can continue.

Since the mid 1980’s when I was president of the Petroleum Communication Foundation, and until now as a communication consultant, I have had plenty of opportunities to observe energy communication. And, like many industry members, I’m frustrated that Canadians remain aloof when it comes to embracing energy in their lives. The innovation of the energy industry needs to be applied when speaking to Canadians.

Larry Clausen is the Executive Vice President, Western Canada, at Cohn & Wolfe with over 30 years of experience working with the energy industry.