Northwest RiverPartners

Public Education

CleanHydro Public Education Campaign

Summary

Clean Hydro Campaign - NWRPWhen opinion polls regarding hydropower showed a drop in support, Northwest RiverPartners tackled it with research, brainstorming, collaboration and membership outreach that ultimately generated financial support for a major TV media campaign launched in 2013.   The strategic and professionally developed television campaign reached millions in the Northwest with its positive messages on the value of hydro and the Columbia and Snake rivers.  Unprecedented in hydropower’s history, it is a perfect example of bringing together people and organizations that are passionate about hydropower – over 90 organizations participated. The ads also helped educate state and federal policymakers and legislators, creating a positive environment and outlook for promoting hydro as the Northwest’s – and the nation’s – cleanest, most affordable and reliable renewable energy source. Public opinion polling conducted before and after the campaign proved the campaign was a great success with support for hydropower’s benefits increasing 3-9% with marked increases in public support for key messages.

Background

Starting in 2009, RiverPartners’ public opinion polling showed an alarming decline in NW citizens’ understanding and appreciation of hydropower, likely due to the high profile removal of Elwha and Condit dams in the region, continued litigation over federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, and media promotion of wind and solar resources as “new” renewables.  A massive and proactive education effort was needed, and in 2013 the CleanHydro campaign was born.

Research indicated that urban, Democrat, younger females predominantly tended to undervalue hydropower and river system benefits.  And television still remained the best way to reach people on this topic.  Employing the expertise of a professional advertising firm (Coates Kokes), two visually compelling TV ads were produced along with print ads, a CleanHydro website and other materials.  Nearly a million dollars was raised to fund a media buy targeting the urban areas of Washington and Oregon, and the ads began running in 2013 from February through mid-June.

Challenge

The goal of the CleanHydro Campaign is to educate the public about the many values of hydropower and create a more positive policy, business, regulatory, and legislative environment. Rivers are “owned” by the public, and society’s support for them being used as “working” rivers to generate energy and provide a multitude of other benefits is essential to the hydro industry, utility customers, and families and businesses everywhere.  Challenges included: creating a successful creative product within budget, garnering support for the effort including raising a large amount of funds for the media buy, and implementing the campaign successfully.

Innovation

While using TV to convey a message is not pioneering, the electric utility industry and associations generally rely on more traditional approaches such as articles, bill inserts, and websites to educate the public and their customers. Additionally, TV can be expensive and out of the question for smaller organizations with limited communications budgets. The CleanHydro campaign illustrated the adage that:  “A rising tide lifts all boats”.  All of the CleanHydro contributors recognized that hydropower was losing support and it was time to join together to change that dynamic.

Additionally, our industry, and others, tends toward wanting to persuade people with facts. But most people make decisions based on an emotional connection and how an issue affects their daily lives.  TV is innovative in that, if done right, it makes an emotional connection with its audience.

Results

Over 90 organizations, both regional and national, contributed funds to this effort.  Our ads reached over three million households, 7 million people in total, and the target audiences saw the spots an average of 15 times.  The June polling results showed public opinion increased by 3-9% in the Northwest region, a substantial achievement according to polling experts. Through this effort, every CleanHydro contributor was able to reach the public and their customers with high-quality, informative TV ads and supporting materials that would have been outside the reach of any single organization.

Stakeholder Quote

“Reversing the decline in public perceptions about the value of hydropower and our river system is a long term effort.  Let’s build on our success and make sure we preserve this economic engine of our region.  The Potato Commission supports the Northwest RiverPartners’ CleanHydro Campaign because we need sustainable power production and water storage, or we have no food.”  – Chris Voight, Executive Director, Washington State Potato Commission.