For more than 30 years, politicians on the left and the right have been clamoring for a national energy strategy to help America enhance its national security, protect the environment, and lead the world in energy innovation. Today, our nation’s investment in energy R&D is only a fraction of our international competitors and less than many other technology-dependent sectors.
In spring of 2010, seven of the most recognized and respected names in the business world set out to address this challenge. The influential individuals – all current or former CEOs – included: former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates; GE Chairman Jeff Immelt; former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine; Ursula Burns, chief executive officer of Xerox; venture capitalist John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers; Bank of America Chairman Chad Holliday; and Tim Solso, chairman and chief executive officer of Cummins, Inc. These leaders had a clear vision – to increase public investment in the development of clean energy technologies to foster strong economic growth, create jobs in new industries and reestablish America’s energy technology leadership.
Communications Challenge: To bring their good idea to life, the leaders needed a brand, an identity, and a compelling way to introduce themselves to policy leaders and the influential community of think tanks, advocates, business leaders and media focused on the issues of energy sustainability, environmental stewardship and technology innovation. Along with the influencers within Washington, they wanted to include messaging that would resonate with Republican and Independent Americans, a key audience to ensuring their policies would garner broad-based support. After a competitive RFP process, the ClimateWorks Foundation and Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) called on Widmeyer Communications to introduce the high-profile group and its agenda inside the Beltway and beyond.
Statement of Objectives: The CEOs wanted to enter the debate on energy innovation and capitalize on their credentials to create a new organization that would become an established advocate on the issue and influence policymakers. They wanted to develop a brand and identity around their partnership and utilize both traditional and social media to generate national interest in their policy recommendations. And they wanted to move quickly – to go from idea to announcement in the span of about four months – to ensure they influenced the current debate in Washington.
Research/Planning: Widmeyer utilized results from research focus groups of Republicans and Independents that ClimateWorks and BPC conducted indicating that voters were supportive of a major change in energy policy and wanted to see top innovators and business leaders advocating for an increase in energy innovation investment. Voters wanted an organization name focused on “America,” “Energy,” and “Innovation.” The group also wanted an “anti-business as usual tone” in framing the issue, and messages positioned as a hopeful rationale outlining a vision of positive change that will impact everyone’s lives.
Strategic Approach: The AEIC needed to reach beyond the Beltway to generate public interest in their nontraditional messages, so Widmeyer developed and executed a strategy that didn’t rely solely on conventional outreach to national and regional media. While Widmeyer leveraged established relationships with reporters to secure significant national media hits, we also developed a plan to reach relevant audiences through social media channels, including Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. We balanced this outreach with an additional focus on the influencers in Washington, by organizing and managing the AEIC’s first-ever press conference in Washington, DC.
In organizing and managing the AEIC’s first-ever press conference and release of its energy business plan at the Newseum, Widmeyer relied on our knowledge of the DC and national climate to secure a high profile venue and to oversee all details of the press conference. As part of the overall promotion of the Council and the press event, Widmeyer developed an advertising strategy to raise awareness and reach key influencers.
Campaign Execution: Widmeyer collaborated with the sponsoring organizations to utilize the research results to develop the logo, brand identity, and name for the new CEO-led group – the “American Energy Innovation Council.” We developed the layout and design for their recommendations to Congress – “A Business Plan for America’s Energy Future,” both for the online and print versions of the report.
Widmeyer managed all aspects of the organization’s announcement event in Washington. We secured the Newseum for the event, utilizing this signature Washington location to highlight the importance of the participants and their message, to encourage participation from nearby Capitol Hill staff, to help facilitate an interview with “This Week,” which uses a studio in the building, and to utilize the Newseum’s Capitol backdrop for live and taped national TV interviews.
Widmeyer managed all pitching for the event and booking of the seven CEOs throughout the day, and secured significant national print, radio and TV interviews at the event. This event also included a simultaneous release of the Council’s energy business plan and unveiling of the organization’s website and iconic video, all developed by Widmeyer. As part of the promotion of the Council and the press event, Widmeyer also developed a Washington advertising strategy to raise awareness and reach key Washington influencers during the week of the event.
To showcase the CEOs’ personal interest in the plan, Widmeyer produced individual videos of each CEO speaking on the urgency of the message, addressing how it will impact Americans in their daily lives, and highlighting their backgrounds in innovation and business to provide additional credibility to the message and demonstrate their personal engagement. Excerpts of these interviews were compiled into an iconic video featuring all of the members making the case for more investment in energy R&D. The video was featured at the press conference, highlighted on the AEIC website and promoted through the social media channels Widmeyer developed for the AEIC in the weeks ahead of the event, including a Twitter Profile (www.twitter.com/TheAEIC), Flickr account (www.flickr.com/photos/theaeic), and YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/TheAEIC).
Eye-catching ads were designed and placed in the Washington Post and Capitol Hill newspapers. With the phrase, “America spends more on potato chips than it does on clean energy R&D,” the ads helped simplify the Council’s message and generate interest among targeted audiences for the AEIC and its business plan.
Widmeyer also established an initial placeholder splash page, and built and designed a new AEIC website (www.americanenergyinnovation.org) that incorporated all elements of the campaign – the videos, the report, the personal stories of the CEO members, and an interface to allow users to share the elements of the campaign via social media – including Twitter, Facebook, and more than 300 other social media channels.
Summary of Results: Widmeyer secured extensive media coverage of the AEIC’s press conference in top-tier media outlets and publications. Coverage included USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, ABC News “This Week,” CNBC’s “Power Lunch” and “The Call,” Bloomberg, Bloomberg TV, PBS “NewsHour,” and National Journal. Widmeyer also conducted outreach to state-based outlets, resulting in coverage outside the Beltway in outlets such as the Indianapolis Star, Charlotte Observer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The development of the brand, identity and print report helped facilitate the organization’s effort to secure a White House meeting with President Obama following the press conference, as well as meetings with senior Members of the House and Senate. They discussed the release of their business plan and potential legislative avenues for enactment following the press conference.
Today, the AEIC is referenced as a leading force for the promotion of energy R&D investment and policy change. In December 2010, the Washington Post named the AEIC CEOs as one of the five “Surprising Leaders of 2010,” stating the leaders “galvanized resources to make a positive impact” and concluding that they stand out for their “profound impact in 2010 and their likelihood to make a lasting impact well beyond this year.”
And Energy Secretary Steven Chu pointed to the AEIC and its Business Plan in his National Press Club announcement November 29 urging increased energy research investment, calling for a “Sputnik moment” and citing AEIC Member Norm Augustine’s metaphor equating reductions in energy investment to removing the engine from an overloaded airplane. One of Secretary Chu’s announced Energy Department recommendations was an increase in energy R&D funding to $16 billion per year – the same recommendation made by AEIC in its Business Plan.