OneRoof’s model is a little different, in terms of solar financing – they work with the roofing industry to target homeowners replacing their roof, as that’s usually a cheaper way to add solar. But they’re a part of a larger trend, which is the maturation of solar financing and the continuing intertwining of global financial entities and solar.
No one would argue that the solar industry as a whole is out of the woods yet, but this validation from financial players is important—If it keeps up, it will help move solar past the combination of hyperbole and doubt it has suffered from, and establish solar as a valuable and reliable energy technology for the long-term.
Posted by Dan O'Mahony on February 28, 2013 at 5:57 PM
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It’s Friday, and if you’re based in the Bay Area like the Schwartz MSL Cleantech Practice, you’re probably already swept up in the Super Bowl XLVII hype that has consumed many of us.
Greentech Media posted a story today on the 49ers efforts to achieve LEED certification, via solar, at their new Santa Clara stadium.
The vendor highlighted is NRG Energy—a major energy player—and it’s clear that the work is partly an exercise in PR and marketing. A 400-kilowatt system is by no means large, especially for a company like NRG, but the notoriety and branding is potentially worth a lot more.
It’s a smart move by NRG, and they definitely are thinking awareness with this project. As Katie Tweed writes:
“The most visible solar array will be the ones that cover the pedestrian bridges that the majority of fans will have to cross to enter the stadium from the parking lot. For those that might not think to look up, there will be educational messages about solar power and clean energy.”
With environmentally-conscious Bay Area folks attending games and seeing NRG branding and info, this project could lead to loyalty amongst customers in one of the hottest solar regions in the country.
Solar Power International (SPI) 2012 has wrapped up, and while our clients were pleased with the number of meetings the Schwartz MSL Cleantech practice was able to secure, we noticed a somewhat troubling trend. Reporters and analysts more than ever are bringing advertising reps and other sales people, to meetings, which unexpectedly turn into sales pitches.
This isn’t unheard of, particularly at tradeshows, where many reporters and analysts might help make introductions for their sales people to the companies they speak to regularly. However, that process is usually (hopefully) transparent, and doesn’t take away from the value of the meeting.
Now, both from our own experience and with conversations with in-house PR and marketing pros at the show, it’s become common for a reporter or analyst to spend five minutes chatting with a given client and then handing off the conversation to her/his ad rep for the remainder of the meeting.
It’s a reminder for us to be diligent in our media and analyst outreach. We’re often under some pressure to land a certain amount of meetings, but we can’t lose sight of why we are booking these meetings – to secure coverage in the outlets that help our clients close deals and win new business. If a meeting turns into a sales pitch, not only have we damaged our credibility as media and analyst relations experts, we've also wasted an executive’s valuable tradeshow time.
With magazines struggling to keep afloat, this trend isn’t likely going anywhere, so it’s important for PR pros to put more thought into who we contact and be clear with those journalists on the topics our spokespersons are ready to tackle. Most importantly, we have to be ready to explain and defend that certain meetings will be more valuable than others, and why quality trumps quantity.
Posted by Dan O'Mahony on September 14, 2012 at 3:19 PM
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But from a market and PR perspective, here are a few key trends we’ve noticed from our conversations with our clients, media and analysts at the show:
Quantity down, but quality up—SPI is still a behemoth, but attendance is unmistakably down this year. That being said, while most companies we spoke with said the show is slower than previous years, they’ve also said that the meetings were both more productive and with higher-value decision makers.
This points to a sign we’ve seen on the horizon for a while—the hype might be down, but the market is maturing and the average player is now more serious, and has a less flashy, more responsible business to promote.
“Where Solyndra and other companies got into trouble was they set very high expectations and fell dramatically short. The industry has to take the approach of under-promise and over-deliver – pointing to real successes.”
Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico as an emerging market was a huge topic at the show. The most obvious reason is the venue: With Orlando being more than 1,000 miles closer to Puerto Rico than the Bay Area, you could expect a larger ratio of Puerto Rican representatives than most cities.
However, there’s more to the U.S.’s “51st state” being on everyone’s minds. Puerto Rico is increasingly on solar companies’ priority list as it establishes more solar incentives and programs. Just recently, for example, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) expanded its net metering program for projects up to 5 megawatts.
Island nations and states have proven great candidates for solar, as many have to ship in diesel or oil for power, which is both expensive and insecure. If you're a solar marketer evaluating new markets to focus on, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and other island nations should be at the top of your list.
SPI: Now firmly a U.S. show?—Many companies we met with have remarked on the significant drop in international attendees this year. If this trend continues, it will mean that solar marketers will have to engage in more European, Latin American and Asian PR strategies and programs, if they want to tap into those markets.
We’re excited for the rest of the show, and will continue to share our thoughts. Another reminder, if you haven’t already, take a look at our new e-book on our 2012 summer survey of cleantech, energy and sustainability reporters and analysts.
Posted by Dan O'Mahony on September 12, 2012 at 5:09 PM
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Tomorrow kicks off the first day of Solar Power International (SPI). We’re looking forward to spending the week helping our clients navigate the many media and analyst meetings we’ve arranged. We are also glad to get an opportunity to meet with some of the start-ups and established players driving new, innovative solutions across the solar ecosystem.
SEIA and GTM Research’s news is cleverly-timed. Releasing the news today, the day before the show, is a great way to get both press and attendees buzzing about the news, and will likely mean significant syndication for the number of SPI round-ups being written this week.
This is a great way you can build excitement before the show. It helps your sales and new business team lock-up more high-quality meetings, and also ensures that your news isn’t lost in the massive amounts of announcements made during the week of the show.
Although the piece is meant to be an overview of PG&E’s solar policy stance, it’s clear from a PR perspective the goal is to persuade readers on PG&E’s stance on net metering, the policy mechanism in California whereby utilities credit the bills of renewable energy system owners, for the excess energy they produce and pump into the grid.
Below, we breakdown what Mr. Rubin, and likely his PR team, did right and wrong in this piece:
·The audience – the piece takes the argument directly to Greentech Media’s readers – ardent supporters of solar – to make the case. Too often PR practitioners fall into a pattern of “preaching to the choir,” where their efforts are focused on those that are already believers, instead of working to convince opponents or those that are indifferent. This piece takes the argument directly to the end of the spectrum that is in most need of an attitude shift, from PG&E’s perspective.
·Demonstrates overall solar support – The article provides an organic reason for Mr. Rubin to highlight PG&E’s significant support and progress for solar energy over the last decade.
·Call-to-action – Generally, Op Eds like these should end with some action the reader can take (vote for a candidate, buy a product, donate to a cause, etc.). Does he want them to call the CPUC to complain? Is he laying the groundwork for a bigger campaign to influence net metering policy? It’s unclear what Mr. Rubin wants readers to do here.
·Lack of participation –In the comments section, many readers have brought up some smart counterpoints to Mr. Rubin’s article, but he hasn’t chimed in yet, unfortunately. More than anything, readers appreciate authenticity, and to publish a piece but not engage in the comment section, you can quickly lose your captive audience.
Overall I think the piece is well written, and sent to the right audience, but the big question is what PG&E does next and how they try to build momentum to achieve their goals. Also, as a PR practitioner, I think anyone who is contributing should be willing to engage in comments, especially since for the most part they’re respectful and well thought out.
What do you think?
Posted by Dan O'Mahony on August 16, 2012 at 6:19 PM
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While unfortunate flameouts like Solyndra's are dominating the mainstream media stories, success stories are buried or left to smaller trades (see: preaching to the choir).
For example, companies that specialize in financing and installing solar energy systems, such as Borrego Solar, Clean Power Finance, SolarCity, Sungevity and SunRun continue to draw significant third party finance (full disclosure, Borrego Solar is a Schwartz MSL client). The ongoing success has helped these companies generate new jobs, turn profits, and produce hundreds of megawatts of solar capacity each quarter.
This success is fairly understood in Cleantech media, but the mainstream is still locked on those few high-profile failures.
Solar installers and financiers are just one example of a successful Cleantech sector. Inverter manufacturers such as Advanced Energy, Enphase and Power-One (Advanced Energy is also a Schwartz MSL client) have posted solid Q2 post solid numbers.
In 2012 and likely into 2013, it’s more important than ever for the Cleantech industry to focus on companies that aren’t just innovating and producing in a lab. We need to focus on companies that are creating businesses that will take the industry to the next level.
Posted by Dan O'Mahony on August 7, 2012 at 7:38 PM
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For cleantech PR professionals---or any public relations pro for that matter--knowing the reporters and outlets you are pitching is critical to success. Not knowing them results in a lot of wasted time and money and, even worse, the real risk of being tuned out by a top-tier journalist.
As many of you may or may not know, Forbes’ web site has a number of contributors, with significant autonomy on when and what they post. For PR pros, it creates a new opportunity to reach Forbes’ top tier business and investment readers, without competing for coveted—but limited—space in the print publication.
One Forbes contributor we've worked with quite a bit is Amy Westervelt. Amy covers issues primarily in the environment and health spaces, for a variety of publications.
A veteran sustainability reporter, she covers some of the most interesting issues in Cleantech, and tends to do some very comprehensive reporting on a handful of key topics. One example is this three-part series on the military’s interest in Cleantech, which included four Schwartz MSL clients.
Amy gave us some great feedback on her working style, and how she and other Forbes.com editors can collaborate with PR pros.
Schwartz MSL: Can you give us a brief rundown of what the process is to be a contributor at Forbes, as opposed to a full-time staffer?
Westervelt: I believe it varies depending on the department you're working with, but for the environment/green tech-related content contributors are required to file 5 stories per month. We don't have to pitch ideas for posts or get approval, although our editor (Todd Woody) does go in and edit text, tweak headlines, etc. once he sees posts go live. We get paid a base rate and then additional pay the more unique hits we get on a story, which is good and bad: It's nice to see some benefit to stories doing well on the site, but the pay structure also lends itself to audience-pandering and link-bait journalism, which doesn't necessarily lend itself to great content.
Schwartz MSL: What are the items you look for the most when deciding to cover a story? Are there any specific industries you are particularly interested (or not interested) in?
Westervelt: I am a sucker for a good health angle, as I feel it helps to ground environmental coverage in something most people can understand easily. I also like items that lend themselves to deeper coverage; I've been doing a lot of series lately in order to cover a particular topic from multiple angles and I quite like that approach.
I'm particularly interested in the chemical, consumer products, and energy industries. Right now I have zero interest in smart grid, although if there's a smart grid story that links back to health in some way I could get interested.
Schwartz MSL: What are some of your PR pet peeves?
Westervelt: Press releases - particularly those that are very long; lack of notice on a breaking story; false "exclusivity"; connecting me with a marketing director as a source - even if he/she is the most knowledgeable person in the company, they just don't make credible sources; having the marketing person, the PR person, and the legal person on a call during an interview (particularly if any of those folks interrupt often); asking to see and/or approve a story before it runs.
Three Questions is a blog series by Schwartz MSL PR pros where they interview the journalists, analysts and other industry influencers who impact our clients' businesses.
Posted by Dan O'Mahony on July 26, 2012 at 7:44 PM
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Interestingly, for Texas, record-breaking heat waves and subsequent brownouts make solar a no-brainer. Solar tends to produce at its highest output in the middle of the day, when people are cranking their air conditioners and energy demand also tends to be highest.
Given the ideal climate conditions, many utilities in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and other areas throughout Texas have begun offering incentives to solar developers, in order to add more solar to their energy portfolios.
The PPA deal is a big step for Texas solar, but also for the U.S. solar energy industry overall: In a post-Treasury Grant environment, a variety of new markets are springing up as solar hot spots and driving further growth.
Another example, in New York City and its surrounding areas, is the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's (NYSERDA) PON 2156 and PON 2484, which unleashed more than $60 million in performance-based incentives for solar energy systems.
Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington D.C., and even Puerto Rico are all springing up as potentially hot markets as well.
If you’re in charge of the business development and/or marketing efforts at a solar company, local programs to generate media in emerging markets should be a top priority to take advantage of this trend.
Posted by Dan O'Mahony on July 24, 2012 at 4:43 PM
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One of the biggest changes in renewables over the last decade was the shift in motivation from environmental to economical. Through rapidly decreased costs and major policy changes, solar and wind became a viable alternative and even a strategic economic investment for many businesses and individuals. Economics is still the driving message, but a new and interesting message has emerged: National Security.
A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, calling for renewables and energy efficiency for military operations, highlights that a staggering 1,000 troops have been killed in fuel-related missions during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering that total deaths in these wars are estimated at less than 6,000, energy security is becoming a key issue to military officials.
For this and other reasons, the military has recently been stressing the importance of energy independence, both domestically and abroad. The DoD recently launched the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), to procure and test promising new renewable energy technologies (full disclosure, Schwartz client Skyline Solar was selected). A renewable energy marketer couldn’t ask for a better type of exposure—Military endorsement is a great GR tool, particularly when working with republican officials. Furthermore, these companies now have a chance to build a relationship with the US military – a group with literally the world’s deepest pocketbook.
Outside of the military, Hawaii is another example of security as a benefit to renewables. The state imports nearly all of its fuel resources, which isn’t cheap and certainly isn’t secure. Because of this, Hawaii has become is perhaps the most ambitious of all states, seeking to shift to 70 percent renewable energy for the entire state by 2030. Governor Linda Lingle has sought for quite a while to make energy security part of the conversation. A state making such a huge leap into renewables, and focusing on energy security, is all the more reason marketers should consider adding security to their messaging
Because this conversation is still new, smart marketers will begin discussing energy security early (thought leadership, press release key words, contributed articles) to not only steer the conversation in their favor and build a long-term voice on the subject, but even to build SEO. A Google search of the key words: “Renewable”, “Energy” and “Security”, doesn’t turn up a single vendor on the first page—leaving the window wide-open to those who want to initiate the security conversation.
Fortunately also, the shift in messaging may not be that extreme from what many are already doing. Most of the key words and messages associated with economic benefits (reliability, cost-effectiveness, scalability) remain just as important from a security perspective. A quick project installation time may also be beneficial to stress, for entities looking to interfere with operations as little as possible. Pay back period and ROI, on the other hand, may be less important of a message.
Regardless of how security fits into your company's message, if your product is near-ready or already shipping, the emphasis on energy security should be on your radar for 2011.
This reminds me of a piece I read about a month ago in Wired, by Erin Biba, on why science, and specifically the global warming movement, needs to “step up its PR game”. The message is quite simple: perception of the threat of global warming is muddled and confused leaving the public lethargic and complacent.
The global warming movement needs serious work in relating to the public (get it?). Sure, individual companies and groups do a good job at marketing their products and services, but the overall industry suffers from doubt, confusion and severe skepticism. In the article, Kelly Bush, founder of entertainment PR firm ID, offers some great insight on how the issue isn’t brought close enough to home. Here is an excerpt:
“They need to make people answer the questions, ‘What’s in it for me? How does it affect my daily life? What can I do that will make a difference?’ Answering these questions is what’s going to start a conversation,” Bush says. “The messaging up to this point has been ‘Here are our findings. Read it and believe.’ The deniers are convincing people that the science is propaganda.”
Oddly, the piece doesn’t mention the BP oil spill once, which seems to be the best example of how to make the clean energy movement hit home (even though the consequences of the oil spill are not really comparable to the consequences of global warming). On top of that is the shocking “Gasland”, a documentary that reveals the massive environmental legal loopholes awarded to natural gas companies, and the deplorable impacts of the operations on local drinking water. With examples like these that literally bring the environmental impact to our front door, environmentalists and the clean energy industry should have enough ammo to counter just about any argument. So why can't they?
The largest news in April for clean energy could have been Solyndra’s debt woes, a PR debacle that could prevent its IPO, result in millions of dollars of squandered federal funding and provide a massive PR salvo for opponents of government investment in cleantech movement.
CapeWind - This announcements is important in scope and, perhaps more importantly, precedent. Despite 9 years of protests from a wide-range of opponents, the federal government has acknowledged that our nation’s energy needs are more important than ideological or NIMBY opposition, no matter how heavy-handed. This is an important case for the PR and GR efforts for the entire clean energy industry. Hopefully this is the first of a number DOI-supported wind farms off the Atlantic Coast and in the Great Lakes.
DOE funding – This funding was for research focusing on electrofuels, batteries and carbon capture. From a PR point of view, this is a much-deserved acknowledgment of the importance and potential of these technologies, which often play second-fiddle to solar, wind and smart grid technology. And though the second fiddle status makes sense from a market maturity standpoint, these technologies still address important problems that require solving.
Amonix – Like most clean energy PR, “scalable” and “cost-reduction” are more important phrases these days than “break-through” or “cutting-edge”. Amonix, which emphasizes “scale” and “low energy production costs”, is an example in the shift in how companies position and market their clean energy technologies. Clean energy financing will likely continue this trend, as VCs demand quicker payback and more manageable reliable products. Schwartz is fortunate to work with several interesting companies in solar that are solving the scale and cost issues around traditional solar technologies.
What does this all mean? In a month where a cleantech bellwether fell on hard times, we saw a number of good developments that are fueling cleantech adoption and acceptance. This good PR for cleantech concerns across the board is more than welcome. Let’s hope it continues and reduces the squabbling over the long-awaited climate bill.