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The era of engagement

Simply communicating is not enough, as audiences demand a deeper level of interaction says Weber Shandwick's Rachel Friend

I could be accused of being biased in my view, as EDF Energy is a Weber Shandwick client. It is, however, hard not to be impressed with the company's vision and its approach to comms.

The energy sector has taken some knocks, but I applaud EDF Energy's commitment to openness, honesty and transparency in rebuilding trust with its customers and the wider consumer audience.

In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan, Andrew Brown and his team decided to go on the front foot to address key questions about the company's nuclear ambitions. The team led a proactive response, including the appearance of the CEO, Vincent de Rivaz, on The Andrew Marr Show, and opening up the company's nuclear plants across the UK to TV news cameras.

It has also consistently taken a stance on pricing - the last to raise and first to announce a cut - and continued to innovate product offerings with the launch of the Blue +Price Promise earlier this year.

EDF Energy's strategic use of Olympics sponsorship is smart. It has clear-sighted objectives and has activated the sponsorship across all business units, maintaining momentum across a five-year period and keeping it fresh and relevant with a series of initiatives touching multiple stakeholders.

Of particular note are: The Pod, which launched in 2008 and has engaged an estimated 6.5 million schoolchildren; Team Green Britain, which encourages customers to lead a lower-carbon lifestyle; the Thank Yous campaign, which gives customers the chance to win tickets to the Olympics; and the provision of low-carbon nuclear-backed electricity to power the Olympic Park. This activity has recently been taken to the next level with the launch of 'Feel Better Energy', a brand aspiration that underpins everything EDF Energy is doing, and will include the company's activation of 2012 and the EDF Energy London Eye over the Olympic Games period.

These confident initiatives are evidence of EDF Energy's genuine desire to engage with consumers to build trust, and its willingness to embrace innovative and forward-thinking ideas in marketing and comms that deliver this goal.

EDF Energy has understood we are in the engagement era - new to some, but not to us at Weber Shandwick.

Engaging audiences is what we've always done. When you engage, you converse and inspire advocates. In a world in which information comes at us from endless sources, it's no longer just about engaging people with a story.

Today, we engage people in the story. It's an important distinction. Brands understand they are no longer in control of their message, but share it with their audience, who shape the story.

We live in a world in which the lines between channels, disciplines and stories are increasingly blurred - there is no 'off' button and everyone is a potential influencer. Our marketing world is undergoing a dramatic shift, moving from an era of communication to one of engagement; an era in which simply communicating is not enough and a deeper level of audience interaction is expected - and often demanded. This means many things for us and our industry. It means we must be able to engage across all channels, at all times, in all manner of ways. Most importantly, it means understanding what actually drives engagement.

The award-winning work we create with EDF Energy, and its smart marketing agencies, demonstrates how by understanding the company's clear objectives, we have been able to deliver true engagement.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

Which brands have gained the most, in profile terms, in the run-up to the Olympics?

Profile shouldn't necessarily be a brand's number-one priority in exploiting sponsorship. Its priority should be to activate the Games in the most relevant and engaging way for its target audiences.

If your agency was an Olympic sport, which would it be, and why?

The decathlon - we have experts right across the spectrum, who would be champions in their fields alone, but who, together, create work that is gold medal standard.

Rachel Friend is managing director, consumer marketing, at Weber Shandwick

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