Consumer angle hot in alternative energy

Until recently, much of the press on alternative energy has focused on the need for new renewable energy, the public policy debate over global warming, and new technology driving many of these solutions.

Until recently, much of the press on alternative energy has focused on the need for new renewable energy, the public policy debate over global warming, and new technology driving many of these solutions.

What's been missing is media coverage of alternative energy as a true consumer product, complete with price points and comparisons that go beyond the simple call to become green for green's sake.

But with solar, wind, and other solutions finally ready for the mainstream, opportunities are increasing to pitch alternative energy as a home or lifestyle story.

"In the past, it would be strictly the environmental or energy beat reporter, but today it's really a range of journalists," notes Wei-Jean Garland, an SAE with Porter Novelli's Seattle office, who recently landed client Southwest Windpower's backyard wind-power generator in the pages of Playboy. "Who would have thought Playboy magazine would feature a backyard wind turbine alongside the newest bottle of Tanqueray gin and the newest DVD mail-order rental service?"

Garland's success may be a bit of an exception right now. Bell Pottinger USA director Colin Mahoney suggests that the fact that alternative energy is no longer the "gee-whiz" technology is making it easier to pitch to business and environmental beat journalists.

"But when it comes to newspapers and more mainstream outlets, it has been a more difficult pitch," adds Mahoney, whose agency's clients include green builder PowerHouse Enterprises, which makes houses equipped with solar panels. "While climate change and global warming are registering in consumer polls, I'm not sure if they're registering with mainstream editors."

William Brent, SVP and head of Weber Shandwick's cleantech practice, adds: "The education is the huge thing that's missing right now. Consumer media still needs to be educated, though you are seeing the rise of smaller outlets like Ideal Bite, a Web site and daily newsletter with a cheeky tone run by a couple of women in Montana."

The best strategy for now may be regional consumer outreach, says A.J. Goodman, a VP in Ketchum's communications and media strategy network. Targeting not only areas like California that have high awareness of alternative-energy solutions, but also places like Iowa and Louisiana, where the rise of ethanol and biodiesel production is playing a growing role in the local economy, has been a successful tactic.

"You have a lot more interest from reporters in places where you can show it's having an impact on the community," he says.

Pitching... Alternative energy

While the big-picture issues of energy independence and global warming are important, alternative-energy pitches also need to address the standard questions about any service: price and reliability

You will have a lot more success if you can localize a story by pointing out area consumers who have successfully adapted a new energy solution

Consumer outlets may take awhile, but there are a growing number of niche, green-centric outlets clamoring for all the content they can get on alternative-energy solutions

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