Campaigns: Consumer - First Utility's smart move on big boys

With debate continuing to rage over the future of the UK energy market, First Utility needed to make its voice heard on the need for greater competition to give consumers a better deal.

First Utility: smart move on big boys
First Utility: smart move on big boys

Campaign: Challenging the UK Energy Status Quo
Client: First Utility
PR team: CubanEight
Timescale: September-October 2011
Budget: £17,500



  • To position First Utility as the leading challenger energy supplier
  • To drive traffic to First Utility's site as a starting point for customer acquisition
  • To raise awareness of key barriers to growth for the company, with a view to encouraging government to alter policy.


CubanEight worked with First Utility's in-house team to highlight First Utility's status as the first company in the UK to roll out smart meters nationwide.

Together with its market position as the leading independent supplier - the company sits outside of the dominant 'big six' group of energy firms - this selling point was used to position First Utility as a real alternative to incumbent suppliers such as British Gas and Npower.

The strategy led with a news hijack campaign to secure First Utility's positioning in response to a variety of energy-related announcements from both the Government and the 'big six' providers.

Working closely with the client's lobbying agency, Brevia Consulting, CubanEight briefed media with a 'Manifesto for Energy Modernisation', which was compiled to form part of the campaign. The briefing was done through one-to-one meetings and telephone calls to specifically targeted journalists, mainly at national media outlets, including The Financial Times, The Sun and the BBC.

The campaign responded to several issues raised at party political conferences, as well as giving examples of poor industry practice that needed to change. A social media element to the campaign ran alongside the media relations work, allowing the agency to explore issues contained within its manifesto.

As well as using First Utility's own blog as a platform, the social media work included guest blog posts secured on The Huffington Post, Which? and uSwitch.

Activity also included PR to support First Utility's attendance at the Government's Consumer Energy Summit, attended by the Prime Minister.


Eighty-nine media clips were secured throughout the course of the campaign. The highlights included broadcast coverage on Channel 4 News, ITV News at 10 and BBC Radio 5 Live, as well as print coverage in The Financial Times, The Times and Scotland on Sunday.


By the end of the campaign, the total number of visitors to First Utility's website had doubled during October compared with the average of the previous three months' totals.

In addition, the analysis showed a 54 per cent increase in the percentage of new visitors to the site compared with the previous three months. New customer sign-ups increased 25-fold compared with average levels in the six months before the campaign.



The introduction of smart meters to up to 30 million households from 2014 is likely to be a big talking point. Therefore, being seen to lead the debate could reap huge rewards.

For First Utility, competing with the 'big six' is a significant challenge but the media results were impressive. The prominent comments in David Blair's piece for the FT were particularly noteworthy.

Although driving web traffic was an objective, the team has recognised that traditional media relations continues to remain an important driver of online activity.

However, given the desire to quickly react and 'hijack' the news agenda, the campaign might have been a good opportunity to use social media to greater effect and encourage wider debate.

First Utility has just 148 Twitter followers, compared with more than 8,000 for British Gas - not necessarily a measure of success, but surely a figure that will increase if the campaign continues to gain momentum.

Overall, the increase in new customers suggests the campaign offered great value for money.

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