American Water finds comms value in online annual report

VOORHEES, NJ: American Water, a water and wastewater utility company that went public in April 2008, launched an interactive online annual report in order to help it meet sustainability goals.

VOORHEES, NJ: American Water, a water and wastewater utility company that went public in April 2008, launched an interactive online annual report in order to help it meet sustainability goals.

The site, www.amwaterannualreport.com, contains the company's proxy materials, 10-K form, video, and other information. It launched in late March, but planning for it began in last year's fourth quarter. The company's communications leaders point out that the video is a less expensive way of telling the American Water's story, which needed a brand awareness push.

“What we found in our research is that people did not know who we were,” said MaryBeth Vrees, director of marketing and advertising. “We decided to show them who we are [and] what we do.”

“We ran the numbers to see the cost impact and it was 20% less expensive than a traditional [annual report],” added Laura Monica, SVP of corporate communications.

Both Monica and Vrees joined the company about two years ago. They've been working on a rebranding and repositioning of American Water, which includes environmental stewardship, and innovative use of technology. According to Monica, neither she nor Vrees have a utility background, and they have looked broadly for the most effective communications strategies that would bring “the strategy of the company to life.”

“As we look at these different opportunities to communicate with current and prospective investors, we're looking at how we can leverage technology most effectively,” Monica said.

It is also considering how technology can be used to better educate consumers, elected officials, and communities about the work they do, which can impact their rates, she noted.

The company is also carefully monitoring the annual report site to learn what has caught visitors' interest and to determine what to expand upon in the future.

“We know that when people visit the site, they're spending eight minutes on average, and the top three [visited areas] are financial summary, market opportunities, and rebranding and repositioning,” said Monica.

MWW Group, which has been American Water's PR consultant since January, “played a supporting role” in creating the site, said John Chartier, senior public affairs director at the firm.

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