Campaign: Establish Energy Helpline as the UK's top energy switching
Client: Energy Helpline
PR team: Lewis PR
Timescale: June 2004-March 2005
Budget: £6,000 per month (retainer)
Energy Helpline is an Energy Watch-approved gas and electricity switching service that offers customers an online tool with which to find the most economical supplier. Energy Helpline, whose media presence had traditionally been limited to the occasional piece of coverage, asked Lewis PR to raise its media profile to rival that of its primary competitor, uSwitch, and in turn to increase the number of users of its service.
To usurp uSwitch as the primary media expert on switching supplier. To educate consumers on the benefits of switching and attract more business.
Strategy and Plan
The position of uSwitch as a major market player presented a challenge to Lewis, which also needed to make energy a more interesting subject. It achieved this through real-life case studies that were accompanied by concept photography.
The PR team targeted the campaign at two groups: consumers and businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises with the flexibility to switch energy suppliers quickly.
The consumer aspect focused on increasing the volume of electricity and gas switches made online and over the phone. The team tracked gas and electricity-related announcements to make sure it received relevant breaking news quickly. When British Gas raised its prices, for example, Lewis sent client-approved soundbites to journalists within the hour, encouraging consumers to ditch the gas giant through Energy Helpline. These were supported by emails to editors with price comparison charts.
Persuading businesses to switch supplier was more complex because such a decision is rarely made by a single person at a company. Case studies were sent to local press, illustrating to companies how proactive their local competitors had been and urging them to take the same step.
Energy Helpline director Mark Todd was used as a spokesperson at every opportunity.
Measurement and Evaluation
Visitors to Energy Helpline's website quadrupled when the company appeared in the press.
Media mentions went from the occasional reference to ten mentions a month during the first six months of the publicity drive. Most coverage stressed the benefits and ease of switching energy supplier. In 90 per cent of coverage in the first quarter of this year, Energy Helpline was the only company quoted, and all business-related articles reported Lewis's research showing that companies were wasting money on their energy bills.
More than 75 articles have appeared to date, including pieces in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, and on CNBC, BBC Radio 2 and Sky News. Meanwhile, 36 interviews have been secured for Todd.
After the British Gas price rise announcement, calls to Energy Helpline went from 100 to 400 a day. Lewis's contract has been renewed for another year to publicise new services.
Todd tells PRWeek: 'We are consistently the first energy supplier switching service to reach journalists. The media attention has had a measurable impact on the number of business and consumer customer switches.'
Richard Eden is managing director of energy switching company UK Power, a rival to Energy Helpline
Any doubts anyone may have about the power of PR should be dispelled by this case study. Despite a difficult economic climate - where competition in the gas and electricity switching business is greater than ever - Lewis PR has delivered good results for Energy Helpline.
By responding rapidly and authoritatively to breaking news in the energy sector, Lewis placed its client firmly on the radar of journalists, laying the ground-work for long-lasting relationships that should easily outlive the immediate campaign.
Those of us involved in the gas and electricity price comparison business know the sector is facing difficult times as the number of customers who have not yet switched reduces and the cost of promotion increases.
Involving a professional PR service is a cost-effective and efficient response, providing a more subtle tool than advertising with which to carve up the majority market share enjoyed by uSwitch.
The aim of toppling the nation's number one was always ambitious, not to say audacious, but no one ever took gold by thinking bronze. Although the campaign inevitably fell some way short, the gap has certainly been narrowed, and it may well be that the hardest part of the task is now behind them.
8 out of 10