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Robert Trigaux

Tired of being fuddy-duddy or worse, Progress Energy starts blog to boost image

model-t.gifWake up and good morning. Is it cutting edge and daring for a company in a stuffy industry to start a blog and invite public input? Progress Energy seems to think so, though I suppose some applause is due any electric utility that tries to open an online channel with the public. But corporate blogs are funny things and this new Progress Energy one has a steep challenge (as I can attest, trying to grow a blog like this one for years). Can a corporation offer a blog that is more than another PR and company marketing outlet? I have serious doubts. And can a corporation generate the kind of content that folks will bother to look at -- and comment upon? We will wait and see.

Progress Energy, of course, is the North Carolina parent of Progress Energy Florida in St. Petersburg. So I will be curious to see if this blog is Carolina-centric. I'll also be interested to see if this blog survives the corporate takeover of Progress Energy later this year by Duke Energy, which is in the process of acquiring Progress Energy to form one of the largest power companies in the United States. So let's just say this blog needs to make a splash early.

The blog is called Energy Forum. One posting explains why the blog was started:

"It's one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind. Okay, so the creation of a blog isn’t exactly as momentous as Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon – but we do think this Energy Forum is a big deal for us and our industry. Electric utilities are usually associated with words like stodgy, old, immobile and other not-so-pleasant descriptions. We’re tired of it and this new website and Energy Forum are part of our efforts to change."

Good luck with that. Since May 20, when the first blog entry went up, Energy Forum now has all of four postings. The first boasts about Progress Energy signing up a bunch of renewable energy contracts and reads like a press release. Another, better posting cites Advertising Age and asks if folks would buy college-branded electricity like "Tar Heel or Gator Power" (wow, touching on both Carolina and Florida markets). Another posting is a longer one pointing out the limitations of solar power.

I'll be most curious to see if the blog dares to raise questions about the future of nuclear power, certainly the No. 1 topic these days after the Japan nuclear debacle, and a hot button of pro-nuke Progress Energy.

In Progress Energy's home town, the News & Observer this week quotes the blog's one and only contributor so far, company spokesman Scott Sutton, saying the blog is an "experiment." Apparently the public relations department will oversee content, which ought to make it challenging for the company not to pat itself on the back too often. That is, after all, what PR departments do.

For comparison, another big Florida power company, FPL (Florida Power & Light) in south Florida, has its own FPL blog that seems to focus on consumer tips on saving energy. So far, it seems to lack, uh, energy.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 7:29am]


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