Corporate Communications (Sep 04-06)

Internal and external communication professionals in the utility industry face a variety of challenges in supporting their organizations’ strategic plans, particularly as the utility workforce undergoes significant transformation, communication channels multiply, and utilities face increasing competition. This semiannual forum provides a unique, collaborative space for leaders in corporate communications to discuss these challenges and communications best practices. Recent topics of discussion include executive communications strategy, communicating with employees in the field, stakeholder engagement, crisis communication and communicating strategic plans.

General Details

  • Program Chair(s)
  • Jenny Levesque, Community Outreach Manager, Seattle City Light

    • Program Location
    • Seattle City Light
    • 700 Fifth Avenue
      Seattle, Washington 98124
    • Who Should Attend
    • Energy company corporate communications senior leadership, including directors and managers.

  • Registration Options
  • Member: $449 USD
    Regular: $449 USD

    Registration prices increase $100 after August 21, 2019. Registration includes lunch and networking dinner on Thursday, breakfast, and lunch on Friday and all meeting materials. Guest tickets are available for $100 and allow for a personal guest (a spouse or partner who does not work in the energy industry) to accompany a registered attendee at the event. Guest registration includes all meals and receptions, and all program materials.

  • General Cancellation Policy
  • Due to contractual obligations, cancellations received 15 business days prior to the program will receive a full refund. Cancellations received 6 to 14 business days prior to the event will receive a refund, less a $100 administrative fee. No shows and last minute cancellations, 5 business days prior to the event or less, will be responsible for the full registration fee. Substitutions from your organization for the same event are always welcome.
  • Participation Policy
  • Western Energy Institute programs and events are open to energy companies (including gas production and electric generation, gas and electric transmission and gas and electric distribution utilities). Select programs and events are open to energy industry product and service suppliers. Programs and events are closed to all media representatives and to the general public.
  • For more information contact Joshua Baker, Program Manager at (971) 255-4970.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

5:00 PM - 6:30 PM

Networking Happy Hour

Flying in on Wednesday? Join us for a no-host happy hour to catch up with your colleagues from across the West and meet new attendees. Location: The Arctic Club Hotel's Polar Bar (700 3rd Ave Seattle, Washington 98104)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

8:30 AM - 9:00 AM

Doors Open + Materials Pick-up

9:00 AM - 10:30 AM

Welcome to Seattle City Light + Introductions
Facilitator(s): Jenny Levesque, Community Outreach Manager, Seattle City Light
Speaker(s): Jen Chan, Chief of Staff, Seattle City Light

Seattle City Light will welcome us to their utility and kick-off the forum. Afterwards, attendees will introduce themselves. Attendees are encouraged to share their name, company overview, general role within the organization and a recent win or current challenge.

10:30 AM - 10:45 AM


10:45 AM - 12:00 PM

The Final Countdown: How to Draft a Killer Comm Plan while the Clock is Ticking
Speaker(s): Debra Leithauser, Director of Corporate Communications, Idaho Power Company

Sometimes, time is on your side. Sometimes, it’s not. Debra Leithauser, Director of Corporate Communications for Idaho Power, will share lessons learned from her company’s recent Clean Today, Cleaner Tomorrow campaign. From the day the board agreed to move forward with announcing a goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2045, Idaho Power had about 40 days to decide what to say, how to say it, identify stakeholders, do market research, build a digital site, devise advertising and editorial strategies, create video and digital assets, and get everyone on the same page. It was an intense campaign – one that needed to be carefully communicated both internally and externally – and the work paid off. Idaho Power received weeks of positive messaging from across the globe. Debra will share what went right, what she learned, what almost went wrong, and what she’d do different the next time around.

12:00 PM - 12:45 PM


Catered lunch will be provided onsite at Seattle City Light.

12:45 PM - 1:45 PM

Responding to a Data Breach
Speaker(s): Susan Gregg, Director, Media Relations, UW Medicine

Our afternoon sessions will be dedicated to crisis communications and feature a variety of case studies and discussions centered around preparing for and responding to crises that may affect your employees or the company's brand.

In our first session, we will be joined by Susan Gregg, the Director of Media Relations at UW Medicine. In December of 2018, the organization experienced a data breach involving approximately 974,00 patients. Susan will discuss the data breach and UW Medicine's response and communications around the incident. 

1:45 PM - 2:00 PM


2:00 PM - 2:50 PM

Wildfire Communications
Speaker(s): Robb Henderson, Sr. Communications Advisor, San Diego Gas & Electric Company

Robb Henderson will share San Diego Gas & Electric’s strategy and experience communicating before, during and after wildfires. Topics to be addressed include:

  • Fire prevention and emergency preparedness communications
  • Collaboration with local agencies, media and other organizations
  • Coordination of messages internally and external during an active wildfire
  • Communicating emergency public safety power shutoffs during high-risk weather events
  • Outage restoration
  • Legal considerations that come in to play when communicating wildfire issues
  • Communication around the causes of a specific wildfire

2:50 PM - 3:00 PM


3:00 PM - 3:35 PM

Outages Roundtable
Facilitator(s): Ellen Cheng, Media Relations Manager, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power

Following San Diego Gas & Electric's presentation on how they are handling wildfire communications, we will transition to having a group roundtable discussion on how utilities are responding to other outages.  Please come prepared to discuss the following questions. Attendees are encouraged to bring examples or handouts to pass around to other attendees.

  • How are messages coordinated/approved across different communications channels and business units (contact centers, operations, legal, etc.)?
  • Do you have codified or approved verbiage to use or specific timeframes designated to roll out messaging?
  • What roles do crews and other non-comms team employees play in communicating with the public during an outage?
  • Outage Notification Systems (email, text): What are the lessons learned from rolling out these systems? How did you get customers to sign up? Did you see these impact customer satisfaction scores?

3:35 PM - 3:45 PM


3:45 PM - 4:15 PM

Crisis Communication Roundtable Discussion on Tools, Software + Services
Facilitator(s): Jenny Levesque, Community Outreach Manager, Seattle City Light

We will end the day with a roundtable discussion on the software, tools, and consulting services that members use to prepare and respond to crises. Attendees are encouraged to bring templates and handouts to share with the group.

4:15 PM - 5:30 PM


5:30 PM - 8:00 PM

WEI Hosted Networking Dinner

1101 4th Ave 
Seattle, WA 98101 

Friday, September 6, 2019

7:30 AM - 8:15 AM

Networking Breakfast

Catered breakfast will be provided onsite at Seattle City Light.

8:15 AM - 9:30 AM

Communicating Complex Topics: Arizona Public Service Company and Prop 127
Speaker(s): Bill Marks, Manager, Enterprise-wide Communications, Arizona Public Service Company

In 2018 Arizona voters defeated Proposition 127, which would have increased the state's renewables mandate from 15% by 2025 to 50% by 2030. The ballot initiative, which was opposed by the state’s utilities, was the most expensive in the state’s history. This high-level fight on a very complicated constitutional change with potentially large consequences for APS and Arizona ratepayers required a significant educational and outreach campaign. Bill Marks will share details on APS’s integrated effort to mobilize employees and manage communications internally and externally to build opposition to the referendum.

9:30 AM - 9:45 AM


9:45 AM - 11:00 AM

Breakouts: Internal Communications + External Communication Groups

We will split into two groups to dive deeper into a topic that more directly applies to either internal or external communication attendees.

9:45 AM - 11:00 AM

Internal Communications Group: Employee Incentive/Recognition Programs
Speaker(s): Valerie Szopa, Senior Public Relations Specialist, Seattle City Light

Following the development of a new mission, vision, and values statement, Seattle City Light’s communications team developed the employee recognition campaign, “I Value”. This campaign highlights Seattle City Light’s five core values, reinforces utility commitments, and further aligns employees with the utility’s mission and each other. The heart of the campaign is the Value Ambassador Program, a recognition program that connects employees to the utility’s values. Valerie Szopa, Senior PR Specialist, will share key elements of the program and lessons learned.

9:45 AM - 11:00 AM

External Communication Group: Social Media
Speaker(s): Luke Currin, Associate Director, Customer Engagement Solutions, E Source

Looking back and looking ahead: Smashing utility social media successes and ripe opportunities heading into 2020.
Who could have imagined when Facebook became official in 2004 that it would have 2.4 billion monthly active users in 2019? From the moment brave utility employees began exploring social media, utility social teams have steadily evolved through blue and black skies. Since 2014, E Source has surveyed these teams about their successes, challenges, goals, and strategies. Join this session to reflect on the smashing successes, lessons learned, and massive potential for utility social media teams heading into a new decade.

11:00 AM - 11:15 AM


11:15 AM - 12:00 PM

Open Roundtable Discussion
Facilitator(s): Jenny Levesque, Community Outreach Manager, Seattle City Light

Ask any remaining questions that were not yet discussed and benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience of the group.

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Lunch and Planning for Next Steps

Catered lunch will be provided onsite at Seattle City Light as we discuss the agenda for the next Corporate Communications Forum.

Hotel + Travel

  • Reservation Instructions
  • Please contact the hotel directly at (206) 340-0340 to reserve your room. Identify yourself as being with Western Energy Institute (WEI) to receive a special rate of $229 USD/night. This rate is guaranteed until August 21, 2019 or until the WEI room block is full.

Meet The Speakers

Debra Leithauser

Idaho Power Company

Director of Corporate Communications
Learn More

Leithauser was named Vice President, Corporate Services and Communications in October 2019. She started her career at Idaho Power as Director of Corporate Communications in 2017, after a long career in media.

Before joining Idaho Power, Leithauser was the President and Publisher of the Idaho Statesman, overseeing all news, advertising, distribution, production and financial matters. She previously ran two other media companies, a newspaper in Pennsylvania and a news service in Washington, D.C. She was a Pulitzer Prize judge in 2014. For almost a decade, Leithauser was a Senior Editor at The Washington Post, where she was the top editor for a variety of sections, including the award-winning Washington Post Magazine.

Leithauser graduated from the University of Florida with honors, earning a Bachelor of Science in journalism. She was named a distinguished alumna in journalism in 2013.

Leithauser serves on several boards including the United Way of Treasure Valley, the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, and Together Treasure Valley, a community initiative she launched after moving to Boise in 2015.

Jenny Levesque

Seattle City Light

Community Outreach Manager

Valerie Szopa

Seattle City Light

Senior Public Relations Specialist

Bill Marks

Arizona Public Service Company

Manager, Enterprise-wide Communications

Robb Henderson

San Diego Gas & Electric Company

Sr. Communications Advisor

Ellen Cheng

Los Angeles Department of Water & Power

Media Relations Manager

Susan Gregg

UW Medicine

Director, Media Relations

Jen Chan

Seattle City Light

Chief of Staff

Luke Currin

E Source

Associate Director, Customer Engagement Solutions
Learn More

Luke Currin leads the strategy and content development for the E Source Residential Marketing, Business Marketing, and Corporate Communications Services. Luke and his team support marketers’, corporate communicators’, social media managers’, and program managers’ efforts to boost program participation, strategize and sell nonregulated offerings, improve the utility’s brand and reputation, and optimize department operations. Luke believes marketing and communications play critical roles in evolving utilities’ relationships with customers as customer expectations and technologies change. Before joining E Source, Luke worked in Media Relations and Internal Communications at Duke Energy. He studied environmental studies and Hispanic studies at Davidson College.