Corporate Communications – Virtual (Feb 03-04)

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, crisis communication, branding for employee recruitment and onboarding, environmental stewardship communications, and resource mix communication strategies.

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General Details

  • Program Chair(s)
  • Lindsay Hobson, Manager, Administrative Affairs and Communications, ENSTAR Natural Gas Company

    • Program Location
    • No travel required. All agenda times are in Pacific time. Instructions to access the virtual event will be provided before the program.
    • Who Should Attend
    • Energy company corporate communications senior leadership, including directors and managers.

  • Registration Options
  • Member: $199 USD

    Registration includes virtual access to all agenda items and digital program materials.

  • General Cancellation Policy
  • To best serve WEI members and program participants during the COVID-19 pandemic, WEI will be waiving its standard cancellation policy for this program and all virtual programs through July 2021. Registrants can now receive a full refund should they need to cancel their registration up to the day before the program begins. This applies to both new and existing registrations for virtual programs.
  • 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. Recording is not permitted for any portion of the event.
  • For more information contact Amy Nye, Program Manager at (503) 688-2794.


All session times are listed in Pacific time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

12:30 PM - 1:00 PM

Virtual Help Desk + Technology Check

The room will open early with optional time for participants to get familiar with the virtual platform, test their audio and webcam, or ask questions about the agenda before we begin.

1:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Welcome + Opening Remarks
Speaker(s): Lindsay Hobson, Manager, Administrative Affairs and Communications, ENSTAR Natural Gas Company

Our Program Chair will welcome the group and share an overview of ENSTAR Natural Gas Company.

1:30 PM - 2:00 PM


Get to know your peers through our roundtable introductions. Come prepared to share your area of expertise and what you hope to take away from this meeting.

2:00 PM - 2:15 PM


2:15 PM - 3:30 PM

Public Safety Power Shutoffs: Best Practices for Communicators
Speaker(s): Andrew Heath, Managing Director, Utility Intelligence, J.D. Power and Associates, Todd Cahill, Director, Customer Care, San Diego Gas & Electric Company, Vanessa Bryan, Manager, Customer Engagement Strategy & Planning, Pacific Gas and Electric Company

As catastrophic wildfires burn more often throughout the West, the stakes grow higher for utilities and the communities they serve. That’s why utilities are turning toward public safety power shutoffs as best practice during extreme fire conditions. Communicators play a key role in educating their communities about what to expect, and preparing a solid communications plan to deploy on short notice.

  • Andrew Heath, Senior Director of Utility Intelligence at J.D. Power & Associates, will share important insights from the 2019 J.D. Power Residential Electric Customer Satisfaction survey. The data uncovers what’s most important to customers during PSPS events, and which communication methods result in better customer satisfaction. 
  • Todd Cahill, Director of Customer Care at San Diego Gas & Electric, will discuss lessons learned over the years from one of the first utilities to adopt PSPS, and how those practices have shifted in recent years.
  • Vanessa Bryan, Sr. Manager of PSPS Customer Engagement & Strategy, will talk about the evolution of customer outreach and awareness over the past 3 years in which PG&E has implemented the PSPS program including pre-event and in-event communications. 

3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Social Hour

Grab your favorite beverage and snack and join us for an hour of conversation and networking.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

8:15 AM - 9:00 AM

Crisis to Crisis: When and How We Tell Our Stories
Facilitator(s): Brian Edwards, Director of Corporate Communications, Washington Gas, Bernie Tylor, Manager of Media Relations, Washington Gas

2020 presented challenges in nearly every industry across the nation. As utilities, we were called on to respond to scenarios ranging from COVID-19 and protests following George Floyd’s death to federal legislation and grassroots campaigns aimed at eliminating fossil fuels. This discussion will reflect on our collective experiences approaching important but difficult topics as well as assessing trigger points for when to respond both publicly and to our employees.  

9:00 AM - 9:15 AM


9:15 AM - 10:00 AM

NW Natural’s New Digital Portal: Transforming your Customers’ Online Experience
Speaker(s): Cory Beck, Sr. Manager Communications & User Experience, NW Natural

NW Natural’s new digital portal, launched in 2020, overhauled our key point of engagement with 760,000 customers. This project integrated a new customer website with a suite of technology and security improvements on the backend: Updated systems for online payment processing, billing and mailing, a revamped interactive voice response (IVR) phone system, and service order scheduling. Cory Beck, who oversaw the project, will share the development process and the critical role each step plays in ensuring a successful rollout: from planning and requirements, to design, build, testing and stabilization. He’ll also share tips on how to get buy-in from executive leadership, lessons learned, pitfalls to avoid, and a walk-through of the site and systems.

10:00 AM - 10:15 AM


10:15 AM - 11:20 AM

Breakout Sessions + Report Outs
Facilitator(s): Erica Shiflet, External Communications Leader, Idaho Power Company, Rachel Hansen, Senior Communications Strategist, Chelan County PUD, Dave Santen, Senior Writer, Corporate Communications, NW Natural, Jenny Levesque, External Communications Manager, Seattle City Light, Lindsay Hobson, Manager, Administrative Affairs and Communications, ENSTAR Natural Gas Company

This time is designated for small group discussion around a particular topic of interest. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend (2) 20-minute breakout sessions. At the conclusion of the breakout session, all attendees will reconvene to share initiatives and insights from their discussion. Each breakout session will be facilitated by a member of the Program Development Team. Topics include:

  • Executive Communication: Executive communications are a unique beast. They bridge the internal and external communication spheres and blend the personal with the professional. Internally, what have been the biggest wins and challenges for your executives communicating through the pandemic? Externally, how have your executives handled public communication around many of the social, economic and health crises our communities have been facing (e.g., BLM, masks, political issues and contributions). Did you have corresponding internal comms challenges around these same issues? On social, are your executives communicating through company or personal channels? 
  • Employee Engagement: 2020 brought many challenges and changes. Many of us transitioned to working from home, while others continued to work in the field. With diverse employee groups and working environments, how did you engage employees this past year? What challenges did you encounter? What worked and what didn’t work? Explore lessons learned and tips and tricks for the year ahead. 
  • Cybersecurity: A cybersecurity incident can have devastating implications: financial, legal, data privacy, security…. But it’s an issue that attracts attention when things go wrong, not when things go right. So, how does your company communicate the importance of cybersecurity to employees? Who leads that and what role does your communications group play in developing those messages? Have there been incidents that have led to an increased focus on this issue for your company? Your employees? What are some ways that you’ve made this tech-focused topic more meaningful to employees?
  • Past Due Payments + Collections: About 57 percent of the U.S. population is covered by utility shutoff moratoriums, whether they’re seasonal or pandemic-based. Meanwhile, electric and gas debts are on track to exceed $24.3 billion as of Jan. 2021. Join us for a brainstorm on how utilities can compassionately help their customers get out of debt before the moratoriums expire.
  • Technology + Digital Engagement: Customer engagement is about encouraging two-way interactions with your audience. As communicators we strive to make interactions more personalized, dynamic, and contextually relevant. What digital tools and/or technologies do you and your team use for engaging with customers? What is easiest to use? What is most effective? What have you found to be most successful? 

11:20 AM - 11:30 AM


11:30 AM - 12:15 PM

Open Roundtable Discussion + Wrap Up
Facilitator(s): Lindsay Hobson, Manager, Administrative Affairs and Communications, ENSTAR Natural Gas Company

This time is designated for an open roundtable discussion on current challenges and emerging issues. Topics will be generated by live polling. We will close out the meeting by discussing plans for Fall 2021. 

Meet The Speakers

Lindsay Hobson

ENSTAR Natural Gas Company

Manager, Administrative Affairs and Communications

Andrew Heath

J.D. Power and Associates

Managing Director, Utility Intelligence

Todd Cahill

San Diego Gas & Electric Company

Director, Customer Care

Cory Beck

NW Natural

Sr. Manager Communications & User Experience

Vanessa Bryan

Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Manager, Customer Engagement Strategy & Planning

Bernie Tylor

Washington Gas

Manager of Media Relations

Brian Edwards

Washington Gas

Director of Corporate Communications

Dave Santen

NW Natural

Senior Writer, Corporate Communications

Jenny Levesque

Seattle City Light

External Communications Manager

Rachel Hansen

Chelan County PUD

Senior Communications Strategist

Erica Shiflet

Idaho Power Company

External Communications Leader