I hope you’re ready to get a little bit meta, because I’m about to discuss corporate blogging… in a corporate blog post. Though they’ve been around longer than almost any other form of social media, blogs continue to be an important channel for companies that want to become a resource to their current and future customers. No other outlet enables a brand to engage through in-depth thought leadership without becoming sales-y – other social channels are geared towards short, snappy posts and responses.
The ideal blog becomes a trusted resource that customers and prospects visit over and over until the blog’s brand becomes synonymous with valuable information. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to publish posts that offer commentary on the latest trends, but we all know the reality – long corporate approval processes can make staying current almost impossible. How can you discuss news when the blog post won’t go up for a month? How engaged will my customers really be if I put up a blog post about Game of Thrones or George Zimmerman in August?
As difficult as it may seem to achieve, tying into the latest trends remains important, and there are a few ways around the roadblocks. At Greenough we’ve worked with some clients to establish a “fast track” for topical posts, with a parallel (but slower) approval processes for “evergreen” posts. For example, if your blog publishes three times per week, you might put up a best practices post (written last month) on Monday, a customer case study (written several weeks ago) on Wednesday and a KOL’s commentary on a breaking news story (written and approved that same week) on Thursday. By prioritizing a select few posts, you may be able to keep the blog fresh even if the approval process for most pieces takes months.
Another option is to build posts around a news placeholder. Ninety percent of the post can traverse the approval process, then, the blog editor can go back and fill in a piece of news the day before publishing. These won’t sound as natural – you won’t be tying all aspects of the post back to the news story – but at least you’ll be relevant enough to potentially spark a conversation in the comments section. In these cases, it’s also a good idea to build a placeholder into the title of the post so you can grab readers’ attention with something newsworthy.
Corporate policies usually exist for great reasons, but as every PR person knows, they can be a serious impediment to engagement in today’s fast-paced social media landscape. There’s almost always a workaround to these issues – sometimes it just takes a little creativity to find it!
Hello, Greenough Blog readers!
I’m excited to be part of the Greenough team of Brand Storytellers and start a new chapter in my career story. In many ways, I’ve spent 3 decades preparing for exactly this moment. Through tenures at startups, a long run with a Fortune 50 industry leader, big agencies in both PR and advertising, and in the non-profit world at WGBH, I’ve developed an ever-increasing appreciation for the role of creativity in marketing. In fact, I know enough to say it’s easier said than done.
For marketing campaigns to really sing – to get the attention and the response desired – they first must be rooted in research. Then, goals need to be clear and embraced by the team that’s entrusted with bringing the campaign to life. (By the way – the goals need to be big, not incremental: it’s been my experience that organizations often set the bar too low. Great creative marketing is aspirational and inspirational.) Next, strategies and tactics must be crafted uniquely for each organization: no cookie cutters allowed. And finally, individuals and teams need to jump on the opportunity to execute. I know marketing programs are nothing without great strategies, but I have witnessed more failure from lack of execution. It’s that simple. I like a plan and I love to execute it to the fullest so that everyone on the creative team has a role and responsibility – and some fun along the way.
For me, success is about collaboration and execution. There’s nothing better than seeing the full complement of marketing resources engaged and then unleashed to effect. Those who’ve worked with me over the years know that I believe there’s far too much talk (and PowerPoints) and not enough action. After 30 plus years, I know enough to say success is the byproduct of creativity, collaboration and execution. That’s what I plan to offer to Greenough and its clients. Let’s turn the page to the new chapter for the agency and me.
The S&P Global Clean Energy Index, a diversified benchmark of 30 clean energy companies from around the world, underperformed the S&P 500 every calendar year of the last five. Over that time (2008-2012) it lost 88 percent of its total value, according to Bloomberg. This year, however, clean energy stocks have strongly outperformed U.S. equities overall (which have themselves surged to record highs in 2013). So what’s the deal? Is clean energy truly back?
Though there is no doubt many cleantech companies could not survive another economic downturn the likes of the one we’ve seen the last five years, that also means that none of the companies in the game today are pretenders. The sector is probably stronger now than it ever has been, and not just because investor cash is finally flowing in: Entrepreneurs have finally figured out how to make money in clean energy.
That’s true for S&P Global Clean Energy Index constituents like First Solar, a utility-scale photovoltaics provider, and it’s also true of earlier stage companies that are set to make a splash in clean energy. The recession’s secret silver lining is that it forced companies to innovate their technologies and their business models simultaneously.
Here in New England, we have no shortage of innovative clean energy upstarts whose businesses look promising. Altaeros, for instance, makes a wind turbine unlike any you’ve seen before – it hovers hundreds or even thousands of feet in the air, where winds are stronger and no one can complain about a windmill ruining the view. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of the turbine in action:
Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company is also putting turbines in unusual places, in this case, deep in the ocean, where the company harnesses the massive energy of tidal currents. Big Belly Solar (hailing from Newton, Massachusetts) has actually combined two clean technologies – recycling and solar energy – to revolutionize public trash collection. Its waste and recycling stations (which, by the way, can send email and text message alerts when they’re full) can now be seen from Times Square to Viborg, Denmark.
There’s never any telling where a market as new and swiftly changing as clean energy might be headed, but it’s safe to say that things are looking up. And that’s good news: After all, what other industry is good for investors, global economies and the environment at the same time?
Ten years ago, ethanol was one of the hottest commodities on the market. Americans (especially those in Congress) had fallen in love with the idea that we could make a renewable, plant-based fuel to replace oil. You mean I can power my car with corn and sugarcane? That sounds like a great way to stay away from foreign oil and be (sort of) green.
Today, that picture is quite a bit different. Ethanol is no longer broadly viewed as a pro-American or particularly green fuel. In fact, Congress introduced legislation last month that would counteract 2005’s Renewable Fuel Standard, a policy that required incremental increases in the standard percentage of biofuels blended with gasoline (today it’s about 10 percent).
Why did ethanol fall out of favor? A big part of the change is probably due to the massive natural gas boom, which has gone a long way toward making the U.S. energy independent. But ethanol has had its own problems. The overwhelming majority of ethanol in the U.S. is made from corn, but corn has plenty of other uses. And though anyone who has driven through Iowa would have trouble believing it, there actually isn’t enough corn to sustainably produce ethanol.
Corn ethanol is created from the plant’s sugars and starches (in other words, the good stuff) which means that those same corn kernels can also be used for corn oil, corn syrup, livestock feed and many other functions. These other customers create demand for the corn which ultimately makes ethanol too costly to produce on a large scale. The same is true for ethanol derived from sugarcane or other valuable crops.
But sugars and starches aren’t the only parts of a plant that can be used to create ethanol. It is also possible to use cellulose, an inedible component of almost every plant. Since the cellulose is found in the undesirable portion of a plant (i.e. corn stalks and husks rather than kernels), it makes for a widely available, cheap feedstock. That’s why many are calling cellulose the future of ethanol, and perhaps the future of biofuels in general.
There is a catch, however. Any bootlegger can turn corn kernels into alcohol, but creating ethanol from cellulose is much more difficult. Only a few companies, such as Massachusetts-based Mascoma, have figured it out. Using proprietary technology, Mascoma introduces bacteria to materials such as wood and agricultural waste to create cellulosic ethanol. The final product is identical to corn ethanol, but the method and feedstocks are much more sustainable and scalable.
How big will cellulosic ethanol’s impact on the renewable fuels industry be? The answer depends in part on Congress’s decision about the Renewable Fuel Standard, but a sea change has already begun.
The Northeast has become a hotbed for environmentally-conscious companies that also have strong business models. Call them what you will – clean tech, sustainable, green – just don’t call them treehuggers or do-gooders. These are businesses that make real money; they just happen to offer a product or service that will help lead the way to the future of U.S. energy independence and environmental sustainability.
This Friday, April 5, many of New England’s most prominent energy leaders will gather at Babson College for the school’s annual Energy + Environmental Conference. Greenough has sponsored this event for years, and we’ve heard insightful thinking by everyone from Rhumb Line Energy Founder and former Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environment Ian Bowles to representatives from ExxonMobil. This year’s slate of speakers and panelists looks as impressive as always.
For instance, Claire Broido Johnson, co-founder of SunEdison, will deliver one of four keynote addresses. SunEdison is, of course, North America’s largest solar energy services provider, a company that has developed more than 883 MW of solar energy capacity. Considering that the U.S. only has about 7,700 MW of total capacity, it’s fair to say that SunEdison has had a huge impact. Claire also heads up Boston-based Next Step Living, a residential energy efficiency provider.
We’re also excited to hear from David Schatz of WiTriCity, who will be sitting in on a panel about energy transition in the auto industry. WiTriCity is a pioneer in the new field of wireless electricity. Using magnetic fields, the company’s technology enables wireless charging of any electronic device, from a light bulb to a laptop, so it will be fascinating to hear David speak.
Another local company to watch is Cambridge-based Zipcar. The company has already revolutionized car rentals once through its unique approach, now it’s revolutionizing the industry again with the introduction of plug-in vehicles and other green cars. Director of Business Development Gretchen Effgen will join the same panel as WiTriCity’s David Schatz to discuss the future of the auto industry.
Those are a few of our favorites, but we look forward to hearing from many other energy leaders from around the region and across the country at Babson this Friday. See you there!