Portland, Ore.   |   October 11-14, 2021

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The Northwest Innovations in Communications (NIC) Conference is designed with public power communicators in mind. This year the NIC returns in person to Build Bridges and Break Barriers in the Bridge City. Keynote speakers will help you build those bridges and break the barriers with general sessions addressing changing media relations, diversity/equity, inclusion, communicating energy services, crisis communications, and more. Breakout sessions will dig deeper into more specialized topics such as social media, internal communications, video, customer/member engagement, podcasts, website design, and more. Roundtable sessions will provide a perfect opportunity to share ideas and innovative solutions face to face with your peers. New this year: NIC Talks! Five mini-sessions in 75 minutes. Plus, you will get to vote for your favorite photos at the Welcome Reception on Monday evening and celebrate Excellence in Communications winners at the award banquet on Wednesday evening.

Excellence in Communications Awards Competition

We are excited to announce that the 2021 Excellence in Communications contest is back this year at full steam! All nine categories have returned (plus an at large COVID-19 category) and the awards will be presented at the NIC—in person! Be sure to follow us on Facebook for weekly examples of the winning entries from 2020 and contact Brenda at brenda@nwppa.org if you have any questions about the contest.

Monday, October 11

6:30-9 p.m.

Welcome reception and People’s Choice Award photo entries

All are invited to connect with colleagues, network, and vote on the People’s Choice Award photography entries that will be on display.

Tuesday, October 12

6:30-7:30 a.m.

Fitness walk (optional)

7:30-8:30 a.m.

Breakfast buffet

8:30-9:40 a.m.

Keynote: Power to the People, with the People: Shaking up the Status Quo to Integrate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into Public Campaigns

Speaker: Gary Scott, Executive Vice President, Thompson and Co.

Learn how and why public power utilities have increased their bottom lines, improved customer/member engagement, and strengthened stakeholder support by rethinking communication strategies to include intentional approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Gary Scott will provide simple steps to big wins while tearing down the misconceptions and barriers of meaningful action.

9:50-10:35 a.m.

Breakout sessions #1 (choose one)

1) How to Tackle Negative Comments with Solid Storytelling

Speaker: Megan McKoy-Noe, Brand Storyteller, Pioneer Utility Resources

Outages, high bills, or a bad mood can trigger negative social media comments. Misery loves company; if left alone, these comments tend to spawn. Learn how storytelling and thoughtful (not defensive!) replies can transform upset commenters into informed consumers. We’ll provide draft comment procedures and tools, showing how being human can deflate sour situations. Dealing with haters? Get fallback measures to thwart trolls without losing community trust.

2) Internal Communications: Lights, Camera, Action

Speaker: Sabrena Combs, Community & Employee Engagement Coordinator, Matanuska Electric Association

How to reconnect and engage employees using budget friendly video content and innovative media formats.

10:50 a.m.-noon

Building a Digital Bridge – Engaging Consumers During and After the Pandemic

Speaker(s): Rebekah Anderson, Communications Manager, Tacoma Power; Joanna Stelzig, Public Relations Manager, Tillamook PUD; and TBD, Flathead Electric Cooperative

Moderator: Will O’Donnell, Communications Director, Jefferson PUD

Three utility communication managers from three different states discuss how they used technology (or pure ingenuity) to adapt to closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. From online service applications to online meetings and more, they’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t, and what they’ll continue to use after the doors open.

Noon-1 p.m.

Lunch

1-2:15 p.m.

General Session 3: NIC Talks

1) Surveys, Satisfaction & Customer Experience

Speaker: Cameron Daline, Customer Experience Manager, Clark Public Utilities

As public power providers, we are a trusted part of our communities. Every touch point and interaction contributes to our customers’ experience. While the transactional nature of the essential service we provide is at the core of what we do, we still seek to serve our customers in not only the ways they expect, but in ways that truly make an impact in the community. Clark’s Cameron Daline will focus on measuring customer satisfaction and experience through surveys, specifically the difference between transactional and sentiment surveys and what can be learned from both.

2) EV Programs: What Is the Goal?

Speaker(s): Suzanne Olson, Public Relations Administrator, Orcas Power and Light; and Aaron Swaney, PR and Media Liaison, Snohomish PUD

Suzanne Olson and Aaron Swaney will share information about their robust electric vehicle programs that have included features such as EV charger and charging rebates, test drive events, and purchasing partnerships.

3) Successful Event Planning in an Age of Uncertainty

Speaker: Alice Dietz, Public Relations Manager, Cowlitz PUD

When the pandemic threw a wrench into Cowlitz PUD’s annual Eat for Eat dinner last year, Alice Dietz thought inside the box and turned it into a successful meal-kit-for-two program. Regardless of what you plan for your utility, whether it be an annual meeting, employee appreciation event, or Public Power Week, you are guaranteed to learn from Dietz’s tips and tricks to being adaptable.

4) CANVA: The All-in-One Design Toolkit for the Non-Designer!

Speaker(s): Melissa Greenwood, Ravalli Electric Cooperative

Canva is an easy-to-use digital marketing tool for the non-designer that will help you elevate your digital marketing strategy. The possibilities are endless with Canva where you can use pre-made templates or start from scratch to create dynamic social media graphics, posters, brochures, and much more! And the best part is—it’s free!

5) What the Font?

Speaker(s): Sharilyn Fairweather, Flathead Electric Cooperative

Choosing and using a typographic system to represent your brand.

2:30-3:20 p.m.

Breakout sessions #2 (choose one)

1) Customer/Member Engagement

Speaker: Anne Harvey, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives

2) In-House Video on Any Budget

The City of Roseville’s video and multimedia producer will discuss why a script/outline is your most valuable video blueprint no matter how big or small the project; review the various tools and applications that you can use to make eye-catching videos; explain why formatting your video for your distribution method is vital; and provide a quick video example overview.

3:30-4:45 p.m.

Roundtable discussions (Designed by utility size)

Evening networking activity:

Dine around Portland

Wednesday, October 13

6:30-7:30 a.m.

Fitness walk (optional)

Early birds are invited to gather in the lobby near the front doors to come along on a morning walk around downtown Portland.

7:30-8:30 a.m.

Breakfast buffet

8:30-9:40 a.m.

Digital Disruption in 2021: Trends, Drivers, and Issues for the Future

Speaker: Damian Radcliffe, Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism, Professor of Practice, University of Oregon

The past two decades have had a dramatic effect on the communications landscape, upending existing norms and creating a raft of new media habits and expectations. The pace of change continues to speed up, presenting challenges – and opportunities – for businesses, communication professionals, and consumers alike.

In this session, Professor Radcliffe will highlight how our media landscape has changed, where we are today and what emerging trends we need to monitor and prepare for.

9:50-10:35 a.m.

Breakout sessions #3 (choose one)

1) Breaking Down Silos: How Communications Can Drive Process Improvement

Speaker: Jeff Marshall, Communications Specialist, Clearwater Power Co.

Don’t wait until the middle of a crisis or outage to work on internal communications. This session explains how to break down internal silos at your utility to create strong communications processes where the right people can create and receive critical information when they need it. Jeff Marshall will talk about process improvement, leveraging technology, and playing to each person’s strengths. Communicators will walk away armed with tools to get ahead of their next crisis.

2) So You Think You Can Podcast?

Speaker: Paul Dockery, Power Manager, Clatskanie PUD

Do you have a podcast? Is it a good one? If you don’t have one, what is holding you back? They really aren’t that scary—and they are actually quite fun! And can be done well with a bit of planning. Join two podcast experts for an in-depth look at how they have each successfully used podcasts to stay connected. Consider their lessons learned and ask yourself if a good podcast is the right fit for your utility.

10:50 a.m.-noon

General session #5: Communicating Energy Services

Noon-1:15 p.m.

Lunch with tabletop topics

1:15-2:05 p.m.

Breakout sessions #4: (choose one)

1) Legislative Update

Speakers: Scott Corwin, Executive Director, NWPPA; and Michael Jung, Vice President, Governmental Affairs, PNGC Power

2) Six Common Traits of Great Writing

Speaker: Lance Robertson, Instructor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon; and Owner, LF Robertson Communications LLC

Did you know that great writing often follows a tried-and-true pattern, no matter the format? Well, it does. This session explores the six most common patterns, or formats, of writing that make your communications effectively appeal to your customers, whether you are writing a news release, a feature article, website content, or trying to convince a journalist to cover your story idea.

2:15-3:05 p.m.

Breakout sessions #5: (choose one)

1) Trends in Website Design

2) Bridging the Gap Between Outage Management and Outage Communications

Speaker(s): Erin Frye, Communications and Marketing Manager, Roseville Electric Utility; and Jason Grace, Operations Manager

A utility communicator’s goal is to provide communication to customers/members during an outage. A utility operations employee’s goal is to manage the outage. How do the two sides bridge the gap between these goals? Listen in as a former utility communicator (with the help of an operations insider) cracks the code of operations and gains insight on what it takes to effectively work with your operations department.

3:25-4:35 p.m.

General Session 6: Crossing the Bridge from NIC Chair to Utility GM

Panel: Libby Calnon, General Manager, Hood River Electric Cooperative; Scott Peters, CEO, Columbia REA; and Lena Wittler, CEO/General Manager, Clark Public Utilities

Moderator: Joel Myer, Retired, Mason PUD No. 3

We are bringing back some longtime friends of the NIC—three past committee chairs who are now utility general managers—for a fun and perceptive panel. Libby Calnon (NIC 2017), Scott Peters (NIC 2013), and Lena Wittler (NIC 2011) will join us to share what their executive selves wish they could have told their communicator selves when they were sitting at the NIC back in the day. Joel Myer (NIC 2015), retired from Mason PUD 3, will moderate.

6:30-9:30 p.m.

Reception, banquet, presentation of awards, and entertainment

Thursday, October 14

7-8 a.m.

Fitness walk (optional)

Early birds are invited to gather in the lobby near the front doors to come along on a morning walk around downtown Portland.

8-8:45 a.m.

Breakfast buffet

8:45-10 a.m.

General Session #7: Wildfires and Ice Storms and a Pandemic, Oh My!

Speakers: James Ramseyer, Director of Member Services, Consumers Power Inc.; Phil Bigler, Assistant General Manager, Douglas Electric Cooperative; Britni Davidson-Cruickshank, Member Services Manager, Salem Electric; and Julee Cunningham, Director of Communications, Marketing, and Business Readiness, Snohomish PUD

How did your utility react and persevere through the many challenges of 2020 and 2021? Did your communications sink or did they swim? Consumers Power and Douglas Electric Co-op faced horrendous wildfires, Salem Electric dealt with the ice storm of the century, and Snohomish PUD spun into action when it learned that the first COVID-19 patient in the United States resided in its backyard. This expert panel will discuss their communications wins and challenges so we can all be better prepared for whatever comes next.

10:10-11:25 a.m.

General Session #8:

Speakers: Gregg Carrington, COO, Northwest Power Pool; and Kurt Miller, Executive Director, Northwest RiverPartners

11:30 a.m.

Wrap-up, evaluations, door prizes

Evaluations and grand-prize drawing (must be present to win)

Post -onference Workshop

12:30-5 p.m.

Instructor: Maigen Thomas (she/they), UX/UI Bootcamp Instructor, UC Berkeley

Want to see a return on your investment in a website redesign, company rebrand, or other significant communications project? Thinking of redesigning your website and want to get the most bang for your buck? In this hands-on, experiential workshop you’ll learn about and practice four user experience methodologies that will make your website—and other communications products—more functional and easier for your customers to use. No designer needed!

*Separate registration required.

—Times and topics subject to change.

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 COVID-19 Measures

As we continue to monitor and evaluate COVID-19 levels in the Portland, Oregon, area, we understand that the health and safety of our members, staff, and the community are of highest concern. We are asking everyone to do their part. Currently for our 2021 Northwest Innovations in Communications Conference at The Benson, October 11-14, we have the following measures in place, subject to change as conditions demand:

  • NWPPA and local venues will follow applicable federal, state, and local health protocols.
  • The Benson will be asking all attendees, vaccinated and unvaccinated, to wear masks, and masks will be readily available for all.
  • There will be social-distancing space arrangements in the hotel.
  • There will be hand-sanitizing stations located throughout the hotel.
  • The Benson staff, including servers, will be wearing masks.
  • Specifics of The Benson’s Commitment to Clean can be found here.
  • We are asking all attendees to evaluate their own health and that of anyone with whom they are in close contact within 14 days of the event, and to contact us if they have any concern.
  • Anyone who has been exposed or is showing symptoms ahead of the event should not attend.
  • Anyone experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms during the event must immediately self-quarantine and notify NWPPA staff.

Assumption of Risk: COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization. It is not possible for NWPPA or anyone else to completely prevent the presence of the disease. Therefore, if you choose to attend a conference organized by NWPPA and voluntarily enter onto premises where its conference is held, you are accepting the risk, without right of claim against NWPPA and its directors, employees, or agents, of being exposed to, contracting, and/or spreading COVID-19 and its variants.