From webpages, to the pages of Alabama Living. From classroom programs, to news conferences. Baldwin EMC’s communications and public relations department is the team that keeps members in the know, connecting them to news they can use and programs that help future members and community leaders learn valuable lessons about electricity and co-op membership.
The fifth cooperative principle is “Education, Training and Information,” and according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, this means that: “Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so that they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.”
That’s the motivation behind the various communications efforts managed by this team of four, which include Baldwin EMC’s website, e-newsletter, social media channels, bill inserts and messages, news releases and the local pages of this Alabama Living magazine.
“Because we’re a democratically controlled cooperative, our members always have a right to an inside look at what we’re doing at Baldwin EMC,” says Rebecca Shobe, a 34-year co-op employee and manager of the communications and public relations department. “The information we share, whether it’s on our Facebook page, website or a release to our local media, creates the connections our members want and deserve.”
The communications and public relations department also oversees the cooperative’s school programs, including Safety City, Youth Tour and Baldwin EMC’s college scholarship opportunities, among a variety of other classroom-based initiatives. “If a teacher or school faculty member contacts us about a program, we do everything we can to meet that need. It’s an effective way to form connections with our members by way of their kids, who are also our future members,” Shobe explains.
Operation Round Up, now in its 18th year at Baldwin EMC, is also facilitated by the co-op’s communications and public relations team, along with the Baldwin Electric Charitable Membership Foundation Board. Since being adopted by the cooperative in 2004, the program has put more than $5.5 million in grants back into the community, thanks to the funds collected by the rounding up of member bills. In 2021 alone, the foundation distributed more than $400,000 to organizations and individuals in need, and funded scholarships and grants for local students, teachers and school faculty members.
Several times a year, the communications and public relations department also helps coordinate special events, such as twice-yearly blood drives, a school supply drive, toy drive and the Annual Meeting. And during crisis situations, such as Hurricane Sally in 2020, this team provides critical updates to the community and maintains constant communication through its social media channels. In the ten days following Sally, the team responded to thousands of social media messages and comments, and maintained an unprecedented 97% response rate.
“We might not be the ones restoring power after outages,” Shobe says, “but our efforts help enrich the membership experience for the people we serve.”