As a seasoned communicator, Coweta-Fayette EMC’s Chellie Phillips knows that co-op employees, community stakeholders and the media all need to be part of the equation to engage members.

As vice president of public relations and communications at the Palmetto, Georgia-based co-op, Phillips helped create Vision EMC, an in-house professional development program aimed at improving co-op employee engagement. She also helped launch the first Summer Alternative Energy Adventure to showcase the co-op’s commitment to STEM education by bringing together teachers and allowing the community to participate virtually through social media.

Phillips’ innovative ideas helped her win the 2022 LaBerge Award for Excellence in Strategic Communication, presented May 3 during the Connect Conference in Seattle. The award recognizes a co-op communicator with demonstrated excellence, influence and impact in co-op communications, both as a practitioner and contributor across the network. It was established in memory of Justin LaBerge, senior leadership communications manager for NRECA from 2015 to 2018.

Also during the Connect Conference, Phillips and her team won the 2022 Edgar F. Chesnutt Award for Best Total Communication Program.

Phillips’ numerous efforts to improve employee engagement “absolutely” have raised workplace morale, in turn leading to better service for members, said Coweta-Fayette EMC President and CEO Chris Stephens, who nominated her for the award.

“Chellie represents everything co-op, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving based on what she not only has done for us, but for co-ops in general,” he said.

Phillips has been a co-op communicator for more than 25 years, first at South Alabama Electric Cooperative in Troy, where she helped start an education program to expose ninth through 11th-graders to the co-op business model. She’s spent the last five years at Coweta-Fayette EMC, where she embraced technology by increasing the use of video messaging and creating a podcast for younger members.

Phillips said she’s fortunate to be part of the co-op’s executive team headed by a “super-supportive CEO,” which helps her carry out creative projects.

“Communications doesn’t always have a financial return on investment, and if staff and management can see past that and see how the messaging can really impact your membership and their satisfaction, that is super beneficial.”

LaBerge Award judges said Phillips’ work has made her a “leader in our industry” and that her initiatives “reach audiences in ways that go beyond traditional communications methods” by making co-ops and their benefits tangible to the community.

One of the judges described Phillips as “a great advocate for her cooperative, the members it serves, her community and the cooperative business model.”