What does a baby bathing in a sink have to do with an award-winning electric cooperative communications program?


The vision of an infant crossed Rob Beverly’s mind as the digital media specialist at Appalachian Electric Cooperative worked on rack cards as part of a communications initiative. The New Market, Tennessee-based co-op sells water heaters, and Beverly made a sudden connection.

“We’re providing the power to make the water warm to give a baby a bath. We’re empowering comfort. That was my lightbulb moment that the whole campaign could go so much deeper than just electricity,” he said.

In fact, the “Power What Matters Most” campaign is so thorough and well thought-out that Appalachian Electric received the Edgar F. Chesnutt Award for best total communication plan, the highest honor bestowed by the Spotlight on Excellence Awards program.

Beverly received the award on behalf of AEC May 7 at the Connect Conference in Baltimore. It is named for Chesnutt, manager of corporate communication for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas from 1961 until 1987.

“Way to take the bull by the horns!” one anonymous Chesnutt judge said. “It is so cohesive, professional and engaging at every level.”

What makes the achievement more remarkable is that the campaign was mostly a two-person effort of Beverly and Emily Walls, former director of communications at AEC who is now in the economic development field.

“It was an absolute blast,” said Beverly, who has been with AEC since 2018. “I’ve worked on numerous projects over my career, but this by far was the most fun I had doing any of them.

The campaign is an outgrowth of the AEC trademarked tag line “Power What Matters Most,” designed to address issues common to electric cooperatives by creating a unified brand awareness, overcoming negative perceptions on billing and outages, and reaching younger members less aware of their co-op. More than 40% of AEC members are between 18 and 34.

From the tag line, Beverly said the concept of “empowering” flowed naturally.

“It is nightlights in a child’s room so they’re not scared. We’re empowering safety,” he said. “It is high school graduations. We’re empowering the journey ahead. It is new home construction. We’re empowering the future. It snowballed into so many things.”

In print advertising, AEC touted “Empowering Conservation” by noting its status as a Tree Line USA partner and “Empowering New Ventures” by highlighting business and recreational opportunities in its service territory.

A social media component explained how AEC is “Empowering Hope” by helping low-income residents with their electric bills and “Empowering Local Farming” with a gift card program.

“We wanted the branding of it to become second nature for our members,” Beverly said.

Long-form videos, released monthly through 2024, discuss how AEC’s work empowers members, tourism, first responders, education and more. “Empowering” and “Power What Matters Most” are prominent on every publication, tent, banner and T-shirt that AEC has, including goodies handed out at its annual meeting.

“We had a little tin in the gift bag with small bandages that had ‘Empowering Safety’ printed on them,” Beverly said. “There is just no end to what you can do.”

A skilled photographer, Beverly said the co-op used images of members as often as it could but also turned to some stock photography in the interest of time.

“The reaction has been great. Members have been talking about it when they come into the office or on social media,” he said. “We really believe in it and everything we put out is based around ‘empowering’ and ‘power what matters most.’”