When Poudre Valley REA’s Jeff Wadsworth took over as president and CEO in 2013, the Fort Collins, Colorado-based electric cooperative had no dedicated communications department.

Wadsworth overhauled the co-op’s organizational structure by placing member-facing functions under the communications umbrella to improve the overall member experience. Today, a five-person communications team runs key accounts, member and government relations, and other traditional media functions—and employees play an active role in communicating with members.

For his commitment to placing a greater value on communications to create meaningful member connections, Wadsworth received the 2023 J.C. Brown CEO Communication Leadership Award Jan. 9 during NRECA’s CEO Close-Up in Marco Island, Florida.

“We have not only the honor, but the obligation, to serve our members through consistent, quality communication,” said Wadsworth. “Impactful communication, both internal and external, must be intentional and varied depending on the topic and who you are trying to reach.”

Initiatives include an organization-wide effort to improve member engagement. Specifically, employees identify member interaction touchpoints, map the member journey and come up with ways for improvement. And for the first time at Poudre Valley, communicators now sit alongside the technical operations staff and senior leaders during the co-op’s regular reviews of large-scale outage procedures and table-top disaster response exercises.

“Jeff leads by example when it comes to the vital role communications plays and is an ever-present advocate for the importance of having communications woven through all facets of the organization,” said Amy Rosier, Poudre Valley REA’s vice president of member and government relations, who nominated Wadsworth for the award.

During Wadsworth’s tenure, the co-op’s American Customer Satisfaction Index scores improved to 87 in 2022 from 76 in 2013. And during the aftermath of the devastating Cameron Peak wildfires in 2020, the co-op received more than 81 million impressions across media platforms, including national and local news coverage and thank-you notes from members.

One of the three judges who helped select this year’s winner wrote that Wadsworth has “clearly demonstrated the value of communications in advancing cooperative principles and in telling the cooperative story on both local and national stages…he has clearly made a difference.”

First presented in 2004, the J.C. Brown award recognizes a co-op CEO or general manager who is committed to advancing communications at the co-op and in the overall industry. It is named in honor of the late editor and publisher of RE Magazine, J.C. Brown, who led the publication from 1973 to 1993.