Crawford Electric Cooperative Recognized for Innovative Use of Digital Communication

By Jerri Imgarten

This article is part of a series highlighting winning Spotlight on Excellence entries. We hope to capture the spirit of an entry and inspire others to submit their work in the Spotlight on Excellence Award contest.

A sudden squall line hit Crawford Electric Cooperative’s system causing widespread damage to trees and the electric distribution system and knocking out power to more than half of the system across five counties. With a solid crisis communication plan in place, the cooperative quickly implemented their Outage Management System, Integrated Voice Response system, Customer Information System, website, social media, emails and digital initiatives to communicate better internally and externally.

“Today’s members expect their utility to keep them informed about outages,” said Laura Hengstenberg, manager of external and internal relations at Crawford Electric. “The 2015 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference indicated members’ strong interest in having the utility use phone calls, text messages, emails, social media and an online outage map as ways to inform them about outages.”

Crawford Electric had a solid plan in place. The communications staff, made up of Hengstenberg and marketing and communications coordinator Lori Rego, worked in conjunction with IT manager Michael Cremer,  to create an Emergency Response Plan that integrated new, digital technologies and protocols into their outage communication efforts. The mid-July 2016 outage was Crawford Electric’s first crisis-level event during which all the digital components were utilized to better communicate externally with members and internally with co-op employees.

“Despite being without power during the hottest part of the summer, members were overwhelmingly positive,” Hengstenberg said.

The hard work of the cooperative and combination of innovative communication method during a crisis-level outage earned Crawford Electric a Gold Spotlight on Excellence Award for Best Innovative Use of Digital Communication.

Crawford Electric has been participating in the Spotlight Awards for years, but submitting a project can still be challenging.

“Pulling the narrative together for the Spotlight entry after the fact was the biggest challenge,” Hengstenberg said. “We just did what needed to be done during the crisis, using every possible avenue to get critical information to a variety of audiences, internal and external.”

Hengstenberg, who earned her CCC in 1997, encourages communicators save their work throughout the year and follow best practices in research, planning, execution and evaluation. She stressed the importance of the entry form and suggests communicators answer the questions fully and completely.

“Make it as easy on the judges as possible,” Hengstenberg suggested. “Assume they know nothing about your cooperative, your membership and service area, or your communications staff. Tell them what they need to know to clearly see what you’ve produced is outstanding.”

Crawford communications staff tries to enter at least one Spotlight category every cycle, just to stay engaged.

“We certainly don’t win every year – it’s a tough competition,” Hengstenberg said. “Perseverance is key. I’ve been working at this since 1995. Sometimes what we do is hard for operations and accounting-oriented people to understand. Get the little wins and share the success.”

Don’t forget, you can now view the Spotlight on Excellence Award entries on