Industry coalition backs off aggressive ads, looks for softer pitch

Posted by Mike Duncan at 2:04 pm, June 05, 2013

Originally posted on E&E Daily, Manuel Quinones, 6/5/2013

Last summer the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity rolled out an ad campaign featuring NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. Others had more of a hard edge, slamming the Obama U.S. EPA.

Then-ACCCE Senior Vice President Evan Tracey said the group had about $40 million for communications.

The group spent much of that on ads like this: “Heavy-handed EPA regulations have taken us down a reckless path, a path limiting our most abundant and reliable domestic fuel to generate electricity — coal. Now is the time to send leaders to Washington who will tell the EPA enough is enough.

Now, the coalition is doing an about-face.

Without offering details, coalition CEO Mike Duncan said yesterday that ads would no longer be as important to ACCCE’s goals.

“We have spent a lot of money in recent years on paid media,” he said in an interview at ACCCE’s office in downtown Washington, D.C. “One of the things that we found is that we didn’t get our message out as effectively as we would like.”

Not enough people know, he said, that plants have installed emissions control technologies that have significantly reduced the release of pollutants like mercury and sulfur dioxide.

Duncan — former chairman of the Republican National Committee and founding chairman of the political action committee American Crossroads — said he wants to generate more “earned media,” press coverage that can explain “clean coal” in a positive way.

“People will listen, if you are making a logical case,” said Duncan, 62. “So it’s being reasonable. That’s a big part of what we are going to be talking about — the reasonable case for folks.”

In recent months several top staffers have left ACCCE, including Tracey. So Duncan is looking to tap a new senior vice president with a track record for garnering press coverage.

The coalition has also hired public affairs firm JDA Frontline Inc. and is continuing to work with FTI Consulting.

“We’ve got to do more than that,” Duncan said. “We’ve learned from our polling and our research that we’ve got to take it to another level.”

Utilities, railroads and other members don’t always agree on how to “sell” coal. So while working on crafting a new strategy, especially leading into another election cycle, Duncan is also persuading ACCCE members to buy into an “all of the above” campaign aimed at deploying various techniques beyond ads.

“Frankly, it takes a great deal of money to move the needle substantially in America in advertising,” Duncan said. “When you look at that spending and you look at the other opportunities that are out there today to persuade people though social media, through direct contact, you evaluate your resources and see how you’re going to use those resources.”

He added, “One of the things that I’m particularly interested in is big data and how we can use that to help identify people we can persuade, help identify people who have a predilection for our message now and identify those who oppose us so we can talk to them in different ways.”

Duncan’s experience is not only political. He was once president of the Kentucky Bankers Association with roots in the Appalachian coal fields. He has also served as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority board.

With President Obama winning re-election and EPA poised to continue its regulatory agenda dealing with greenhouse gases from power plants, affecting coal generation in particular, ACCCE wants more dialogue with the administration.

The group had a meeting with senior White House officials in recent weeks and is preparing for another one. ACCCE’s goal is to reach some common ground that doesn’t prevent new power plants from being built.

Duncan’s message to America: “We are going to provide reliable, affordable electricity in an environmentally friendly way.”


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