5 takeaways: Heather Danenhower, APR, CPRC

The decision to retire the Crystal River Nuclear Plant in Citrus County in 2013 coupled with poor economic conditions, a merger with a company 500 miles away and negative media headlines led to public distrust and poor satisfaction.

To address this problem, Heather Danenhower, APR, CPRC, designed a strategic stakeholder engagement plan that aligned with a six-year (2013-2019) technical process to close the plant.

The plan won six awards: two local awards, including the Grand All Image Award; three state awards, including the Dick Pope All Florida Golden Image Award; and a national Silver Anvil.

These are the 5 takeaways from Danenhower’s Jan. 15, 2021, presentation “How Duke Energy used research to design an award-winning stakeholder engagement plan.”

  1. Breaking from the pack takes courage. Instead of establishing a community advisory board like others in her industry, Danenhower instead relied on research to identify the top communications channels audiences preferred.
  1. Have a hunch, trust your gut and bring me data. To inform her stakeholder engagement plan, Danenhower reviewed secondary qualitative research compiled by others in the industry, hired a third-party vendor to conduct primary formal research of stakeholders and conducted primary informal research of her own. The research showed top concerns in the community and the best communications tools to address those concerns. 
  1. Community giving is engrained in a culture over time. Despite the plant’s closure, Danenhower leveraged remaining nuclear plant workers to continue community giving and volunteerism programs. Because these workers had deep roots in the community, they took it upon themselves to participate in 59 community events and volunteer 2,300 person-hours in six years. One of their projects even included building a new community center.
  1. Avoid chasing in-vogue tactics. Research showed stakeholders preferred traditional tactics, such as in-person face-to-face events; letters mailed to their house, email communications and web content; and news stories printed in the local newspaper. Digital engagement and social media are trendy but not what Danenhower’s audiences most valued.
  1. Third-party advocates add volume to your voice. Duke Energy maintained a robust community stakeholders list and sent frequent updates about plant happenings to the group. When regulators held a public hearing to gauge the effectiveness of the company’s stakeholder engagement plan, these stakeholders all spoke positively about the company’s communications.