What do member-forward magazines, wearable cooperation, and an innovative website design have in common? Each of these pioneering ideas is in the spotlight!

The Council of Rural Electric Communicators announced the winners of the Spotlight on Excellence Awards in April. Several Pioneer members and friends won top honors. Congratulations to all of the winners!

As a communications co-op, we love getting inspired by our peers. We asked utility communicators and our staff from three of this year’s Spotlight award-winning projects to share how they used a diverse set of communication tools to tell their stories.

Engaging Currents

Beth Tokioka

Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), Hawaii, won silver for Best External News Publication. Their member magazine, KIUC Currents, reaches 33,000 members four times a year.

“Luckily for us, Kauai is a small community where pretty much everyone knows everyone,” shares KIUC Communications Manager Beth Tokioka. “We work hard at finding a balance of sharing important news from the co-op with highlighting great things happening in the community. We keep it upbeat and work to always include a thread about the benefits of having a cooperative.”

“The magazine is a big hit because staff found a way to make KIUC Currents personal and relevant to all members,” says Pioneer Assistant Editor Jennifer Paton, CCC, who supports the utility’s magazine.

We asked Beth to share tips for communicators looking for fresh member magazine ideas.

A variety of voices keeps it interesting,” says Beth. “Our members often suggest story ideas. They have great ideas, and we try to use member suggestions whenever we can.”

Here’s What Works at KIUC

  • A sample “Where are they now?” article from the Winter 2020 issue of KIUC Currents.

    Share Board Voices: Each issue of KIUC Currents includes two articles written by board members, part of a board-directed effort to help members know more about the people who represent them at the co-op.

  • Build an Image Library: Pictures are important. Public Affairs Specialist Shelley Paik works throughout the year to enhance the co-op’s photo library. This gives them a variety of images to choose from for every issue.
  • Spotlight Members and Staff: People love to read about people. KIUC tries to humanize most of their stories, including employee faces and perspectives when possible.
  • Youth Tour Throwbacks: KIUC profiles past Youth Tour participants in a popular feature called, “Where are they now?” “That has been a huge hit,” says Beth. “Our members love to read about the success of our young people, and we love to share their stories.”
  • Invite Guests: KIUC features guest articles from nonprofits and other entities doing good things for the community.
  • Serve Local Food: Readers love local recipes. KIUC staff keep the recipe pages fresh and encourage members to submit recipes.
KIUC Currents cover shots from 2020

“Try to gauge what people are thinking about at the moment and find an angle that ‘fits’ for your readership,” Beth suggests. “The cover photo is all important, in my opinion. Once you get them to open the magazine, you’re halfway there.”

Beth and her team won a second silver Spotlight award in the Best Special Publication category for work on their Anahola Service Center. To read KIUC Currents and get other ideas from the utility pioneers in Hawaii, visit the KIUC website.

KIUC Website

Wearable Cooperation

Andy Kimbro

When an April storm swept through Alabama and knocked out power to 70% of South Alabama Electric Cooperative’s (SAEC’s) system, they called for help. Electric co-ops from across Alabama swiftly responded. To thank them, the co-op teamed up with WordSouth to design a storm recovery shirt. The design won silver for Best Graphic Design.

“Cooperation among cooperatives is the biggest component to being a cooperative,” says Manager of Member Services Andy Kimbro. “You can’t have enough employees to handle 12,000 outages in a timely manner. You know you can call on your sister cooperatives to come help. We know we will go help if we are needed. That’s how we live, and it’s something you can count on.”

Cooperation among cooperatives print materialsAfter 150 extra lineworkers traveled to SAEC from across the state to help restore power, the electric co-op wanted to thank everyone who helped. Three colors were selected for the storm recovery shirts. The shirts were sent with other gifts to each of the electric co-ops and industry partners who supported SAEC’s storm recovery.

“We wanted this shirt to highlight [cooperation among cooperatives] and to say thank you,” explains Andy. “We worked with WordSouth to make sure it had the look and feel we were after, and it turned out perfect.

This was a team effort, and that is what we are most proud of,” says Andy.

Cooperation among cooperatives tshirt designs

SAEC Website

Innovative Vision

Anna Politano, CCC

When considering a new website design, the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC) team set a list of priorities:

  1. Responsive, accessible design
  2. Member login with multiple levels to meet membership needs
  3. Seamless integration with the statewide outage map
  4. User-friendly content management system

The website, OAEC, won gold for Most Innovative Use of Digital Communication.

OAEC Website

“Working with PUR to bring our website to life was a delight,” says OAEC Director of Public Relations & Communications Anna Politano, CCC. “We had a vision and we had goals, but PUR worked with us to go beyond what we had envisioned.”

oaec website on desktop and mobileThe website shows the story of the state’s community impact through a series of videos tied to the statewide association’s theme: Powering lives. Empowering communities.

Interactive maps play a large role in the design. A map of the OAEC association’s membership makes it easy to connect with utilities across the Sooner State. Outages are tracked statewide through a layered mapping feature.

“The OAEC team was well organized and deliberate throughout the entire process,” says Kaytee Horton, supervisor of content operations on the Powerful web team, Pioneer’s website design and hosting service. “They are fantastic communicators and worked together to clarify their vision and then brought it to us to bring to life.”

Clean, responsive navigation focuses on outages, safety, and advocacy. News and events earn featured spots on the page. The landing page footer — too often a forgotten spot on a page — features an animated graphic underscoring the impact of electric co-ops across the state.

“The website is an extremely useful tool to our members and to our staff. It added efficiency, value and it serves as a “face” to our statewide association that we are proud to share with anyone,” says Anna. “We could not be more thankful to have selected PUR as our website partner!”

Learn more utility website best practices from Kaytee and our website team at:

Powerful Blog

About Spotlight

The Spotlight on Excellence awards program recognizes outstanding storytelling and engagement efforts by community-owned utilities. In 2020, more than 700 entries were made in 16 categories, ranging from best feature story and member magazine to best website and — a cult favorite — best wild card.

NRECA members can see all of the award-winning ideas in Spotlight’s library of best practices. 2021 winners will be added in May, and all honorees will be recognized at NRECA’s CONNECT Conference, held virtually in June. Hope to connect with you there!