Whether on the page or with sound, how you share stories matters.

Storytelling from utility pioneers takes the spotlight in May during the CONNECT Conference in Seattle, WA. Attendees will celebrate winning ideas from utility communicators in the national 2022 Spotlight on Excellence Awards program, sponsored by theCouncil of Rural Electric Communicators and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Congratulations to all of Pioneer’s members and friends with stories in the spotlight!

Pioneer’s team of utility storytellers won two awards, Best Special Publication and Most Innovative Use of Digital Communication. Get insights into why these storytelling tactics won, and see all the winning entries at cooperative.com/spotlight!


Social Storms

Gold Award | Best Special Publication 

Social Storms eBook cover. A Study of Consumer Needs and Social Media Expectations During Outages. Oklahoma's Electric Cooperatives, Pioneer Utility Resources.
Coming to CONNECT? Stop by Pioneer’s booth to get a printed version of this award-winning guide.

Social Storms, Pioneer’s eBook collaboration with the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, received a Gold Award in the Best Special Publication category. The 16-page digital publication shares how to build a social media case, focus on consumers and understand what drives online engagement before, during and after a storm.

“In order to build stronger connections with the people we serve, we need to understand consumers’ needs in a crisis situation and how these needs prompt consumers to access social media,” explains author OAEC Director of Public Relations & Communications Anna Politano, CCC.

The eBook began with Anna’s graduate research at the University of Missouri School of Journalism-Columbia. Pioneer Brand Storyteller Megan McKoy-Noe, CCC, worked with Anna to transform the 59-page thesis into 16 pages of crisis storytelling ideas and needs. Megan also designed the digital publication. 

I’m so thankful for Pioneer’s vision and creativity, giving new life to this research,” shares Anna.

Megan, left, and Anna celebrated the award at NRECA’s CONNECT Conference.

Anna’s research and the award-winning eBook share three conclusions. If utility communicators meet members’ need for information and understand member expectations, outage communications can help strengthen a member’s connection to their utility.

Read more about Anna’s thesis inspiration on Pioneer’s blog, or watch a webinar about the findings with Anna and Megan.


HeART of Community Podcast

Silver Award | Most Innovative Use of Digital Communication

Ruralite magazine’s HeART of Community podcast series, part of Ruralite The Podcast, received a Silver Award in the Most Innovative Use of Digital Communication category. The eight-episode series, airing as a digital complement to magazine storytelling in 2021, features extended stories, sounds and the insights of artists from rural communities across the Northwest and West. Richer storytelling through podcasts was a first for Ruralite.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team. This w

as a labor-of-love as we sought to elevate Ruralite’s storytelling by going where millennials live while building the next generation of loyal readers,” shares SVP of Content Leon Espinoza. “Industry recognition of our big swing is sweet icing on the cake.” 

Leon celebrated the team’s award at NRECA’s CONNECT Conference.

Pioneer is investing in podcast storytelling to help consumer-owned utilities stay tethered to customers. Seventy-nine percent of podcast listeners are 54 or younger; half are under 35. Providing multiple ways to experience stories and receive information is what the audience now expects and will only build brand loyalty, Leon says.

The Pioneer team crafting the HeART of Community podcasts included Producer Stephen V. Smith, Associate Producer Sarah Wooten, Editor Leon Espinoza, Series Narrator and Ruralite assistant editor Chasity Anderson, and Engineer Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.

The HeART of Community yearlong magazine series, with financial support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, shined a light on rural arts at a time of jeopardy. Each podcast episode amplified well-told feature stories from the printed pages of Ruralite and Currents magazines, which together reach about 400,000 households across the West and Northwest. 

“The show presents stories of resilience and hope, told through the voices and sounds of those rising to the challenge,” shares Chasity, who tapped her background in rural radio to narrate the series.

Ruralite The Podcast will continue to amplify magazine storytelling as it did with rural arts in 2021. The first podcast of this year focuses on how one Idaho school district is saving a Native American language. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify

What are the Spotlight Awards?

The Spotlight on Excellence awards are sponsored by CREC and NRECA. Winning entries are available for NRECA-member electric cooperative communicators to view in a searchable best practice library at cooperative.com.

“Printed news publications, social media and videos are all more important than ever to keep members updated on issues affecting the electric cooperatives and their members,” added NRECA Senior Vice President Communications Scott Peterson.

The Spotlight on Excellence Awards program recognizes the best communication and marketing efforts by electric co-ops and related organizations. Entrants competed with electric co-ops and associations of similar size in 18 categories. This year nearly 600 entries vied for the spotlight. Faculty members from the University of Missouri – Columbia and University of South Carolina, as well as noted professionals in the fields of marketing, web design and digital communications, and newspapers judged entries. Learn more at cooperative.com/spotlight