Member meetings come in all sizes. Some utilities pair co-op businesses with festivals featuring carnival rides and antique car shows. Other co-ops hold meetings online.
All member-owned co-ops share a need for strong storytelling content and collateral (digital and print) to engage members in the democratic process. Over the last 15 years, WordSouth Director of Accounts Kerry Scott has managed meeting support for more than a dozen utilities, both telco, and electric co-ops.
“Anytime you have a group of people together, tell them your story,” Kerry says. “They don’t come to the office often. Remind them why you’re there, why you’re relevant. Tell them what you’re doing for the future.”
Set the Theme
At Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative (FTC), the largest member-owned telecommunications cooperative in Alabama, meeting marketing begins with a theme. FTC Marketing Director Brandi Lyles selects a fresh storytelling theme each year, and then WordSouth works with her to implement ideas.
FTC Meeting Themes:
- 2018: How Connected Are You Living?
- 2019: Cutting-Edge Technology for the Way You Live
- 2020: Business Unusual
In 2019, FTC’s theme, Cutting-Edge Technology for the Way You Live, focused on delivering cutting-edge technology: fiber. WordSouth created an infographic for the telco’s magazine, Connected, to highlight key milestones.
The event, which doubled as a car show, was promoted on EventBrite to encourage participation. WordSouth created images for social channels, giveaways, newspaper ads, banners, and other event materials.
FTC’s member packet included an order of business and financial report, all branded with the 2019 theme.
2020’s theme, Business Unusual, reflected how the telco kept members connected during the pandemic. Instead of an in-person event, the meeting shifted to a 10-day member celebration in August.
To support the theme, WordSouth created social media cover images and posts, responsive artwork for the telco’s website, and ads for the telco’s magazine.
Themes play a big role at Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) in Alabama, too. Wiregrass Manager of Communications and Public Relations Jennifer Ward and COO Brad Kimbro brainstorm theme ideas with WordSouth Account Manager Jeremy Wise. The meeting is in October, but planning begins almost a year in advance.
“We always bring ideas to the table, and then we use the theme throughout the year,” Jeremy says.
Wiregrass Meeting Themes
- 2019: The Wiregrass Way
- 2020: Serving in Emergencies, Serving Always
- 2021: Big Enough to Serve, Local Enough to Care
For 2019’s theme, The Wiregrass Way, WordSouth designed a set of pop-up banners for the in-person event.
As hurricanes and the pandemic hit members in 2020, the Serving in Emergencies, Serving Always theme focused on commitment to community. WordSouth Photographer Melissa Gaines captured images to tell the story, and Jeremy wrote copy and designed the annual report to reflect the theme.
WordSouth created a set of social content to raise awareness of the meeting and ways Wiregrass members could participate in the meeting.
“We create a lot of social media content in the weeks prior to the meeting,” Jeremy says. “Last year, we tackled subjects like deadlines and packet materials.”
Social media frames will be used throughout 2021 to consistently share the story of Wiregrass Electric’s next theme, Big Enough to Serve, Local Enough to Care.
Explain the Vote
Voting materials are storytelling tools, too.
When the Wiregrass Electric board proposed bylaw changes, WordSouth created a campaign to run in Alabama Living, the co-op’s monthly magazine, and as a postcard in the member voting packet. The campaign focused on how members will benefit from the proposed bylaw change.
The ballot campaign cards are one part of the meeting packet WordSouth designs for Wiregrass.
“We handle content for the ballot, create candidate biography pages and a variety of envelopes needed to privately cast a ballot, and send it via mail to the cooperative’s legal representation,” says Jeremy.
Every Wiregrass member receives:
- Annual report
- Voting instructions
- Board candidate card/information
- Bylaw card
- Registration card
- Business reply envelope (to be mailed to third-party)
- Privacy envelope for the ballot
To help members understand the meeting packet, WordSouth designed ads for the co-op’s local pages in Alabama Living and created a Wiregrass Facebook video for social media.
Some members prefer to drop off ballots in person, so WordSouth arranges for an electronic ballot machine to be at the event (or at the co-op’s office if there’s no in-person event) and at the third-party office where mailed votes are counted.
FTC members receive a member meeting packet, too. WordSouth designs the mailer, writes content, and helps coordinate printing and mailing.
As part of the Pioneer Utility Resources family, WordSouth now offers a secure online voting portal through our service partner ARC media. The tool has increased voting participation by more than 180% for some of the utilities who have put it to use for both in-person and virtual annual meetings.
Engage Members Online
Who knew a hurricane could create a pandemic annual meeting test run?
When Hurricane Michael hit a week before the member meeting, Wiregrass Electric acted fast. The hurricane left at least half of the co-op’s 18,000 members without power. To help, 300 lineworkers from sister co-ops took over the warehouse and dock — where the annual meeting was supposed to host thousands of members.
As a utility pioneer, Wiregrass already live-streamed meetings on Facebook and sent mail-in ballots to members. The hurricane shifted the meeting online-only, but Wiregrass was ready. When the pandemic hit, the co-op shifted online again.
WordSouth and PowerSouth, a generation and transmission co-op for the region, team up to provide live-stream support. PowerSouth takes the lead by providing professional video equipment. WordSouth is on hand to stream the meeting to the co-op’s social channels.
“We coordinate access to WEC’s social media channels and monitor the live feed to make sure it is broadcasting correctly,” Jeremy says. He answers member questions on Facebook during the meeting.
With a boost in member participation seen in 2020, Wiregrass plans to have remote member meetings for the next few years. They’re not alone.
FTC saw a boost in member participation when they changed their meeting from a one-day event to a 2-week member celebration.
“They had so many people vote in the new election process that they decided to do it again in 2021,” says Kerry.
Members registered and voted at FTC’s drive-thru over 10 days. Each registered member got a $20 bill credit.
To drive engagement and member participation, the telco used Facebook Live. Twenty (virtual) door prizes were given away during daily live-streamed videos, including free Gig internet service for a year, a smart TV, a Google Chromebook, and an Apple iPad. The co-op live-streamed each drawing to build awareness.
Not everything went smoothly. On the first day, the drawing video was filmed (then shared on Facebook) sideways. But FTC made the best of it, creating a meeting bloopers reel that was viewed more than 300 times.
Tell Your Story
While working on both telco and electric member meeting support, Kerry says storytelling is the most important part of the event.
“Telcos have an important mission to provide broadband,” Kerry says. “It’s beyond selling phone and internet service. People get a better life, access to education. Broadband opens doors and opportunities. Tell your story.”
Meeting storytelling should not focus on a price tag; price isn’t always what sets co-ops apart from other broadband and power providers. Instead, focus on commitment to community.
“Electric co-ops traditionally have not had to market electric service. Telcos typically have competition,” says Kerry, noting that with the expansion of broadband service at electric co-ops, this may soon change. “It’s important to market for the annual meeting and win people over to the co-op way of life.”
Need help with your next member meeting? We provide event marketing materials and a secure online voting portal. Our friends at Pioneer Utility Resources offer meeting support through their magazines, too.
We’d love to brainstorm with you. Reach us by emailing our Member Solutions team.