Challenge:

The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association needed a new partner to help write, design and publish the association’s quarterly consumer-focused magazine, Tennessee Connections.

pioneer utility services icon

Solution:

TMEPA partnered with Pioneer to redesign and publish the magazine. In the process, Pioneer saved the association almost 40 cents per piece in printing and mailing costs. Participating Tennessee utilities can use locally branded pages in the publication to reach consumers with utility news and community stories.

When the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association looked for a new partner to publish the association’s quarterly consumer-focused magazine, Tennessee Connections, they needed writing, designing and publishing support.

They didn’t expect to save money in the process, but that’s the power of partnering with a communications co-op.

Brian Solsbee

“We had an old magazine that had no flavor and was bland without an industry focus or value inside,” TMEPA Executive Director/CEO Brian Solsbee says. “Pioneer came in with all this great energy and helped create a focus within the magazine and our feature stories to highlight those things that are important to us in the electric industry.”

Relevant, quality consumer communications are one of the benefits TMEPA provides to the association’s 60 member utilities, public power districts and municipal utilities across the Volunteer State. 

“Being out there and engaging the public is what we’re about,” Brian explains. “We’re out there to serve the communities; we’re customer focused and community driven. Pioneer’s team has done a phenomenal job bringing it all together, creating a content focus.” 

“It’s an absolute pleasure working with TMEPA and our Tennessee partner utilities,” Pioneer Assistant Editor Chasity Anderson says. “Each quarter, they are excited to tell their stories about community involvement and upcoming events, share news about what has been happening at the utility and give industry-related tips relevant to the season. The magazine provides consumers yet another way to connect to their utility provider.” 

Connections content

Tennessee Connections magazine, reaching 150,000 consumers and businesses across the state, publishes two kinds of content: 

  • Shared stories seen in each version of the magazine highlight local travel, food, safety tips and energy news.
  • Branded utility magazine content pages share stories of local utilities making a difference in their communities. 

Shared features, written by Pioneer’s team of experienced industry writers, deliver consumer education on energy and broadband industry trends.

“We’ve looked at mutual aid in storms, electric vehicles, how solar’s changing and how we can help educate and inform consumers on the things that are transforming the electric industry,” Brian says. 

“It’s wonderful to have well-researched, well-written and comprehensive articles that cover things customers need to know while also sharing stories about what we’re doing as a utility to help with the renewable energy efforts,” says Elizabeth Kuhns, Dickson Electric System assistant to the general manager.

Local focus

All TMEPA members have the option to become partners with Pioneer and publish local stories in Tennessee Connections. Eight utilities — including two utilities who joined the project since Pioneer became TMEPA’s partner — currently share local stories with consumers through branded editions of the magazine.

Magazine participants range from small utilities of a few thousand consumers to larger systems with more than 60,000 customers. Some utilities use their pages to educate, inform and engage customers exclusively on electric service and related programs, while others feature topics related to broadband, water, wastewater and natural gas topics.

“Since partnering with Pioneer, we have really been able to step up our game in consumer communications,” Elizabeth says. “The industry-specific stories our customers need to know are put together so well, with quality content, photography and articles. It seems like something Dickson Electric would work on for weeks and months, but it’s through our partnership with Pioneer and TMEPA that we’re able to provide this content.”

The municipal utility sends the quarterly magazine to 25,000 customers across five counties in Middle Tennessee. A recent issue explaining solar projects has proven to be particularly important.

“In an industry where there’s a lot of misinformation, Tennessee Connections puts out content that’s relevant, factual and important to our customers,” Elizabeth shares. “The magazine helps them feel like we’re delivering the care they expect from a local power company.”

Each participating utility can fill four pages inside the magazine (pages 4-5 and 20-21) with leadership editorials, community features and utility news. To highlight local faces and places, some magazine participants choose to customize their cover and back page for a modest additional fee.

“To be able to share information specific to our industry without it being cumbersome or so expensive has been a great tool for us,” Elizabeth says. “Pioneer made everything easy.”

Examples of local content shared in Tennessee Connections magazine by (from left) Dickson Electric System, CDE Lightband and Lewisburg Electric System.
Ripley Power & Light Company often uses Tennessee Connections magazine’s custom cover option.

Co-op savings

Before partnering with Pioneer, a communications co-op, TMEPA’s consumer-facing magazine was written and published by a travel and agritourism communications company and cost roughly $1 per mailed magazine

Pioneer helped TMEPA relaunch Tennessee Connections magazine in 2021. Using Pioneer’s printing contracts, the co-op’s content mix of shared and locally branded content and Pioneer’s mailing list experts, the association’s cost dropped to about 65 cents per mailed magazine. Further savings are expected, as Pioneer helps TMEPA apply for a periodical mailing permit. 

We are working on that piece too; it will shave off another 10 cents or so per copy most likely if successful,” Pioneer Chief Financial & Administrative Officer Matthew Pierce notes.

But the savings don’t stop at content, printing and mailing costs. Pioneer is a communications co-op, owned by utilities and industry associations such as TMEPA. When TMEPA joins the co-op, the association unlocks potential patronage returns, often called capital credits. In 2022, Pioneer returned $457,000 in capital credits, an 8.5% return on members’ eligible spending in 2021.

Tangible storytelling

Print remains a powerful way to engage consumers, especially when stories have strong community and industry roots. 

A 2022 mediamark research and intelligence survey by MRI Simmons for two other Pioneer magazine brands, Ruralite and Currents, found 96% of readers enjoy reading the magazines. The three top content draws for these consumer-facing electric industry publications are:

  • Energy efficiency tips (75%)
  • Local utility stories (68%)
  • Recipes (60%)

The study found 88% of readers prefer getting a printed magazine, such as Tennessee Connections, mailed to their homes and businesses. The findings support the value of Pioneer and TMEPA’s magazine partnership.

“We’ve been very pleased with how Pioneer helped us relaunch and rebrand our magazine,” Brian shares. “Now we have a magazine that we’re all very proud to have our name on.”

Learn more about Tennessee Connections and the other magazines we partner on with our members at pioneer.coop/publications

Learn About our Publications Meet with Us

Tennessee Connections Magazine logo

Tennessee Connections Magazine