Just as strategic partnerships can support other residential energy efficiency program components, your program’s marketing and outreach efforts can receive a boost from organizations, utilities, financial institutions, contractors and their networks, government agencies, and other trusted community sources. Marketing and outreach partners can distribute materials, provide forums for the program to deliver its key messages, and generate social norms around participating in the program.
Successful marketing and outreach partnerships are based on shared interests, trust, and complementary capabilities. These partners can:
- Help create demand for your program’s offerings
- Bring relevant competencies to your communication efforts
- Enhance the credibility of your messages
- Potentially provide additional incentives for program participants.
As you identify and recruit marketing and outreach partners, it is important to understand what each potential partner would gain from helping your program achieve its marketing and outreach goals, and ensure that the partnership opportunity is clearly defined for all involved. It can also be helpful to:
- Establish an agreement of ground rules to ensure effective communication
- Agree on a shared vision for success
- Identify shared goals
- Develop a clear timetable to be followed
- Determine regular and ongoing communication channels.
This handbook describes the following key steps to identify partners to support your program’s marketing and outreach efforts:
- Assess gaps that marketing and outreach partners could help fill
- Determine and evaluate potential partners
- Recruit marketing and outreach partners
- Develop a partnership agreement
- Engage partners early and often.
Assess gaps that marketing and outreach partners could help fill
Before soliciting potential partners, take stock of gaps in your program’s marketing and outreach capabilities (i.e., areas where you could use assistance from established organizations in reaching potential customers). These could include:
- Communication channels. Are you looking for more avenues to promote your program offerings? Partnering with community organizations that share your target audiences could provide a number of convenient channels, from e-mail lists to in-person events. What’s more, marketing and outreach partners can help frame your communications because they might have a better understanding of your target audience.
- Access to trusted messengers. Is there an organization or high-profile individual that has your target audience’s attention? Successful programs have found that an influential person or organization already trusted by your target audience can enhance your outreach efforts by promoting your program or home energy upgrades in general.
- Expertise. Do your staff and consultants have all of the expertise needed for a successful marketing and outreach program, or should you look for organizations to supplement what they know? For example, community-based organizations that have convinced your target audience to change some other type of behavior are more likely to have the expertise to get them to invest in an energy upgrade.
- Lack of information. Is there information needed to sufficiently market your program that you do not have the resources to gather? A strategic partnership might allow you access to this information. For example, an organization with a similar target audience might have already completed audience research and be willing to share it with your program if your goals overlap (e.g., promoting energy efficiency or reducing utility costs), and providing their research can help their constituents achieve these goals.
Rutland County Relies On Neighbors to Promote Program
NeighborWorks of Western Vermont NWWVT used its existing strong community relationships to bring its residential energy efficiency program to hundreds of low- to middle-income homeowners in the Rutland County. NWWVT learned through previous experiences that neighbors, not the government or utilities, are the most trusted messengers to local residents, so the program initiated partnerships with these trusted neighbors as volunteers to speak out about the program.
From engaging residents to promote the program’s Rutland County Town Energy Challenge contest to asking volunteers to think about whom among their neighbors could benefit from the program, NWWVT found that people did not want to leave anyone out and therefore worked to tell as many neighbors as possible about the program. One way volunteers promoted the program was through yard signs. As people saw their neighbors displaying yard signs promoting NWWVT’s residential energy efficiency upgrade program, they called NWWVT to ensure that they were not being left behind: “I saw that my neighbor has your sign up. I don’t know what it is, but I want one.”
As a result of these strong partnerships with local citizens, in only six months, NWWVT facilitated 196 home energy upgrades and as of December 2013 completed more than 650 upgrades.
Source: Spotlight on Rutland County, Vermont: How Local Ties Lead to Local Wins U.S. Department of Energy, 2011.
Determine and evaluate potential partners
Strategic partner selection will help your program build meaningful, fruitful marketing and outreach partnerships. Take the following considerations into account when brainstorming ideas for partners and evaluating their usefulness to your marketing and outreach efforts.
Determine potential partners
The partners identified as part of your program design (link to PD.3. Identify Partners) are a good place to look for support for your program marketing and outreach. Also consider any organizations or individuals that provided feedback on your marketing and outreach-related goals and objectives.
If you still have marketing and outreach gaps, expand the partner search to new organizations. These could include public, private, and nonprofit organizations with a history of collaboration and community involvement that are likely to be trusted sources for your program’s priority target audiences.
Some of the first partnerships you might want to consider are:
- Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® sponsorship. If your program is looking for a trusted, national brand to fill a marketing gap, consider partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy and ENERGY STAR by joining the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) program as a Sponsor. Sponsorship gives programs access to technical and marketing tools branded with the credibility and familiarity of ENERGY STAR.
- Local contractors as sales partners. Many programs assume having qualified contractors is enough, but bringing local contractors into your marketing and outreach efforts as a partner that can help “sell” your program is a critical component of residential energy efficiency program success. Contractors are the primary point of contact for homeowners during the home energy upgrade process. Take advantage of this direct contact by ensuring that your contractors know how to sell your program. Learn how Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners turned their contractors into effective sales partners in the following U.S. Department of Energy case studies:
- Spotlight on Maine: Contractor Sales Training Boosts Energy Upgrade Conversions
- Spotlight on Portland, Oregon: Making the Program Work for Contractors
- Spotlight on Austin, Texas: Let Your Contractor Be Your Guide for Big Rewards
Engaging contractors as sales partners can also help your program’s bottom line. Some HPwES Sponsors split the cost for marketing materials with contractors, saving the program money.
- Trusted nonprofit organizations or neighborhood groups. Partners might include civic organizations, employers, faith-based organizations, universities, energy efficiency non-profits, state energy offices, or regional energy efficiency organizations. These organizations’ goals and messages should align and complement yours, and they should have readily available communications channels that can be used to promote your program’s offerings.
- Utilities. Utility partners can provide communication channels, recognized brands, credibility, and information about what motivates customers (and what does not).
- Financial institutions. In addition to enhancing your program’s financial offerings, financial partners can help conduct marketing and outreach activities for your program. Their customers may be more likely to consider a loan product for a home energy upgrade if they see a co-branded marketing piece from one of your financial partners.
- Media organizations. Local news outlets, bloggers, or home improvement columnists can help promote your program offerings by sponsoring contests, covering events, or becoming early adopters and providing testimonials. Try establishing a relationship with a local blogger or columnist and ask him or her to be an “early adopter” of home energy upgrades in your community and then write about the experience and benefits.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Evaluate potential partners
With a list of potential partners in hand, you are ready to evaluate them and their potential usefulness to your program. When evaluating potential marketing and outreach partners, look for organizations that have:
- A mission, capacity, and organizational strengths that meet your program’s needs, and vice versa
- Complementary marketing and outreach goals and messages
- Audiences that align with or complement your program’s priority audiences
- A reputation of credibility in the community
- An active constituency and an appreciation of the value of your program to constituents, and vice versa
- Motivation and sufficient resources to recruit participants from their constituents
- Well-established communications mechanisms with numerous followers or readers
- A person with the authority to fulfill commitments and act as your program’s champion within their organization
- A history of collaboration and community involvement, which provides security that they are likely trusted sources for your program’s priority target audiences.
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program Partnerships
- Efficiency Maine provided contractor sales training and offered contractors a standard assessment checklist and professional development courses to help them communicate with homeowners. The program organized monthly webinars to explain available incentives, discuss what worked for contractors, and talk about what could be improved. By creating a partnership with contractors, Efficiency Maine’s assessment-to-upgrade conversion rate grew from 10% to 60% in less than six months. Learn more in the case study Spotlight on Maine: Contractor Sales Training Boosts Energy Upgrade Conversions.
- Philadelphia EnergyWorks partnered with local energy and gas utilities to share data, including marketing results, that helped sustain the program into the future. EnergyWorks also partnered with faith-based organizations to build trust for the program and conduct outreach within the local community.
- The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCEA) partnered with AFC First Financial, which provided the marketing tools and training that contractors needed to promote financing options to homeowners, helping GCEA save resources on marketing and outreach.
- Better Buildings Program San Jose leveraged local, well-known organizations that delivered non-energy services to low-income residents to provide targeted outreach on home energy upgrades in San Jose, California, locations.
- The Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program (Me2) partnered with Wisconsin’s statewide energy efficiency program, Focus on Energy, to locally market home energy upgrades. Me2 leveraged Focus on Energy’s contractor network and community-based marketing to promote Focus on Energy’s statewide rebate program.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Strong media partnerships are a valuable program asset, but the relationship needs to be maintained over time. Here are a few simple tips to help foster media relationships.
- Be helpful, responsive, and appreciative
- Keep your promises
- Position spokespeople as experts in subject matter
- Stay in touch and provide information even when you are not pitching a story.
- Be critical or complain if something minor is not right
- Ask to see a story before it runs
- Send a pitch to more than one person at the same organization
- Ask for more than one thing during your pitch.
Get more information on media partnerships and other tips for working with the media in the U.S. Department of Energy’s How to Work with the Media webcast.
Recruit marketing and outreach partners
After you identify potential partners, approach them with an offer to partner in your marketing and outreach activities. Partner recruitment involves researching what marketing and outreach your partner has done, and why getting involved in your program would be mutually beneficial.
Remember when recruiting partners to not only include suggestions for what the partner organization can do for your program but also incorporate what you can provide to the partner organization. Understanding your potential partner’s business model and marketing and outreach goals will help you identify and communicate the benefits of entering into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Here are some ideas on expanding existing or forming new partnerships:
- Expand existing relationship with the partner. Setting up a meeting or call to discuss expanding your relationship to cover marketing and outreach is often straightforward with an existing partner.
- Forge a new partnership. Consider approaching the partner organization’s communications director or other marketing professionals with a pitch that frames the partnership in terms of how your marketing relationship can support their own goals, rather than simply focusing on the marketing benefits your program will gain. Suggest specific campaigns or events where the two organizations can coordinate efforts or co-brand materials.
- Recruit media partners. Share information on your program with specific environmental or home improvement reporters and bloggers, giving them early leads on program announcements, and inviting them to attend program events. Make sure to promote the idea that home energy upgrades provide more than just energy benefits, but comfort, economic, and health benefits as well. If your local television news outlet has a consumer reporter, remodeling guru, or sustainability expert, you can start with that person.
Ongoing communication with potential, new, or existing partners is key to a successful partnership. As you discuss forming or expanding a partnership, plan regular calls or in-person meetings with your partners to provide regular updates on partnership progress and terms. More information on developing a partnership agreement and ongoing communication is provided in the following steps.
Develop a partnership agreement
Establish expectations and partnership terms early in the relationship in order to develop and maintain productive marketing and outreach partnerships. To do this, you can develop a partnership agreement or, if you already have a partnership agreement in place, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that defines the marketing and outreach roles and expectations for each partner.
For example, consider promoting your program in partners’ newsletters and on their websites, drawing on their membership lists to expand direct mailings, and working with them to find opportunities to promote your program directly to their audiences. These kinds of activities could be written into your marketing and outreach partnership agreement, or your broader program partnership agreement could include a commitment to collaborate on marketing and outreach.
A partnership agreement does not need to be a formal legal document, but programs have found it helpful to outline:
- What resources each partner will provide
- Each partner’s role
- The approval process for any joint materials
- The terms, scope, and duration of the partnership, including how activities will conclude and how results will be communicated.
Get Help With Partnership Agreement Template
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Creating a Partnership Agreement worksheet can be used as a partnership agreement template. Visit the Program Design Identify Partners handbook for more information on developing a partnership agreement.
Source: Creating a Partnership Agreement Worksheet, U.S. Department of Energy, 2011.
Engage partners early and often
Once you have solidified your new partnerships with an agreement, engage the partner quickly so the relationship does not get cold. Ways to keep your marketing and outreach partners connected to your program include:
- Set up regular meetings, conference calls, or webinars to update the partner on your program’s marketing and outreach efforts and results.
- Enhabit staff held monthly meetings at a convenient time (early morning) with a rotating group of contractors to get their input on and alert them to upcoming outreach initiatives.
- As part of a data-sharing agreement, Philadelphia EnergyWorks sent regular marketing results reports that were collected from the communications firm EnergyWorks partnered with to Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW). As a result, PGW used the lessons learned by EnergyWorks’ successful online advertising campaign to refocus its advertising dollars in online outlets.
- Invite partners to attend your program outreach events to enhance your credibility with attendees.
- Add partners to your newsletter mailing lists.
- Connect with partners through social media; follow them on Twitter, like their Facebook page, and post or retweet their photos and posts as appropriate. Their followers could quickly become yours and help you raise awareness.
EnergyWorks Finds and Shares Success With Online Ads
A partnership is not a one-way street. You can also support your partners’ marketing and outreach efforts:
- Attend their relevant outreach events, which could also help raise your program’s visibility
- Contribute to the partner’s social media conversations (e.g., start or add to discussions)
- Promote relevant partner news in your program’s newsletter, website, or social media.
Although the marketing and outreach activities outlined in your partnership agreement may not be continuous, regular contact will help keep the relationship fresh and might even help you discover collaboration opportunities that had not previously been apparent.
Tips for Success
Partner with organizations or individuals that customers already trust
Many programs found it useful to partner with a range of trusted organizations or individuals to market program offerings to their constituencies or followers. Better Buildings Neighborhood Program participants enhanced their marketing and outreach efforts by partnering with trusted local groups including:
- Community-based organizations and nonprofit organizations
- Large employers, such as local universities
- Respected members of the community (e.g., local elected officials, company executives, community opinion leaders)
- Utilities or fuel dealers.
Using partners’ existing communications channels proved helpful for many programs. They found that marketing and outreach materials could be more effective when a potential customer received them from an organization with which they had an existing relationship. Engaging credible messengers in program promotion could also help influence individuals in those messengers’ social networks to undertake upgrades.
- Housing agency NeighborWorks of Western Vermont found that residents of Rutland County, a small, rural community, consider neighbors to be the most trusted messengers, rather than the local government, federal government, or utilities. The program enlisted respected local citizens and organizations to work phone banks and spread the word about home energy upgrade opportunities. This effort helped the program connect with low- and moderate-income homeowners and complete nearly 200 home energy upgrades just six months after the program began promoting its services to the community.
- When Better Buildings Program San Jose in California set out to encourage homeowners to undertake home energy upgrades, it joined forces with trusted community-based organizations to accomplish its goals. The program knew that religious organizations not only shared its mission but also had the ability to help. The City of San Jose previously worked in these communities with its partner, the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative, and was able to leverage the trust and goodwill generated by this program to increase its access to partners for the home energy upgrade program. The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church lent its office space free of charge to Better Buildings Program San Jose, which saved overhead costs and allowed program staff to host meetings with homeowners to discuss their energy upgrade options and schedule home energy assessments. Additional events were held at a Boys and Girls Club in the community. Partnering with highly regarded organizations in the community enhanced the trustworthiness and visibility of the program.
- According to the Small Town Energy Program for University Park (STEP-UP) in Maryland, “low-cost social marketing using trusted, established neighborhood channels was the comparative advantage of the small town model” to catalyze homeowner action to upgrade their residences. STEP-UP’s social marketing approach included:
- Town events
- Direct mailing
- STEP house parties
- Yard signs
- Neighbor-to-neighbor outreach
This social marketing approach proved to be effective and low-cost. STEP-UP’s marketing budget was just 3% of its overall program budget and resulted in 30% of town households signing up to participate in the program.
Last Updated: 03/28/2016