Abraham Lincoln used to say that “with public opinion on its side, nothing can fail”. From this perspective, solar energy companies have little to fear as people’s sentiment is by and large on their side.
A report on public attitudes published in November by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) showed that 78% of people backed renewables to generate electricity, fuel and heat. The strongest support was for solar (80%), followed by offshore wind (74%), wave and tidal (73%), onshore wind (67%) and biomass (61%). On a European level, a 2011 survey by Eurobarometer revealed an even wider endorsement, especially for solar (94%), wind (89%) and hydroelectric (85%) power.
Despite this consensus, however, many firms struggle to find their feet in the market and in the public arena. The sector is nervous about the cut of government subsidies and fears that, without them, the industry will lose appeal. So what does it take to turn public support into long term business opportunities?
Easy life with subsidies
Part of the problem is related precisely to the role of subsidies. In the past few years, consumers have been seduced by feed-in tariffs and other forms of incentives rather than fully-fledged marketing cam- paigns. On their part, solar energy companies have directed their PR efforts to ensure a favourable regulatory environment, overlooking marketing and communications in their business strategies.
Joanne Smalley, Head of Energy at Aspectus, a London-based PR agency focusing on technology, energy and the financial sector, says that thanks to subsidies, “there has been a proliferation of companies that did not work on the development of their brands to be able to reach the end consumer.” Chris Dace, founder and Director of Resonates, a clean tech PR consultancy in Berkshire, confirms the analysis. “There is always a risk when companies grow big based on government policy and investments are not made to build the brands or the reputation for the sector,” he says…