E.ON UK : Fitting the news poorly

Separate news streams run in odd directions

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The feature

E.ON UK, a local country unit of Germany based energy supplier E.ON, makes confusing use of separate public and corporate news services. E.ON UK runs a News sub-section in the About E.ON area of its consumer-facing country site (eonenergy). The landing page refers visitors to an annual index in the left-hand column for ‘industry news and articles’ and to a part of the separate corporate site (eon-uk.com/media) for ‘press releases or to contact our press office’. Content is not systematically shared; for example, for 11 April 2012 the corporate site has a press release about the company’s support of government proposals on consumer energy prices, while News reports a government initiative on the installation of ‘smart meters’ in homes. However, on 27 November the News index had an additional, sixth heading: ‘We are sorry for our mistake’. This personalises a press release of the same date in which the company reveals the compensation it will pay for charging some consumers in error: personal pronouns (‘we’, ‘our’ etc) are substituted for ‘EON-UK’, ‘the company’ etc. The number of consumers affected is, however, reduced in the News version to 87,000 from 94,000.

The takeaway

E.ON UK’s idea of running discrete news-related features for different stakeholder audiences is hardly revolutionary, but the choice of audiences is less common than the familiar media/investors split, as is the decision to resource the two strands separately rather than filter content from a central pool. The implementation raises questions, however, about the value to either audience of the strategy. While the attempt to provide consumers with background on developments in the energy industry is laudable (and benefits the company by widening debate beyond energy prices) the lack of selected crossover stories means they get all context and no specifics – good or bad – about E.ON UK’s activities. Conversely, the journalist audience is denied a source of industry background that could be helpful to non-specialists in particular. The shortcomings of the set-up are exposed by the expeditious use of News to convey to consumers the company’s mea culpa on charging – News ought to be the logical place to publish the statement but the way it is set up and used makes the inclusion seem out of place there and less-freely provided. Although the facility to personalise the statement does show how separation can add a beneficial dimension, it also illustrates the importance of careful management to pulling it off – the discrepancy in the number of customers affected will undermine the credibility of the company’s remorse to anyone coming to it from a mainstream news report, which will have used the figure given in the official press release version.

First published 27 November, 2012
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