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Utility Public Relations A Growing Management

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Resource: John W. Clark, Senior Vice President-Communications, CMS Energy Corporation and Consumers Power Company

How to Get into Utility Public Relations

You should now have a pretty good idea about how most utility Public Relations departments are organized and how they function. You may have also figured out that experience is the key to working in the industry.

That's probably true for a number of companies-it is with ours-but there are still many opportunities. This is one industry that will always need public relations specialists, even entry-level individuals.

The best way to get a job in the utility industry is to major in some type of liberal arts program-communications, public relations, political science, journalism, advertising, marketing, etc. Some positions, such as those in graphic design, require special skills, but in most cases, a good liberal arts education is the base you need to start a public relations career in the utility industry.

The availability of entry-level jobs at a particular utility will also depend on its size-not surprisingly, ifs usually easier to get a job at a larger utility than a smaller one. Most large utilities have fairly good-sized Communications or Public Relations departments. Ours, for example, has 65 employees in the public affairs and governmental affairs sections and 20 more assigned to field communications work in our operating regions and nuclear plants.

Smaller utilities may only have one or two employees in the Public Relations department, so they generally would not be looking for entry-level college graduates.

If you are considering a career in public relations and want to work for your local utility, contact the department head and ask him or her what he or she looks for when hiring new employees. It never hurts to ask for job search advice; you never know what the outcome might be. You may just stumble onto a job opportunity! At the very least, you will gain some solid information to guide you in your job search.

Largest Public Utilities Ranked by Assets:
  1. GTE Corp.

  2. BellSouth

  3. Bell Atlantic

  4. U.S. West

  5. NYNEX

  6. Southwestern Bell

  7. Pacific Gas & Electric

  8. American Information Technology

  9. Pacific Telesis

  10. Southern Source: Fortune
If no entry level jobs are available at the company you want to work for. Then you should try to gain some of that helpful experience by working at a newspaper, radio or television station, public relations firm, nonprofit agency, or with an elected official. A year or two with one of these organizations will give you sufficient experience to try again at that same company.

What to Expect in the Way of Salary

Salary levels in utility public relations vary, depending to a great extent on the size of the company. Starting pay for an entry level college graduate ranges from $16,000 - $20,000. A new employee with some experience in another industry may start as high as $25,000, depending on how much and what type of experience. Large companies, in most cases, have more opportunities for advancement and offer higher salaries. A top manager level staff person can make $70,000 a year or more. You may be able to make more money in some other type of public relations position, but a job in utility public relations can often be just as rewarding.

The Challenge Ahead

A career in utility public relations is challenging. Since it is a regulated industry that supplies a commodity on which people depend, its customers and those who regulate it tend to closely monitor each company, as they should. On a practical level, this scrutiny requires each utility to supply solid information so customers and regulators can make informed decisions about how they use its products or govern its operation. Effective communication is the key and, as a result, there will always be a need for employees to provide that information. The job is challenging, and ifs also worth it in the end.

In his current position, JOHN W. CLARK is responsible for all communications activities, including all public and governmental affairs and employee communications, for CMS Energy Corporation and its principal subsidiary, Consumers Power Company.

He joined Consumers Power in November, 1985, after nearly eight years at the American Gas Association (AGA) where he was vice president communications and director of AGA's liaison activities with the Executive branch of the federal government

A native of Muncie, Indiana, Clark began his career in 1968 as a campaign aide to the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Indiana and legislative aide to the lieutenant governor. In 1969, he joined the staff of the U.S. House of Representatives as a minority floor assistant and later served as administrative assistant for a U.S. congressman from Massachusetts.

From 1971 to 1973, he was deputy assistant director for congressional affairs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he was awarded the EPA's Bronze Medal for commendable service. He then moved to what is now a unit of the Allied Signal Corporation as director of government relations, later director of communications. He served as assistant director of congressional affairs for what is now the U.S. Department of Energy before joining AGA Clark received his BA in government in 1968 from Indiana University, following a period of study at the University of London (U.K.). He has performed graduate work at the American University in Washington, D.C.
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