In May 2007 a northern Tasmanian primary school principal contacted Aurora Energy.
“Yesterday a prep student stuck two pieces of wire into a power socket at school and turned the switch on,” he said. “The boy has burned his arm and is recovering in hospital - how do we get them to understand the dangers?” – Principal, St Leonard’s Primary School, Launceston.
Aurora’s Electrical Safety in Schools Program, featuring the iconic character Sparky, has visited more than 50 schools annually since 2005, educating over 37,500 Tasmanian students on electrical safety; potentially saving every one of their lives. It had not visited St Leonards Primary School.
The principal was advised Aurora had a free community program aimed at primary school children, and a presenter was scheduled to visit the class the following week. Following the visit, 280 more young Tasmanians are now aware of Sparky’s safety message.
The program has enabled Aurora Energy to build stronger relations with its community, which extends far beyond classroom walls. Through communication, Aurora’s integrity and credibility is fortified in a bid to enjoy the long-term benefits of customer support and loyalty. In the face of upcoming retail contestability – there is nothing more important.
Aurora Energy’s purpose statement, to see the Tasmanian community prosper from our efforts, is integral to its employees, mirroring internal values and behaviours.
To be a credible public statement, however, it must be visible. This challenge provided the perfect opportunity to develop a state-of-the-art education program, eclipsing anything other energy retailers’ offer.
The program has since become a full-scale community education campaign, with four to six presenters working to cover the school year. Resources are also available on line at www.auroraenergy.com.au under the For Schools section. Teachers are encouraged to utilise the experiments and the online, award winning, Sparky’s Electrical Safety game, to create a project centred on electrical safety.
In 2004 Aurora committed to developing a free electrical safety education service for Tasmanian primary schools. A number of factors were involved in determining the best approach to build a genuine commitment to community safety.
Aurora Energy is a Tasmanian Government owned electricity distribution and retail company. It was formed in July 1998 and is one of only two companies licensed to retail gas in the state, and the only dual energy retailer in Tasmania.
Aurora entered the National Electricity Market in 2005.
Safeguarding the company’s reputation is critical to its future success. Employees across the business are committed to working with local communities and meeting the needs of Tasmanians through an array of sponsorships and partnerships.
It was determined that a free electrical safety program for primary school students would boost Aurora’s image as a model corporate citizen and cement it as a company renowned for conducting its business in an ethical and responsible way.
Aurora’s sponsorship responsibilities are managed by its Corporate Affairs Group, and in 2005 a new Public Relations Officer was appointed to develop and manage the daily operations of the Electrical Safety in Schools Program.
To do this effectively, information was collected from across the business and from external stakeholders and partners. Advice was sought from safety experts within Aurora, the Department of Education, other successful community educators including the Tasmania Fire Service, and one of Aurora’s sponsored organisations, Terrapin Puppet Theatre.
Aurora has a customer approach to be recognised by its customers and independent experts as a leading provider of customer service.
Responding to customers and listening to their views is integral to the strategy. Customers made their views on the program very clear through the latest Corporate Image Survey with results highlighting that 95% of business and residential customers support the Electrical Safety in Schools Program.
Market size, and customer needs and benefits were all taken into account during the design phase of the Electrical Safety in Schools Program. Regional schools were initially targeted, to align with ongoing safety campaigns aimed at raising awareness of risks associated with operating farming machinery underneath powerlines, and also of fallen powerlines on properties.
Regional schools welcomed the program and in 2006, the program filtered into public schools in metro areas and by 2007, had also infiltrated private schools across Tasmania.
Schools are sent letters, Emails and flyers alerting them to the program, and are able to book a presenter visit via return mail, Email or Aurora’s website.
With the commissioning of Basslink, an electricity interconnector between Tasmania and the mainland, retail contestability opened up in Tasmania from 1 July 2006. A small group of major industrial companies were the first Tasmanian customers to become contestable, with preparations underway for all business and residential customers to face retail competition by July 2010, subject to a public benefits test.
The customers of Aurora’s future are currently in primary schools around Tasmania and are the children of parents who are already paying consumers, both in a residential and business environment.
Being a model corporate citizen has never been so important if Aurora is to maintain customer loyalty and uphold its image as a company with a strong sense of community responsibility.
The social and cultural climate Aurora operates in is very different from other Australian states and territories. Aurora has high performance standards for its people as well as community relations targets and believes that how it meets community expectations could well be the key factor in setting it apart from rival companies in the competitive market. Because of its small size, large companies like Aurora are more visible and customers have high expectations of what will be delivered.
An audit of all energy suppliers and retailers was conducted to gather information about resources and programs being offered around Australia. While other companies offer online resources and the occasional school visit upon request, there was nothing available on the scale we were looking at providing to the Tasmanian community.
The audit also extended overseas and information was collated from United Kingdom, United States and Canadian energy retailers. After collating information the next step was to identify the Tasmanian audience.
In order to do this we looked at other successful schools based programs operating in Tasmania, and there really is just one – the Tasmanian Fire Service program.
“Drop, Rock n Roll” and “Get Down Low and Go! Go! Go!”, have become institutionalised catch phrases, together with their star characters – Monty the dragon and Willie Wombat. The program also has a home-based fire plan activity extending beyond the classroom so that information is shared to parents and the greater community.
With this in mind, we knew we had to develop a program with the following resources and intellectual property:
- A full-scale schools program with a presenter dressed in live line gear who can deliver a one-hour presentation in an engaging, interactive and informative manner
- An appealing character to represent the program. Sparky, who was developed by Aurora sponsored organization the Terrapin Puppet Theatre, now appears on all resource material
- Resources for the presentation. Including damaged electrical appliances, powerlines, conductors and insulators. Live line work wear for children to dress in as well as safety gear such as helmets and gloves. A movie was sourced which shows children entering a sub-station along with other dangerous situations and the consequences of this. A power point presentation featuring Sparky was also developed.
- Catch phrases from past electrical campaigns such as “Look Up! Look Out!”, “Respect Electricity”, “Stay Away! Stay Alive!” and “Water and Electricity don’t Mix” were incorporated, as well as the Sparky Song.
- An online game was commissioned featuring Sparky and was placed on Aurora’s website together with experiments, lesson plans and educational resources.
- A home electrical safety checklist was developed.
- The hybrid Sparky car was put on the road.
The program initially targeted regional schools, to align with ongoing safety campaigns aimed at raising awareness of risks associated with operating farming machinery underneath powerlines, and also of fallen powerlines on properties.
Regional schools welcomed the program and in 2006, the program was extended into public schools in metropolitan areas and by 2007, had also been embraced by private schools across Tasmania.
The customers of Aurora’s future are currently in primary schools around Tasmania and are the children of parents who are already customers, both in a residential and business environment.
Aurora communicates the program’s objectives and success via a number of channels. Internally, it updates employees on the program at least every two months via Aurora News (internal newsletter) and news features on the Intranet.
Externally, information on the program is delivered through all media channels – radio, Internet, press and television, as well as in industry relevant magazines and newsletters. School newsletters and the Education Department feature the program in their publications.
It also features prominently as an interactive educational site at Tasmania’s leading agricultural show, Agfest, and is the point of topic at various safety and child injury prevention forums.
Aurora endeavours to disseminate information on the program via a wide array of mediums, which cover all demographics. The company selects seasonal or environmental opportunities to campaign for the program. During the past 12 months media coverage has included:
- A special Christmas lights safety message delivered by Sparky during a school visit
- The program visited Ashley Youth Detention Centre to educate young offenders on electrical safety
- The program had a northern and southern launch
- The program featured at a special safety day for refugees
- The program featured at Agfest.
Following planning, liaison and analysis, the Electrical Safety in Schools Program was ready for official implementation in 2005.
During the first year of the program, the program was visited 50 schools and 15 000 students.
So committed Aurora was to reaching its regional target audience, presenters were flown to the Bass Strait islands to visit schools there.
By the end of 2005 online resources had been developed for schools, which include two Sparky online safety games, experiments, project plans, colouring in pages and educational information. Aurora purchased a new hybrid vehicle for its fleet, colourfully branded with Sparky and information on the program.
Presenters were recruited from across the business based on their knowledge of electrical safety in the first instance, and were put through training in the areas of community relations, public speaking, media relations and Education Department expectations and protocols.
In order to further promote the program, Aurora engaged its community sponsored partner, Terrapin Puppet Theatre, to create a Sparky puppet which could make special electrical safety presentations at the end of each of the theatre company’s school tours.
Opportunity also exists to cross-reference the program with other sponsored organisations, which enter Tasmanian schools, including cricket, AFL and basketball.
As part of the program, students receive an activity bag featuring a Sparky activity book, Sparky pencil, Sparky coloured pencils, Sparky sharpener, Sparky eraser and Sparky temporary tattoo. Junior development programs such as AFL in Schools and Basketball in Schools, utilise these resources as handouts following visits. It all helps brand manage the education program in a positive and fun-filled way.
Students also complete a home safety checklist to ensure messages reach adults at home. Aurora provides a prize to students who return completed forms back to Aurora, and in the past year Aurora has received over 1500 returned checklists.
By mid 2007 the program had visited more than 37 500 students and 160 schools.
In 2006 the program extended to metro public schools and presenters were staying at larger schools for up to a week to complete class presentations. The program also paid a visit to Ashley Youth Detention Centre where the presenters talked face to face with an audience of young offenders.
Aurora will have visited 70 schools in 2007 alone, with a further 48 bookings already scheduled for 2008.
Coupled with positive media stories, tremendous community feedback and the consistent return of home safety checklists, we are confident of the program’s success.
More than 37,500 children now know how to be safe around electricity. They know what to do in an emergency and who to call; most importantly, key safety messages are filtering back into homes and the broader community.
Through the Safety in Schools Program Aurora’s purpose is as visible as it is credible.
We believe this will greatly assist the company in the competitive electricity market by building consumer loyalty. Our relationship with the community and our customers is stronger than ever, and will continue to grow as more and more children and their families learn the Sparky song: