CHARGE meets Koenraad van Hasselt from TenneT

As we approach CHARGE Europe (17-18 October), we’ve been asking our top speakers and partners to reveal their approach to branding in energy.  In this article, we speak to Koenraad van Hasselt, Senior Expert Public Affairs and Communications at TenneT.

The interviewers are, Friðrik Larsen, Founder and Owner of CHARGE and Sonja Sigríður Jónsdóttir, Conference Producer at CHARGE.

Why is it important for TenneT to be proactive when it comes to social electrification and eMobility?

As a grid operator, TenneT is tasked with reinforcing and expanding the infrastructure needed to feed in the substantial and still fast growing volumes of renewable energy, in particular solar and wind. As this type of energy is typically produced decentrally and volatile in nature, we need to rely on flexibility to maintain supply and demand of energy in order to keep the grid stable. We are developing an integrated system which is more demand driven and enables bi-directional charging of (consumer) devices, such as electric vehicles, solar panels and heat pumps. Together with the electricity grid operators of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria, TenneT was the initiator of Equigy, the European Crowd Balancing platform, which aims to create a trusted data exchange to enable aggregators (such as energy companies) to participate with flexibility devices (e.g. electric vehicles, home batteries) in electricity balancing markets. Thus, consumers – or rather prosumers – can actively participate in the energy system and receive financial incentives for this.   

What do you think are the main challenges for energy companies regarding branding and communication?

In North West Europe, where TenneT operates, energy users are used to, if not somewhat spoilt by, the world class level of security of supply. The availability of energy (the lights are always on) is easily taken for granted. But, as the demand for energy keeps on growing and society rightfully wants our energy to be green, it is an exciting challenge for grid operators to build the energy system of the future. And yet, it is not easy for energy companies, and grid operators in particular, to get across the huge challenges and uncertainties that the Energy Transition presents, worsened by the current geo-political developments. After all, we know what the global targets are for 2030 and 2050 and huge funds are made available, so the reasoning goes. As the enormity of the collective task of CO2 reduction and its consequences become more evident, it is up to communicators in the energy sector to explain the challenges and opportunities of the Energy Transition and rally employees and talent in the market around the joint challenges we are facing for mankind. To be able to take part in that and make an active contribution must be an appealing proposition for anyone working in the energy sector. But we have to be open and transparent: the Energy Transition comes at a cost, not only in financial terms, but also in terms of acceptance of infrastructure, onshore and offshore. This requires a continuous dialogue with stakeholders, from national government to local communities, individual land owners and politicians. At TenneT we have 75 people in the Public Affairs and Communications department who are tasked with community relations in the Netherlands and Germany. Their added value is an increased predictability of the planning and executing of numerous infrastructure projects.       

What advice would you leave brand and marketing leaders going into 2023/24?

I would say: despite the often disrupting developments in the world, stick to your professional principles. ‘Be good and tell it’ is one of the old sayings in the communications profession. ‘Be good and let others tell it’ seems to be more powerful. ‘Be good and keep up the dialogue’ would be a more contemporary construct. In an increasingly complex world with a ditto (social) media landscape, it becomes more and more difficult to position your organization and stand out from others. Here too, I would say, stick to the basics of the why, what and how of your organisation. Build an credible and attractive narrative which is relevant to your key stakeholders, answering their question: ‘what’s in it for me’ ? The narrative should express the organizational identity, based on the organisation’s vision, heritage and competencies. Next challenge is share this corporate story through the right channels in a consistent way.   

What did you say when you were convincing people in your company to take branding/reputation seriously as an investable asset? Who did you need to convince?

In our sector, which used to be fully business-to-business, the concept of brand did not originally resonate with our Board of Management and the company leadership.  ‘We are in a regulated playing field and do not sell products or services which customers can buy in a competitive market’. But the notion of reputation is fully recognized, as it is directly linked to the license to operate, the support for which can be withdrawn by a stakeholder at any time. 

I managed to convince my colleagues that, although we are state-owned with only one shareholder (the Dutch Ministry of Finance), we are in competition with peer companies in the international financial and labour markets. This requires a strong brand identity, with a promise that is delivered on time and time again. 

What is the general perception of the brand within your business versus how it was a few years ago? How has it changed, and what are your hopes for your brand in the next few years?

The notion of brand value and the brand as the company’s compass as well as its anchor has meanwhile been widely accepted. But we are still reluctant to explicitly use the word ‘brand’, but rather refer to it as ‘positioning’. It has been recognized that there is a clear link between our vision (Purpose), mission (Promise) and values (Principles) which we would like our employees to adopt as their ways of working. The war for talent has helped here, but also the company’s fast growth has increased its footprint and external exposure. We cannot, nor do we want to, hide but want to actively engage with all our stakeholders, seek and maintain the dialogue and tell our story while we’re at it.

Koenraad van Hasselt | LinkedIn