Skoring with Personal Connections

Emily Skor, Growth Energy’s new CEO, speaks about connecting with consumers, building relationships and tapping the power of social media.
By Ann Bailey | July 20, 2016

For new Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor, it’s personal.

Rather than solely using intellectual arguments to promote and defend the ethanol industry, Skor wants industry producers and members to share their stories about how the renewable fuel makes Americans’ lives better. Growth Energy has done a good job of promoting ethanol in the past and now it’s time for industry members to begin telling their stories in a different way and empower neighbors to talk to neighbors about the benefits of the renewable fuel, Skor says. She believes neighbors talking one-on-one to neighbors is one of the best ways to spread the word about the advantages ethanol has over fossil fuels.

“We have the facts on our side. But you don’t win politically charged discussions on facts alone. So often it is emotion that trumps fact,” Skor said at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop. Skor was the keynote speaker at the 32nd annual FEW held in Milwaukee in June, a few weeks after taking over the reins of Growth Energy. A graduate of Wellesley (Massachusetts) College, Skor most recently worked as Consumer Healthcare Products Association vice president and was the CHPA Educational Foundation executive director. She led public affairs campaigns, integrating strategic communications into legislative campaigns and coordinated ally development at CHPA, a member-based trade organization advocating for consumer health care products.

Skor brings to Growth Energy her experience in building campaigns in ways that mobilize policy and leaders, an ability to engage the organization’s members and knowledge of how to work with regulatory agencies such as the U.S. EPA, Food and Drug Administration and USDA, she says. Though a natural tension exists between those agencies and the industries which they regulate, such as ethanol, there are common areas where they share objectives, Skor says. “If you find the area of commonality, you can establish trust.”

Personal Touch
Forging personal relationships with consumers also is one of her goals, Skor says. “We have to connect with consumers as individuals—on their terms, in their language, based on their concerns and priorities and experiences,” she says. Ethanol producers and members are motivated by their knowledge of and experience with the biofuel, but they must figure out what influences the rest of Americans who are making choices at the pump, she believes.

“What motivates the New York City cab driver, the Arizona college student who commutes to her classes from home to save on rent, the Boston mother of young kids who is starting to feel like a long-haul trucker just to make soccer practice? If that last one sounds personal, it is.

“I know these stories because I am part of the target audience. My son Dominic is six years old. My daughter India is eight. And anyone who tells you that life gets simple after they start kindergarten, well, they know something I don’t. As a mom, I am ready to listen when someone tells me I can save money and help my kids breathe cleaner air.”

Consumers, including Skor herself, crave personalization of the information, images, food, medicines, products and experiences they take in, she says. “I am not just a demographic. I am an individual. I have my own values and goals and aspirations. And when I buy something, it needs to speak to my values and goals and aspirations.”   

But, it’s not just enough to have an experience, it also should be documented and shared, Skor says, and that’s where technology comes into play. In today’s world, in which people live online, simple transactions become public statements of what they support and why they support it, it, she says. That means a transaction at the pump can become a public statement.

Social media is the ultimate grassroots way to spread the good news about ethanol and to engage the public, Skor says. “It is absolutely a tool we should be using. It reaches all around the country and around the world.”

Spreading the Word
“Let’s encourage an earnest conversation with consumers about how ethanol makes life a little better and why they can feel good about their decisions at the pump,” Skor suggests.  “When my family drives to the lake for the weekend, of course, I should be able to tap an app for directions to the closest gas station selling E15. But I should be able to find retailers with blender pumps, whether I’m using Waze, Apple maps or any other GPS navigation.

“After I fill the tank, I want to post a photo of my happy family on Instagram. I want to tweet a shout out to my gas station for saving me a few bucks. I want to alert all my friends on Facebook to the great savings with ethanol. And then I’ll text an emoji of the American flag to my girlfriend.”

The ethanol industry can harness the digital arena to initiate one-on-one conversations with consumers, reminding them about the benefits of ethanol to their pocketbooks, country and environment, Skor says. Research conducted by Growth Energy shows that Americans need to be reintroduced to ethanol, she says, noting that too many people still question ethanol’s reputation and others don’t understand its benefits.

“We’ve got to turn this thing around.” The research showed that consumers respond favorably when the ethanol industry explains that the renewable fuel burns cleaner and increases octane, benefitting the environment and engines, she says. Environmental facts speak the loudest and the ethanol industry needs to communicate them to the public. “Parents will change their purchasing habits when they hear that ethanol reduces the need for toxic gasoline additives that have been linked to cancer, smog and groundwater contamination. Millennials will consider buying higher blends when they understand ethanol has cut 589 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and even greener options are on the way.

“That’s why we need to start evangelizing this message, so that consumers from coast to coast know ethanol is moving forward,” Skor says. The ethanol industry’s membership motivates her to be a strong advocate for the industry, she says. “This an industry with heart and soul. I’m so excited to be working in this industry that is making a difference.”

Author: Ann Bailey
Associate Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine