From the beginning, ESB realised that the education of the public on the progress and possibilities of the Shannon Scheme were essential to its success. Following a visit to the United States, the company’s first managing director Dr Thomas McLaughlin recommended that a Public Relations Department be established. On 1 July 1928, ESB appointed Dublin Journalist, Ned Lawler as its Public Relations Officer, the first appointment of its kind in Ireland.
Interview with Ned Lawler
On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of ESB, Ned Lawler took part in the RTE/ESB documentary ’40 Light Years from Parteen’ and recalled the public relations campaign first begun in 1928.
In April 1928, ESB entered into an agreement with the First National Pathé Film Company to film the scheme during its construction. The film was shot over a period of months between summer and winter 1928, and was premiered by the Pathé Film Company in the Pathé Gazette, as well as in sixty principal theatres in Dublin and nationwide. ESB purchased a copy of the film for exhibitions in schools and collages, and subsequently made arrangements with other companies to film other aspects of the scheme.
National media campaign
Lawler initiated a national media campaign, which began in Ireland’s daily and weekly newspapers on 1 September 1928.
The campaign was a great success and received great interest from the UK and USA markets, not only from the media but from those involved in civil works.
Read more about advertising the Shannon Scheme here.
In addition, ESB printed and circulated booklets and pamphlets to perspective consumers. The publications dealt with all aspects of domestic electrification in an informative way; including instructions on the proper method of wiring the home; as well as the cost and efficiency of domestic electrical appliances. Pamphlets were also devoted to each appliance so that all uses of electricity in the home were concise to the consumer and prospective consumers. A series of 40 collectable cigarette cards were also produced.
A Siemens model of the Shannon Scheme was also exhibited at the RDS Spring Show in May 1929 at Ballsbridge, and subsequently travelled nationwide.
Anticipating the desire of large numbers of people who wished to visit the Scheme during its construction, ESB established a tourist office in Limerick to facilitate national and international visitors. An office was opened in Strand Barracks in Limerick city centre, and at Ardnacrusha, Co Clare. Arrangements were made with the Irish Omnibus Company to run a return bus service to the station, and with Great Southern Railways, for the issue of special three-day return tickets at the cost of single fairs to Limerick from all stations. Within the first ten months of the opening of the Scheme, it is estimated that 250,000 people visited the site.
In October 1928, a lecturing tour promoting the benefits of the scheme was arranged, beginning with towns in Leinster. These lectures covered topics such as the benefits of electric light in Ireland’s homes and businesses. In addition, many informal talks were organised locally, based on information packs supplied by Public Relations.
In order to reach an international audience, ESB subscribted to the Electrical Development Association of Great Britain and the American Society for Electrical Development. The company also benefited from the advice of the Publicity Manager at the General Electric Company (GEC) of America while he was visiting Ireland. ESB also sought advice from the National Electrical Light Association of America and the Society for Electrical Development of New York, as well as the public relations departments of various public utility companies in the United States.
Just three months before the Scheme was officially unveiled at a grand opening ceremony in July 1929, the first ESB electricity sales showroom on St Stephen’s Green was opened to the public on 12 April 1929 to sell state-of-the-art electrical appliances. The Shannon Scheme first began to produce electricity for the national network in October 1929.
ESB’s multi-pronged marketing approach was a huge success. In October 1929, Franklin D Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, wrote to ESB to enquire further about aspects of the design and management of the Scheme. When he later became President of the United States of America, the Tennessee Valley Development Authority, studied the Shannon Scheme while working on their own hydroelectric development.