Founded in 2003 with the purchase of 65,000 acres approximately 25 miles northwest of Knoxville, Tenn., National Coal owned or leased more than 115,000 acres of coal and other mineral rights in Alabama, Eastern Kentucky and Southeastern Tennessee. With market capital over $110 million, National Coal was one of the Southeast’s leading coal producers.
Although it was one of the smallest publicly traded companies of its kind, National Coal is a company with significant communication and public relations needs. Constantly working to be noticed in an established market, the company and its leaders must stay visible to the community, its investors, and the media in order to maintain its public reputation of corporate and business responsibility. At the same time, the company – like many other micro-caps – was mindful of every investment, especially investments that are harder to measure, like communications.
During National Coal’s inaugural year, the company’s leaders turned to Pietryla PR & Marketing to provide communication support. Pietryla PR was a perfect fit for a small company in need of a big program and big results. It employed the expertise and flexibility of one management-level contact, coupled with the resources of an agency including a fully-functional and complete team of artists, developers – even the transfer agent – available to work on-demand.
At the beginning, National Coal was just beginning to invent its public image. After a comprehensive analysis of the company and its communication challenges, Pietryla PR developed a strategic plan focusing on three key areas – public relations, investor relations, and marketing.
Pietryla PR sees public relations as a means of developing third-party credibility. As such, public relations was a big part of the communication plan for National Coal; we met the company’s needs by setting up on-demand counsel for quick turnaround of press announcements and media relations, while also providing media training, message development, and consistent on-demand strategic counsel.
The result? National Coal was mentioned by Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal, and frequently achieved stories in the trade press. The company’s media mentions and coverage increased year over year until it was purchased. Another important part of National Coal’s communication plan is managing negative messaging. Although unavoidable, detracting media placements or public statements can be controlled with proactive public relations. In this case, we worked consistently to make sure news coverage was balanced, while also working with reporters to protect that balance on a daily basis.
Another often-overlooked part of PR for a company like this is crisis communications. We put together and regularly tested an actionable plan. We also worked with MSHA during its own crisis testing and reporting to make sure the company’s response plans included effective communications. Everything from the phone tree, to where the media would be housed was in our plan should it have been needed – it never was.
To help National Coal stay in touch with its investors, we handled calls and requests from shareholders, maintained the contact database, and monitored the way in which every shareholder was contacted following requests for more information – or when news is distributed. We worked closely with the transfer agent to make sure requirements were being met. Corporate messaging also plays a role, and so we helped the company maintain consistency within presentation development, announcements, and shareholder meetings. We wrote and updated the communications policies of the company and worked with management on the whistleblower policy.
National Coal had a web-based distribution system that alerts shareholders of news announcements as it collects and maintains user information. The system worked in conjunction with the company’s website to accurately collect and save the information of interested investors. This was long before automation software was readily available to make this easier. We built a custom program.
One thing that made National Coal a trendsetter in its industry is the fact that it not only embraced public and investor relations but marketing as well. We worked with the company to create branding tools that included a new corporate website, interactive collateral, and social media tools that supported the company’s public and investor relations goals. To its credit, National Coal embraced the value of these materials and supported new initiatives to include digital marketing in future activities.
We worked with NCOC for more than seven years and assisted it with two website updates, which incorporated improved navigation, a comprehensive ‘search’ function, and a blog area entitled ‘CEO Corner’, which is designed to be scaled into a fully functioning blog. Every piece of National Coal’s collateral was available online via this website. Again, this was before digital requirements forced companies to make everything available online. We took this step in order to cut down on printing and shipping costs having anticipated digital marketing would be part of the RegFD requirements in the future.
Quite simply, we served as National Coal’s entire communications department and handled everything related to outside communication with press, employees, and investors.