Liz Anderson started her career at an Olympia radio station in her senior year at The Evergreen State College, working her way up from account executive to promotions manager, and then as an anchor in the news department, also covering state government. She went on to work in advertising and public relations in Portland, and then was called “out of the blue” by the general manager of Grays Harbor Radio to be news director in 1992.
That’s where she met husband and fellow broadcaster Pat Anderson. After 12 years, Liz Anderson went to work as the state Lottery’s communications and marketing manger before accepting her current position as the Grays Harbor PUD’s community and government relations director.
How has your job at the PUD changed over the years?
The focus of my position has always been to inform and educate. As a customer-owned public utility, our Board of Commissioners values communication with ratepayers, elected officials, stakeholders, and our employees. What has changed is the way we communicate. We have done a lot more proactive outreach and have incorporated a lot more tools to reach out to customers to keep them informed. We added more electronic communications including social media, especially for outage information. We redesigned our website adding new communication tools such as an email alert system for outage information and electronic issue updates through our online grassroots network (sign up at www.ghpud.org). We also incorporated opportunities to interact with our customer-owners directly including public forums on key issues such as a rate increase and changes in our residential rate structure. We also added some new events to interact with customers and provide information including our annual Public Power Week Drive-Thru event and disaster preparedness events.
The other change in my job is the issues we are focusing on. Energy issues have consistently been in the spotlight since I joined the PUD five years ago as our state, region and country make important decisions regarding resources and our energy future. These issues are often complex with various interests weighing in and with real impacts on ratepayers. Energy issues emerge and evolve over time so the issues we were talking about when I started five years ago aren’t necessarily all the same issues we are tackling today. The landscape is always changing and the PUD continues to be an active voice as decisions are made in Olympia and in the other Washington.
How did you make the transition from being in the news business to your current role with the PUD?
The transition from the newsroom to public relations was exciting for me because I knew I would still be using many of the skills I had developed working as a news director in broadcasting while combining them with my experience in advertising and marketing. I knew it was going to be the best of both worlds, allowing me to use all my diverse professional experience and skills in one position. Of course leaving the radio station was tough. It had been my home for many years and my coworkers were dear friends. At the beginning, it was hard for me to let go of the newsroom. I left the radio station, but my husband was still the operations manager so I still heard about what was going on. It was really hard for me to sit back and not get involved, especially if there was big news breaking. I was able to make the transition and go from Liz Miller on the radio to Liz Anderson with the PUD and truly enjoy the work I am doing now. I know my years in the newsroom were an important part of my professional journey and I will always value the experience I had in broadcasting.
What were some of your biggest challenges with the PUD and what did you learn in the process?
There are all sorts of challenges and I truly believe you never stop learning throughout your career. One of the big challenges working in public power is explaining complex things like the PUD’s budget or mandates for renewable resources in a way that makes it easy to understand for those who don’t work in the industry on a daily basis. I often test my communications with friends, family and people I work with in the community to make sure it is clear. Customers are quick to remind me if I fall into industry speak. I had a very nice customer contact me and ask me what biomass energy is. I had mentioned it in a newsletter article and her comment reminded me that I needed to do more to explain the different energy resources. Biomass is the generation of electricity through the burning of wood waste or other plant-based material. I pay close attention to that now and learned a good lesson.
The 2007 storm was an incredible event and the biggest challenge for me was that I had only been working at the PUD for about a month and a half when the storm hit. A huge event like that puts everyone to the test and really shows where you can make improvements. The storm clearly pointed out to me the importance of having redundancy in communications so there are multiple ways people can get information during a disaster, and if one communication tool is down, there is a backup method of communicating. After the storm, we added resources for outage reporting that I mentioned earlier. We also focused more on emergency preparedness to help citizens prepare for the next big disaster. You’ll be seeing tips on how to report outages and receive information outages in the PUD’s next energy newsletter.
What is the PUD’s upcoming Citizen’s Academy and how will that help the district as well as those who participate?
The Citizens’ Academy was Commissioner Dave Timmons’ idea. As a member of the local media I participated in the Aberdeen Police Department’s Citizens’ Academy and remembered how interesting and informative it was. I thought about it for about 20 seconds and said, “Let’s do it!” The Citizens’ Academy is a seven-week program held Thursday evenings with one Saturday field trip. Each session focuses on a different subject, ranging from the history of the PUD to the budget process. It is an opportunity for customer-owners to learn more about the PUD so we can work together to make informed decisions that meet the needs of our community.
For this first academy, the PUD has invited a combination of customers, community leaders, elected officials, and media representatives who can serve as our pilot project group and give us feedback. If we find that this first program is successful, then we hope to continue it and offer this opportunity to many other customers.
With your husband, Pat Anderson, being in radio and as one of the Harbor’s most recognizable figures, how do you manage to juggle both home and careers together?
Sometimes it’s hard to keep all the balls in the air. We both work in fields that require us to be on call 24 hours a day and we both sleep with our cell phones within arm’s reach. We have developed pretty good cooperation so we can manage both career and home responsibilities. For example, recently I was making pancakes for my son and his friend on a Sunday morning when I got a call that we had a power outage. I grabbed my computer and started working while Pat stepped in and finished making the breakfast. We just do that automatically. When one gets called, the other steps in.
As the current president of local Rotary, describe how you got involved with the service group and some of the upcoming highlights you are working on?
I was invited to join Rotary shortly after I started working at Grays Harbor PUD. It was an opportunity that aligned nicely with my new role as Community and Government Relations Director and it appealed to me personally because of the club’s commitment to making a positive difference in the community. I was honored to be asked to join and feel fortunate to be part of an organization with so many talented community leaders who carry out Rotary’s mission of “service above self” on a daily basis.
The Aberdeen Rotary Club is busy year round. Right now we are preparing to launch our annual “Student of the Month” program which recognizes an outstanding high school student each month during the school year and awards a scholarship at the end of the year. In addition, the club is gearing up for our annual dictionary distribution. Aberdeen Rotary purchases and distributes dictionaries to every fourth-grade student in the Aberdeen and Cosmopolis school districts along with St. Mary’s.
Personally, I am working on putting together a fundraising raffle to support the Aberdeen Rotary Foundation which provides funding to support various community programs and projects. There are a limited number of tickets available so your odds of winning are pretty good and your odds of helping us to make the community a better place are a sure thing. Tickets are $20 each with a tropical paradise trip as the grand prize.
You have been involved with the Miss Grays Harbor pageant and were a former Miss Thurston County (1983). How has that experience prepared you for your career and what do you find most rewarding in your volunteer efforts with the events?
I am a strong supporter of the Miss Grays Harbor Scholarship program because I have seen the impact it has on the lives of young women. The pageant is an entertaining show, but the value of the program goes far beyond that crowning moment. The Miss Grays Harbor Program, part of the Miss America Scholarship program, is a program that builds confidence, poise, communication skills and commitment to service in young women. In addition, it is the largest scholarship organization for women in the world, providing opportunities for women across the country to pursue their educational goals.
For many years I have coached pageant contestants working to develop their speaking skills in preparation for the interview competition. It is not about preparing them to wear a crown; it is about preparing them for the future. There is nothing more gratifying than hearing from a participant in the program that she got her dream job or got into her school of choice because she had a successful interview thanks to her pageant experience.
My own experience in the Miss America program dates back to 1983 when I was crowned Miss Thurston County. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my life and played an important role in my career.
When you can get away from the office and other duties, what do you enjoy doing?
I don’t know that I “enjoy” working out but I do make time to exercise in my free time. It is a great stress reducer and I like to challenge myself to get through a long run or a kickboxing class at the YMCA. That doesn’t mean I am athletic, quite the opposite. I have no natural athletic ability so you definitely don’t want me on your softball team or pacing you in a 10k race. I work out to stay healthy so I can keep up with my nine-year-old son.
Speaking of my 9-year-old, my free time often centers on him and I treasure every minute with Jack. I am often on the sidelines cheering him on as he plays football and baseball while my husband Pat coaches. It really doesn’t matter what we are doing, we always have fun and he always finds a way to make me laugh.
I also spend time, probably not enough time, doing battle with weeds in our garden while Pat does battle with moles. We have a pretty big yard and garden that was once tended by the skilled hands of the former owner of our property. We do our best to try to keep it under control, but I am truly to the point where I am considering trying to start a “dandelions are beautiful” campaign.