Bass helps channel SolarCity's energy message

On April 16 of this year, Jonathan Bass became director of communications for SolarCity, the Foster City, CA-based provider of commercial and residential solar power.

On April 16 of this year, Jonathan Bass became director of communications for SolarCity, the Foster City, CA-based provider of commercial and residential solar power. Four days later, he was backstage with rock stars at the Green Apple Music Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. He was about to speak to 15,000 people about the affordability of solar power.

“There's never a dull moment,” Bass says. “There's a lot of interest in solar power. Choosing programs to strike a balance between environmental responsibility and business success is the hardest thing.”

Founded in July 2006, SolarCity has received a lot of media attention, most recently around its residential solar lease option, which became available in California in April. The company was California's leading residential installer in 2007 and it's on pace to more than double business this year.

Bass handles media relations, executive and internal communications, and sales team support. He says SolarCity “uses PR extensively,” and he's always seeking the right “mix” of social media, traditional media, and grassroots programs.

“The media landscape is very fractured,” he explains. “The number of outlets has increased dramatically and the individual sphere of influence for each media outlet has shrunk. Finding the right mix to reach large consumer and business audiences is a greater challenge.”

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive considers Bass to be “by far” the best PR person he's worked with.

“He's good at helping me craft the right message and teaching me to articulate the point so the average consumer can understand it,” Rive says.

Bass, a University of Virginia graduate, was “familiar with the language of technology” because his father was a computer science professor. His tech passion ignited after he moved to San Francisco for a bank job.

“I felt I was missing out by being in the Bay Area and not being involved in tech,” Bass recalls. “[PR gave] me a chance to write, [while] my knowledge of financial markets was an asset [because] so many tech companies were going public.”

A&R Partners hired Bass and he worked on emerging tech. After developing a keen interest in clean tech, he cofounded its clean tech practice and became VP when the agency merged with Edelman in 2006.

“Our future depends on [being] less dependant on traditional energy sources,” he notes. “Other technologies seemed less significant... They weren't solving a problem that's as fundamental to human existence.”

Bass sought corporate experience after Edelman. There weren't many in-house clean tech posts then, so he went to BigBand Networks, which provides broadband data, video, and voice services. He stayed through its 2007 IPO.

Diana Helfrich, VP of marketing at SolarCity, also worked with Bass at BigBand Networks prior to joining SolarCity this year. He was her first hire. She praises his ability to “build and motivate great teams” and his “endless capacity to absorb work.”

In June, SolarCity expanded its lease availability to Arizona, while Oregon is slated for late this year. The company is also installing electric-car charging stations in California.

“We have a great story to tell,” Bass says. “[Solar power is] positive on so many levels – reducing pollution, impacting climate change, energy independence, and saving money.”

2008-present

SolarCity, comms director

2006-2007

BigBand Networks, senior manager of corporate mktg.

1999-2006

A&R Partners, various roles. His final post was as VP of clean-tech practice

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