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Energy Utility Survey Finds Consumers, Shareholders, Regulators Yearning for Predictability in 2002 After Enron, Sept. 11 Attack

Responses reflect ‘return-to-basics’ philosophy and Lessons learned from the California crisis

Washington, DC, February 7, 2002 — A survey of senior communicators at energy utilities across the country by Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide signals a desire by energy consumers, shareholders and regulators for predictability in how households use and pay for electricity and natural gas.

Ogilvy PR’s Energy Group, based in Washington, DC, conducted interviews with a range of executives and managers responsible for promoting their companies after what is widely viewed to be the most tumultuous year for energy utilities since the second Mid East Oil Embargo and Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident in 1979.

Ogilvy PR vice president Jim Pierobon and account supervisor Scott Frank uncovered a “return-to-basics” philosophy at many utilities in the wake of events such as the California power crisis, Enron’s bankruptcy and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“There has never been this much uncertainty about what is selling and what isn’t in Washington and state capitols, in the marketplace and on Wall Street,” Pierobon said. Pierobon is a former Chief Energy Writer and Congressional Correspondent for the Houston Chronicle where he began his career five months after the Three Mile Island accident.

The 27 respondents ranged from vice presidents of communications, corporate affairs and marketing to front-line media relations directors, government affairs representatives and product development managers. In return for their openness, Ogilvy PR agreed not to identify the respondents by name. The typical response comprised a 30-40 minute telephone interview conducted the third and fourth weeks of January.

Among the developments being watched closely by both by marketers and regulators that illustrate the “return-to-basics” philosophy is a request by regulators in Georgia that Georgia Power begin serving natural gas customers there. Another is Georgia Power’s offering a guaranteed bill amount for 12 months regardless of the customer’s actual usage, with no “true-up” at the end of the contract.

One question asked respondents to list the advertising campaigns they thought were most effective in attracting new customers and securing their loyalty. Among the few that stood out among the pack, Pierobon and Frank said, were:

  • The current co-branding advertising campaign by the Touchstone Energy team at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association entitled “The Power of Human Connections”
  • The EnergyOne campaign by Utilicorp United in the mid-to-late 1990s for its bid to create the industry’s first national energy brand
  • Southern Company’s “Energy to Serve Your World” and
  • Duke Energy’s “We Generate What’s Next”

“Several comments about campaigns such as these pointed to an emerging reality about marketing energy,” Pierobon said. “You cannot sell energy as you might other brandable products and services.”

“The marketing campaigns that appear to be accomplishing their objectives are establishing a human bond with their customers,” Pierobon added. Another question resulted in the following ranking of events for the overall impact each had on their company’s business heading in 2002:

1. California power crisis
2. Fluctuating supply prices
3. Stock market’s turn vs. energy stocks
4. Enron’s bankruptcy
5. Low retail default prices
6. September 11
7. Recession
8. Lack of enhanced electric wholesale access.

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About Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide was named “Agency of the Year” in 2000 and 2001 by The Holmes Report and PR Week respectively. Headquartered in New York, Ogilvy PR partners with clients throughout the world from its offices in 60 markets across the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa and through global affiliate relationships as part of WPP Group, the world’s largest marketing communications company. Ogilvy PR has specialty practices in Corporate, Entertainment, Health & Medical, Marketing, Public Affairs, and Technology. Its Technology Practice operates under the Alexander Ogilvy brand; the Entertainment Practice operates under the B|W|R brand. Feinstein Kean Healthcare is the firm’s wholly owned healthcare and biotechnology subsidiary. For more information, visit the Web site at www.ogilvypr.com.