ENERGIZED POWER INDUSTRY BEGINS BRANDING BATTLE;MERGERS APLENTY TRIGGER $750 MIL BID TO ESTABLISH COMPANIES AS NATIONAL LEADERS

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A wave of deregulation-inspired mergers is electrifying the energy industry, which, some say, could surpass the telecommunications industry in business-to-business marketing spending.

That would take some doing. Advertising is fast on the rise for telecommunications, a segment also created by deregulation.

"We'll be the next big-and the final-deregulated giant on the block," said Tim Gelvin, VP-marketing of UtiliCorp United.

AD-SPENDING SURGE

As these companies are freed to compete on a national basis, they'll pour hundreds of millions of dollars into trade magazines, trade shows and other marketing channels to build brand awareness and capture market share.

The initial targets, experts say, will be industrial and other business clients.

"Deregulation of the wholesale electric market this year by federal regulators and the opening up of the natural gas marketplace to competition earlier is sparking what is expected to be an all-out industry brawl for the business," said Daniel Macey, editor of Pasha Publications' Gas Daily's NG.

Loosening government restraints on the energy industry has taken a slow path, starting 10 years ago with the first stage of natural gas deregulation and culminating earlier this year with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Order 636, deregulating electricity.

ELECTRICITY MARKET LAGS

Michael Zastudil, editor of Oil Daily Co.'s newsletter Natural Gas Week, said state-by-state deregulation of the natural gas industry has allowed customers to choose their suppliers. Such state-by-state de-regulation is yet to come in the electricity market, and observers believe it will take a number of years.

When that happens after the turn of the century, a consensus of experts and marketing executives contend, the energy industry will surpass the telecommunications industry in marketing and advertising expenditures. That's a mighty claim, given that the telecommunications industry's own deregulation is expected to spark huge increases in business marketing expenditures.

In 1995, the telecom industry spent about $552 million on business-to-business advertising, making it No. 2 behind high-tech, according to Competitive Media Reporting and CMR's Rome Report.

Nevertheless, explosive growth in energy business-to-business spending is a lock.

CMR put measured energy ad spending at $83 million for '95, a category that includes electricity and natural gas. The Edison Electric Institute estimated $83 million for electric utilities alone.

$100 MILLION TO $125 MILLION

David Hackney, manager of public relations and advertising for PECO Energy Co., said the institute's numbers tend to be on the low side and a more realistic estimate is in the range of $100 million to $125 million.

He foresees energy-industry ad spending reaching up to $750 million in the next few years, including activities such as trade advertising, trade shows, direct mail and non-sales personal contact.

UtiliCorp last year launched a campaign introducing its new brand, EnergyOne, in national consumer publications and over CNN, ESPN and regional cable networks. The company at the time said it was the first utility to mount a national ad effort.

Muller & Co., Kansas City, Mo., developed the ads.

MULTI MILLIONS TO ESTABLISH BRAND

While Mr. Gelvin declined to specify marketing and ad spending, UtiliCorp executives have said it takes $50 million to $100 million in marketing and advertising to establish a national brand.

Mr. Gelvin said that spending probably will take place in five years or less, and the first company to take that step probably will spend in excess of $100 million.

The next major thrust into the national arena apparently will come from Enron Corp., one of the world's largest integrated natural gas companies.

Enron, which recently struck a $3.2 billion merger with Portland General Electric, has just named Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, for a corporate ad campaign to roll out late this year or early next year, an Enron spokeswoman said.

Although the spokeswoman declined to specify dollars, Enron is said to be preparing a $50 million campaign.

"Enron is the leader of the pack and this is probably 10 times what they'd normally spend," said Mr. Macey of Gas Daily's NG.

He noted that Enron recently pulled all its trade advertising, directed at utilities that resell its product. He speculated the action indicates a marketing shift toward direct retail users, such as large corporations and factories.

`GEARING UP'

"We're committed to being the leading brand-name national energy provider," the Enron spokeswoman said. "We're gearing up for a new business-open access to the retail electricity market. It won't be just electricity, because we see natural gas and electricity becoming interchangeable for certain functions."

Marketing activities probably will continue to use the Enron name, she said, and a logo designer has been retained for the campaign.

PanEnergy Corp last month created one of the largest energy marketers in North America: PanEnergy Trading & Market Services. PanEnergy owns 60% and Mobil Corp. owns the remaining 40%.

The new company will use the Mobil brand and Pegasus logo in the natural gas retail market.

NO AD BUDGET YET

James Hart Jr., VP-public affairs for PanEnergy, said the new operation's advertising budget hasn't been set but that it will be in "the multimillion-dollar range."

Ford Advertising, Houston, which does work for Mobil, will direct the new unit's ad efforts.

"We'll be targeting large users of natural gas, like manufacturing facilities, dry-cleaning shops [and restaurant chains such as] Red Lobster and Hard Rock Cafe." Mr. Hart said.

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