Online newsletter helps electric utilities market

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Energy AdSmart, a new online-only subscription newsletter, aims to fill a hole in the soon-to-be deregulated $200 billion electric utility industry.

The monthly advertising and marketing newsletter targets utilities that are just now learning about advertising, as well as the ad agencies going after the utilities' business.

INCREASING NEED FOR INFORMATION

Energy AdSmart is published by the Edison Electric Institute, an association of investor-owned utilities, and members can access it via a password from EEI's Web site. The newsletter costs $200 a year for EEI members and $400 a year for non-members.

"There's an increasing need for information about advertising and what's going on in the utility industry," said Energy AdSmart Editor and Publisher Sam Tornabene.

He said the publication will be online only to achieve wide distribution and save on paper and production costs.

An EEI direct mail piece about Energy AdSmart had just begun to reach potential subscribers last week.

The initial response has been positive, with 40 to 50 inquires about the online newsletter in three days, said De Thomas, EEI manager, production marketing and electronic publishing.

"It's helpful just knowing the scoop on what agencies are doing and what the companies are looking for," Ms. Thomas said.

Electric utilities have been slow to embrace marketing because since their inception, they've been multimillion- and billion-dollar monopolies. Most of their marketing efforts to date have focused on safety campaigns or state-mandated announcements about rate hikes.

ESTABLISH A BRAND AND SERVICE

Now, with deregulation looming, utilities are looking at advertising as a way to establish a brand and service.

While electric utilities now spend approximately $80 million on advertising, that amount is expected to rise to more than $2 billion after the year 2000, according to industry estimates.

"Ahead of any real spending, we've seen a lot of agency selection. And a lot of agencies are calling us asking for advice. It's very clear there's interest in that," said John Cole, VP at Cambridge Reports, a utility research consultancy company.

Con Edison Solutions chose the Yellowstone Group, Irvington, N.Y., two weeks ago, while Energy Pacific, a joint venture of Pacific Enterprises and Enova Corp., hired Kovel Kresser, Santa Monica, Calif., last month.

Several industry consultants agreed that some utilities see branding as simply a new logo and name.

"We've spent the last five to six years talking to utility people about how to build and manage brands," Mr. Cole said. "Honestly, it's been a tough row to hoe."

The sections in Energy AdSmart include trends; ad agency selection and budgeting; personnel changes; a calendar; and regular features spotlighting particular campaigns and the agencies behind them.1

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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