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News Analysis

Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 2000

Gamble or Campbell's Soup sells its product, asserted Brownell. After all, they're competing in the same retail world.

While Pennsylvania benefited from California's experience in implementing an education program, there were some aspects that the PPUC chose not to model due to tremendous market differences. In addition to focusing beyond consumer awareness, the PPUC also took a more proactive role in the program development and implementation than did the CPUC. Rather than merely serving as an approval body, the PPUC set program objectives and worked with the utilities and stakeholders to develop the campaign. The program budget flowed through the Pennsylvania Electric Association, which represents the state's IOUs. Brownell noted, however, that the ultimate decision-makers were the PUC and the PUC-appointed Council on Electric Choice, which has representatives from the state's utilities, consumer advocates, minority and other stakeholder groups.

"Ultimately we are accountable to the public for whether they feel their money was well-spent in terms of getting them ready for competition," reasoned Brownell.

In addition to mass media and direct mail, the PUC drew heavily on community outreach efforts, engaging community leaders from throughout the commonwealth. Brownell even traveled around to state fairs and other events distributing "Where do you think you are?" tee- shirts.

"People were getting these messages all of the time from a variety of sources. You had television ¼ but then you had brochures in all the liquor stores and libraries, you had all the cabinet secretaries talking about it, you had all the community leaders talking about it, and then you had reinforcement in radio and in print and a direct mail campaign," listed Brownell. "So it was hard to escape getting messages."

While the advertising campaign was fun and important to the program, said Brownell, a fully integrated campaign also requires message points. "We did press releases, we did events, we did this Community-Based Organization Network, we had minority consultants, we outsourced our phone center so that if we were on television at 7:00 at night, there was someone there to answer the phone." She added, "I don't want to lose sight of that because it's the integration of those elements that makes a successful campaign."

The approach seems to be paying off. Ongoing surveys revealed that as of September, 94 percent of Pennsylvanians were aware of electric choice, and 41 percent said they knew how to shop for new suppliers. In addition, 2 million of the commonwealth's 5.3 million electric customers had enrolled in the Electric Choice Program as of September. A million of those had made an affirmative decision to choose or not to choose, and of that million, about half, 480,000, had selected an alternative generation supplier. The PUC expected customer savings to approach $1 billion by the end of 1999.

An unintended benefit of the campaign has been the good feelings people have about Pennsylvania.

"I go anywhere in Pennsylvania and people say, 'Oh, where do you think you're from-Pennsylvania?'" said Brownell. "So just like Rice Krispies has a brand, well, we have a brand too. It's Electric Choice with the