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News Analysis

Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 2000

tagline ¼ and that's got enormous recognition. And to the extent that the good feelings about that spill over into their buying decision, people are feeling good."

Brownell sees the PPUC's experience in creating this program as an example of the changing role of state commissions to communicators and mediators. "It's important that we begin to think that way and staff that way, and to get more knowledge base on that."

For example, she said, "I really want to take this campaign and what we've learned from it and expand it to telephone and gas, and see if we can combine them into long-term campaigns. This has great potential for long-term empowerment for consumers."

To other states embarking on consumer education programs, Brownell offered some advice. Above all, she counseled, hire expert consultants, but then find a way to bring the information that surfaces into the commission. The PPUC accomplished that through the creation of a new position: manager of communications.

"You need a combination of a statewide campaign with all the layers of reinforcement in a more localized campaign. And you need a feedback mechanism," she emphasized. "We learned so much from what people were saying.

"The one bit of advice I have for all PUCs, no matter what they're doing these days, is think about the customer because that's why we're here."

New Jersey: "A Market All Its Own"

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities faced several challenges in educating customers about choice when the state's energy restructuring law was enacted last February. Not only would customers be able to choose suppliers for gas service as well as electricity, complicating the informational needs, but time was short, with restructuring officially beginning Aug. 1. Since many of New Jersey's citizens receive broadcast signals and newspapers from New York City or Philadelphia, the BPU also needed to effectively target messages.

Although most of the state's citizens had little understanding of energy deregulation, the BPU had a head start in describing the coming change in parts of the state exposed to Pennsylvania's media. More than half of consumers statewide reported some awareness of energy restructuring.

The BPU created two groups to work together in educating the public. The Utility Education Committee, comprising the state's seven incumbent utilities, was charged with developing and implementing the public education campaign, with oversight from the BPU. The Energy Education Council, whose members include consumer advocates, served as an advisor to the BPU and UEC to ensure that the education program is neutral and fair. Mt. Laurel-based Winning Strategies was chosen as the advertising and public relations agency.

By July 6, the "New Jersey Energy Choice" campaign kicked off with a news conference, advertising, call center and website. The full website was posted in English and Spanish, with a summary available in seven other languages. TV and radio ads ran in the Philadelphia and New York markets, and on almost all of New Jersey's cable outlets. Full-page color ads ran in all 22 of the Sunday newspapers circulated in the state. Every household in New Jersey-3.3 million