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News Analysis

Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 2000

homes-received a brochure describing the restructuring program, how electricity and gas are distributed to homes and how to shop for a supplier. In addition to the statewide umbrella campaign, each utility was required to conduct a local outreach program to meet specific needs of customers in its service area.

"The Board felt if people weren't educated early on, they knew they'd become frustrated. That's why we came out early," explained Ralph Morano, vice president of Winning Strategies.

The program's budget is $13 million for the first year, and includes broadcast, print and Web advertising and direct mail. The campaign is expected to run three years. As with the other states' programs, the utilities may fund the campaign through customers' rates if it meets certain objectives for increasing awareness and depth of knowledge.

"Our first objective was to raise awareness and generate some enthusiasm about choice," said Morano. "We've accomplished that. Research done [in October] showed an 81 percent level of awareness."

Getting people interested in energy choice was the biggest challenge from a creative point of view, but Morano noted that its "undeniable benefits" helped in communicating the program's importance.

The program's second objective is to develop the customer's depth of knowledge to the level where he can shop for a supplier, mindful both of price and environmental impacts. That goal is the focus of the program's second phase.

"That will be a bigger challenge," said Morano. "We may juggle the media a bit. TV isn't a great educational tool, [so we'll look at] printed material and PR programs to compare the environmental impact."

He added that the agency also was considering programs through the schools whereby students and their parents would learn about energy choice through special projects. Hard-to-reach constituencies such as low-income and visually impaired customers were another target.

New Jersey's campaign has benefited from the experience of states that have gone before in energy choice education programs, said Moran. For instance, his team tried to draw upon what was successful in Pennsylvania's pilot program. But other state programs were helpful only to a point.

"New Jersey is a market all of its own," with the media influences of Pennsylvania and New York, he noted. The challenge for marketers trying to reach New Jerseyans, Morano explained, is that they need to buy ad placements in the New York and Philadelphia markets, "but when you do that you're buying a lot of other people you don't need to reach."

The BPU has set a rigorous benchmark for success. According to its goals, by April, awareness should be maintained at 80 percent, customer knowledge should be 75 percent, awareness of the selection process should be 70 percent, 70 percent of customers should have made a decision about switching, and satisfaction with the call center should be 80 percent.

"This program will need to meet certain statistical objectives ¼ to indicate that [it] has been successful in educating consumers about the new competitive market," said Morano. The BPU has retained an independent consultant, the Center for Research and Public Policy, to conduct focus