Deregulation means new PR challenges for utilities

SAN FRANCISCO: Continued utility deregulation is forcing utilities, traditionally not a group mindful of their public image, to pay as much attention to their brand as to their product.

SAN FRANCISCO: Continued utility deregulation is forcing utilities, traditionally not a group mindful of their public image, to pay as much attention to their brand as to their product.

SAN FRANCISCO: Continued utility deregulation is forcing utilities,

traditionally not a group mindful of their public image, to pay as much

attention to their brand as to their product.



Just a few years ago, utilities were not concerned with branding - after

all, they were providing a commodity product in a regulated

industry.



But with deregulation, the stakes are higher.



’As deregulation brings increased competition and pricing pressure,

utilities with strong brand names will have an edge in attracting

customers and extending into new business areas,’ said James Gregory,

CEO of consultancy Corporate Branding, which ranks utilities based on

their branding effectiveness.



Senior execs at Pacific Gas & Electric, traditionally one of the

highest-ranked energy companies in terms of branding and media presence,

said they were concerned with corporate brand recognition years before

deregulation of the energy industry made identity an issue. Of course,

the fact that the company delivers natural gas and electricity to one in

every 20 Americans hasn’t hurt either.



’Our awareness of corporate reputation and identity goes back decades

before corporate branding was in vogue,’ said Greg Pruett, VP of

corporate communications at parent company PG&E Corp.



Despite efforts by companies such as PG&E, Delahaye MediaLink director

of research K.C. Brown predicted that true widespread brand recognition

of utilities will not occur for at least a few years. ’Right now,

deregulation is still going on, so you have all of these companies

attempting to position themselves,’ he said. ’What’s generating brand

image on a national level right now are mergers and acquisitions.’



Meanwhile, although PG&E retained the top spot in Corporate Branding’s

annual ranking of utilities, Gregory said scores among all utilities

were low simply because they possess very weak corporate brands. For

example, PG&E’s corporate brand power score of 26.3 is more than doubled

by Ford’s score of 64.6 and FedEx’s 70.5.



PG&E’s Pruett countered that Americans are more conscious of

consumer-oriented products and services than they are of energy

providers - a fact he believes will continue to change as more and more

states deregulate their utilities.



’You’re seeing sponsorships in ways you’ve never heard of before,

including stadiums,’ Brown said. ’Texas Utilities is now TXU. Houston

Industries is now Reliant. A lot of people have no idea what the brand

is, but they’re starting to learn the names.’



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