Fitzgerald to Give Virginia Public an ‘Energy Choice’

Fitzgerald + Co. will lead the marketing and public relations team that will prepare consumers for electric and natural gas deregulation in Virginia.

The Atlanta agency defeated Earle Palmer Brown in Bethesda, Md., and its public relations partner, Burson-Mar-steller, in a review that included three other unnamed shops. The budget for the five-year account is $30 million.

Fitzgerald, which handled similar consumer education programs for Georgia (1998) and Ohio (2000), teamed with Powell Tate, the Washington, D.C., unit of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, and the New Haven, Conn.-based Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPP).

“We won because we had experience with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the largest public provider of electricity in the country, and the Atlanta Gaslight Company,” said Pam Piligian, Fitzgerald’s group account director on the project. “We know the disciplines and how to educate consumers.”

The upcoming “Energy choice” campaign, set to kick off this year, will include broadcast, newspaper, outdoor and interactive elements. A fourth partner, Diversified Data Services Call Centers of Lancaster, Pa., will establish a hotline to field consumer queries.

As in other states, deregulation is expected to trigger competition among energy suppliers, breaking long-term monopolies and resulting in economic benefits for consumers

Powell Tate, which partnered with Fitzgerald on Georgia’s natural gas deregulation campaign, will handle public relations and community outreach. CRPP’s research suggests going beyond mass media marketing into community-based outreach organizations for maximum consumer impact.

“Our initial effort is to make consumers aware that things are changing and they are going to have a choice,” said Piligian. “The second phase will teach them how to shop for suppliers.”

Virginia consumers will begin selecting electricity suppliers next January. Natural gas selection is already under way. The deadline for the entire process is January 2004.

The five-month review was initiated by Virginia’s State Corporate Commission. The Richmond-based entity will oversee the campaign, along with with the state’s Consumer Education Commission.