Texas Appoints Utility Players

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has named four finalists in its search for an agency to create the first consumer- education campaign promoting the opening of the state’s energy market to alternative providers in 2002.

Agency sources last week said Sherry Matthews Advertising in Austin, Texas, and Dallas shops Burson-Marsteller, McCann-Erickson Southwest and Berry-Brown Advertising have all advanced to the finals.

At least two of the contending agencies currently do business with the state. McCann-Erickson last year acquired the Texas tourism business, while Sherry Matthews handles several government accounts, including the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse’s Partnership for a Drug-Free Texas program.

The PUC contract, once awarded, will be one of the largest in the state for a government entity. The project will be funded at $12 million for the first year. The assignment’s four-year expenditures could amount to as much as $48 million.

The PUC, based in Austin, heard oral presentations last week and is expected to select an agency within a matter of days. The review is being managed in-house.

According to the request for proposals, the PUC is looking for an integrated campaign that includes public relations and the creation of a Web site, as well as traditional advertising.

According to Bob Bartels, customer education liaison at the PUC, all of the finalists have partnered with other Texas agencies, including public relations and Hispanic specialists, in order to provide a full slate of communications services.

The PUC’s review committee will be evaluating the agencies’ presentations based on the findings of a consultant. The group hired the specialist to evaluate similar public-education campaigns in states such as Connecticut and Maryland, where competitive energy markets have already been introduced.

“Customer education has played an important role in helping prepare customers for the changes that are coming,” Bartels said.

The state’s effort has been temporarily tagged the “Texas choice program.”

Texas currently licenses 10 private companies to supply energy to about 80 percent of the marketplace. The remainder is serviced by utilities owned by municipalities or energy cooperatives.