Successful Campaigns with The Power to Change Minds

For nearly a decade, working for an upstate New York advertising agency, I was a key player in a team that created statewide marketing and public education programs regarding energy deregulation and conservation for the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) and the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA).

But first, a brief history lesson.

New York State was a regulated energy market until 1996, when the PSC started separating the charges for electricity delivery and the electricity itself on bills. This gave consumers the ability to choose their supplier and save on their bill while retaining the same wires and poles. Energy Service Companies – ESCOs – could now compete with each other and with utilities for consumers’ business.

Now, back to my story. In 1998 our agency was selected by the PSC to produce a statewide public education program augmenting the PSC’s grassroots efforts to inform consumers about the introduction of competition in New York’s energy industry. Over the next 12 years, we created cost-effective, results-oriented communication tools to reach New York’s diverse audiences —  everything from print, broadcast and outdoor to direct mail and grassroots programs.

We developed the “Your Energy.Your Choice” campaign to make consumers aware of competition and how to make informed choices. The program kicked off in 1998 including statewide TV and radio coordinated with the competition phase-in schedule in each utility territory.

The next year the program evolved into a statewide effort to put a comprehensive, plain language competition guide in the hands of millions of New Yorkers. We met this goal by creating and distributing four million copies of an eight-page newspaper insert with all the major dailies in the state.

In 2000 the potential for unprecedented natural gas prices became a reality, and the PSC devised an outreach program to make consumers aware of how the natural gas market works, why prices were rising, and how they could control heating costs. Our agency worked closely with the PSC to add a new theme while maintaining the basic competition message. The result was our “Conserve a little. Save a lot.” campaign, employing radio, print and out-of-home, along with publications, exhibits and PR to convey simple, low-cost conservation tips.

The next year the rapidly shrinking margin between electricity supply and demand resulted in the PSC asking us to design a summer conservation program. We created a campaign tagged “Conserve a Little. Save a Watt” and a new program, “Lighten Your Load,” targeted to large business customers and encouraging participation in peak demand reduction programs.

During 2002 we continued developing complementary programs to those of utilities, ESCOs and other state agencies to ensure the best possible mix of messages was delivered to New Yorkers. This included the first integrated demand reduction communications program, “Money and Power,” targeting business customers who could voluntarily curtail electric load during peak demand periods.

We also helped the PSC support the advent of the first environmental disclosure label, which indicates the fuels used to generate electricity and the resulting emissions, so consumers understand their impact on the environment. And, to involve children in the energy message, we introduced the “Kids Can Make a World of Difference” program, including activity books, stickers and pledge forms.

Starting in 2004, Green Power was a major initiative including statewide focus groups, pre- and post-awareness studies, and TV. As a result, consumer awareness increased significantly, We also launched a new website allowing New Yorkers to quickly compare competing rates.

Over the years, we maintained our proven strategy of promoting simple, affordable conservation tips through radio, out-of-home, newspaper and PR. In the winter of 2007-08, we introduced the Governor’s HeatSmartNY theme with a new TV spot promoting our tips, along with radio, outdoor and print. That winter we also inaugurated a new theme, “Rise to the Energy Challenge,” which that summer was allied with a “Cool” sub-theme tying into NYSERDA’s Air Conditioner Bounty Program.

For the summer of 2009, we highlighted energy efficiency with our campaign featuring the “Use Less Energy. Save More Green.” tagline, emphasizing simple measures like using fans instead of AC, switching to CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs), installing programmable thermostats, and purchasing Energy Star appliances.

With a track record spanning more than a decade, our firm proved time and again that a successful campaign relies on steady communication with clients and customers, consistent responsiveness, keeping all messages simple and direct, and breaking through the clutter with breakthrough creativity.