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Energy Firms Join Cooperative Marketing Effort

Energy Firms Join Cooperative Marketing Effort

Prosper Business Development Corp., along with Energy.com Corp., has launched the energy industry's first cooperative marketing campaign aimed at eliminating the confusion about gas retail choice at the small commercial and residential level, and at making it affordable for gas marketing companies to target these two customer classes.

The effort was kicked off in Chicago recently, with more than 100,000 businesses receiving the 16-page Energy Values Guide focusing on gas unbundling by either direct mail or as an insert in Crain's Chicago Business. Prosper Business plans to conduct similar mass mailings of the publication to gas consumers in the Columbus, OH, market in September, and to 450,000 homeowners in Atlanta, GA, in November.

The Energy Values Guide provides small commercial and residential users with "straight-talk information" on customer choice in natural gas markets, including "tips on how to choose a supplier [and] how marketers make money," said Philip Rist, vice president of Prosper Business, a marketing and consulting group in Columbus, OH. "It's almost like a Consumer's Report type" of publication. The guide is supported by cooperative advertising from Columbia Energy, Nicor Energy, WPS Energy, UtiliCorp Energy Solutions/Energy One and other companies.

Prior to mailing the Guide, "we also support it with radio advertising," urging customers to watch for the publication in their mailboxes or to visit the www.energy.com Web site for information. "The Chicago radio spots actually said 'featuring offers from Columbia Energy, Nicor, UtiliCorp...," Rist noted.

While the aim of the publication is to eliminate the confusion about retail choice for commercial and residential customers, it also has enabled companies to market to these smaller customers without it costing them dearly. "What this Energy Values program does is basically allow companies to come in for less than seven cents a household and be included in a mass market program with print, radio and also an Internet connection," he said. "So all of a sudden it makes marketing to the residential market and the small commercial market very affordable. Also it's very convenient for the customer."

Rist believes there's going to be a big demand for this type of marketing program by energy companies, whether they be gas- or electricity-related. Many of the companies have been "working in a monopolistic environment and the whole idea of competition, actually kind of like fighting it out in the street, is a talent they haven't used in a while. It's kind of like taking Joe Frazier and putting him in the ring today."

Energy.com, which is involved in the program and is a client of Prosper Business, is an Internet-based company that serves the needs of energy consumers through news and information, and eventually will provide on-line shopping services. Further information about the mass marketing program can be obtained from either logging on to www.energy.com or www.4prosper.com.

In a related development, Belden &amp Blake Corp., a gas marketer and producer, has entered into an license agreement to exclusively use Prosper Business' Direct to Market and Instant Savings Analysis interactive marketing systems in specific Midwest markets.

Belden &amp Blake, which is headquartered in North Canton, OH, markets 200 MMcf/d of gas to a six-state area, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky. An estimated 93% of all the gas it markets is its own.

The Instant-Savings-Analysis product is aimed at shortening the time it takes between a company salesperson giving a quote to a commercial account over the telephone and closing the actual sale in person, Rist said. The Direct-to-Market product "takes that process a step further and it actually links advertising with sales direct by allowing a customer who sees an ad or gets a direct mail piece to fill out a form with their [current] billing information on it, and to send the form in via fax. [From there], it goes into an automated computer system where it's read by the computer, not by a person, and the computer automatically in 2-3 minutes sends back to the prospect a savings analysis and rate quote without the need for the company to have a staff of people." He said Prosper Business, which specializes in increasing the marketing productivity of companies that are in industries going through deregulation, piloted the latter product for UtiliCorp Energy One in the Chicago market in 1996.

Susan Parker

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