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Yankee Gas Swaps Line for Publicity With Martha Stewart

Yankee Gas Swaps Line for Publicity With Martha Stewart

At a time when the gas distributors and marketers are spending big bucks importing celebreties to popularize their brand names in the retail market, Yankee Gas in Meriden, CT, has engineered a swap with one - none other than the ultimate TV homemaker, Martha Stewart - in its own backyard.

Yankee Chairman and President Branko Terzic worked out a barter deal with the star of Martha Stewart Living that enabled her to get the natural gas she needed to cook on her show. In return Yankee got a well-known personality to plug the company's name at a fraction of the cost normally involved in endorsements.

The arrangement was formed shortly after Stewart purchased a "1920s era brick and cobblestone factory building" as a studio to do her daily television show. The building was located on the Westport-Norwalk border near Yankee Gas' service territory, but in order for Stewart to get the gas service she wanted, Yankee had to build an extension line that would have been a "significant" cost to Stewart, Terzic said. Normally the cost wouldn't have been a big issue for Stewart, but at the time she was in the process of negotiating to buy her company from NBC. This put her in somewhat of a cash-strapped position.

"I didn't want to lose her as a contact. And she said 'I really want natural gas. I prefer natural gas. I have it in my home,' so we worked out the right to use her name on our promotions, to have her on the cover of the annual report, and to have Yankee Gas listed as the provider on the daily credits on her television show" in return for building the line at no cost to Stewart.

"She has what she wanted, which was natural gas, and we're delighted because the [annual report] cover itself elicited national press coverage," from some New York newspapers and even Playboy Magazine mentioned it, said Terzic.

He acknowledged that the barter arrangement was unique. "Well, I try to be a little creative." He said he wasn't aware of any other such barter arrangements in the gas industry, but he didn't want to rule out the possibility.

Terzic hinted that he may be looking beyond Stewart. "We have lots of celebrities in our service territory. We haven't done anything with any others. But I always keep my eye open," the former FERC commissioner told NGI.

The benefits of having Stewart aboard at Yankee Gas have been manifold, Terzic noted, including "wide publicity, more potential investors are aware of us, as well as analysts and media people." It has given Yankee, which is only nine years old, "higher visibility," and has helped to fill a void. "We needed to present ourselves [as] more than a company that's been around with the same name for 150 years, like our two neighbors."

Susan Parker

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