CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
In launching Exelon, we had the opportunity to brand the company at its genesis as an innovator and visionary in the utility industry. The challenge was to communicate the benefits of the merger and to position a virtually unknown company as a leader in a mature industry. The merger was announced on September 23, 1999 and was completed in record time, but Exelon was not widely known or highly regarded among analysts and the financial media. Furthermore, we needed to assure shareholders and investors that the value of the merged company would continue to be a strong investment.
Our target audiences included analysts, financial and business media, key opinion leaders, shareholders, customers and employees. Our objectives were to introduce the brand and to communicate the new ticker symbol, the benefits of the merger and Exelon’s mission.
RESEARCH AND STRATEGIC PLANNING
Research conducted for Exelon’s brand positioning and advertising strategy helped us to develop our public relations messages, define our target audiences and the methods by which we would reach them. Preliminary research among analysts showed low brand awareness of Exelon. Other research included customer satisfaction surveys as well as research about the category, customer affinity for electricity providers, and the deregulated environment in which Exelon would be operating. The Financial Relations Board (FRB), our sister agency, conducted preliminary research that showed most analysts did not understand the benefits of a merger of two utility companies from separate geographical regions. One analyst asked, “Synergy? What synergy?” Given our challenges, we needed to educate and inform our target audiences and demonstrate that Exelon was an exciting new company to watch.
Our initial plans called for the co-CEOs, Corbin McNeill (formerly of PECO) and John Rowe (formerly of Unicom), to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the company’s first day of trading. However, it was important for Exelon to announce the merger and begin trading as close as possible to SEC approval, the timing of which was not a fixed variable. The stock exchange was already booked once we received SEC approval, and we determined the news value would have been diminished if we postponed the announcement beyond day one of trading. Despite these factors and our tight time frame, we implemented a successful media relations plan that spotlighted Exelon on its first trading day.
Media Relations –Earned media was key to launching the brand between the merger announcement and the launch of the national advertising campaign, a three-month period. We coordinated the following media relations activities starting on October 23:
We distributed a press release over the news wires and posted it to Exelon’s website.
We secured an interview with Bloomberg Business News.
We organized a media roundtable in Chicago with the co-CEOs of Exelon, attended live and via conference call by reporters from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Dow Jones, Reuters, Business Week and USA Today, among others.
We created and distributed a press kit to tier one newspapers, tier one wire services, and business and financial-oriented consumer and trade publications, as well as local media in Philadelphia and Chicago. The press kit included fact sheets about Exelon’s divisions, bios on the co-CEO’s and the management team, and a press release announcing the merger finalization and trading date.
We conducted post-launch follow up, which included a webcast financial analyst conference in New York on November 15, viewed by the Wall Street Journal, Down Jones, Reuters and the Chicago Tribune, among others. Follow up resulted in interviews with Barron’s, Leader’s Magazine and MSNBC.
Direct Mail - We developed three premium direct mail pieces to support our outreach to the investor relations community and shareholders. These pieces were designed to be consistent with the look and feel of the advertising campaign, which launched in January 2001 (see Bronze entry).
Reveal Piece – An announcement mailer was the primary investor relations piece, sent to approximately 2,000 brokers, analysts and others in the investor relations community the week the ticker symbol changed.
Mag Brochure – We produced an 8-page full-color glossy brochure, entitled ON, to introduce the new company and welcome shareholders. This was designed as an interim piece prior to the creation of Exelon’s first annual report. We included a letter to shareholders from the co-CEOs and mailed ON at the end of January 2001 to more than 22,000 employees, 350,000 shareholders and annuitants and retirees.
Dimensional Mailer –This dimensional box was produced in 2000 and includes a premium silver bridge clock to symbolize bridging the gap between the ordinary and the extraordinary and a linking to the future. In the first quarter of 2001, ON will be sent to the investor relations community and to large industrial and commercial clients as part of the dimensional mailer.
Employee Communications – Exelon welcomed employees in Chicago and Philadelphia through a variety of activities, including a company newsletter, the mailing of ON, a “sister city” event, and the distribution of a welcome kit (enclosed).
To date, media relations efforts have resulted in more than 31 million consumer impressions through print and broadcast media coverage (media report enclosed). In addition to national financial news coverage, we received coverage on all major TV and radio stations in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Because the direct mail pieces were informational in nature and not designed to elicit a response, we did not build criteria for efficacy into their design. However, these pieces clearly communicated our messages and are important vehicles for Exelon to continue ongoing communication with its shareholders and with industry observers.
One indication of the impact of our communications activities is the stock performance. It was important for our public relations efforts to result in positive coverage for Exelon in order to encourage credibility and value in the stock. Baseline research for the ad campaign conducted among over 150 national and local opinion leaders and financial analysts in November 2000 found that five percent of the national financial analysts surveyed and one in five local analysts had recommended Exelon as an investment. As of January, 2001, fifteen brokers were covering Exelon, with more than half recommending the stock as a strong buy. The stock went from 36 to 59.50 on the first day of trading, with a 52-week range of 35.9-71. On November 9, 2000, Deutsche Bc Alex. Br initiated the stock as a strong buy, and on January 8, 2001, UBS Warburg upgraded the stock from buy to strong buy. Furthermore, Exelon was the best performing stock on the Dow Utility Index in 2000.
These results demonstrate that we met and exceeded our objectives for the initial brand launch of Exelon. Our strategic and targeted communications activities were vital to branding Exelon between its first day on the NYSE and the launch of the advertising campaign in late January.