Why a Texas Oilman Is Spending $58 Million to Promote Wind Power

Advertising_age_jpegT. Boone Pickens new ad deluge, the "Pickens Plan," is getting a lot of positive and negative attention from environmentalists.   Some are excited to see what impact the oil man’s campaign will have on those who still see mitigating climate change as a threat to the economy.  While the ads might draw new support for renewable energy policies, the plan is not completely aligned with environmentalists’ interests.

Pickens Plan to Reduce Dependence on Foreign Energy Faces Criticism

T. Boone Pickens flew into Sweetwater,
Texas, on his Gulfstream G550 private jet last Thursday, then made his
way to one of the biggest wind farms in the country.

As cameras rolled, Mr. Pickens walked amid the hundreds of wind
turbines that dot the flat Texas plains, his slow Okie drawl once again
the star of a TV commercial promoting his "Pickens Plan," which aims to
turn Texas into the Saudi Arabia of wind.

The spot will be the next iteration of a $58 million public-relations
and advertising blitz that started July 8 and has been both widely
criticized and widely praised.

(Buffalo-based Joe Slade White & Co., a veteran political ad agency with 400 campaigns to its credit, created the TV spots.)

The campaign argues that America’s $700 billion-a-year foreign-oil
habit can be broken with an expansion of wind power that would free up
demand for natural gas, which could then be used to power vehicles such
as the Honda Civic GX.

‘Swift Boat’ sponsor
Since the Pickens spots began airing on national cable networks such as
CNN and MSNBC and full-page ads ran in the likes of USA Today and The
Wall Street Journal, the billionaire — who gained notoriety in the
last presidential election by helping fund the "Swift Boat" campaign
against John Kerry — has become a virtual household name.

With gas prices above $4 a gallon, it was a story that offered
a compelling narrative — an oilman going green — and prompted a rash
of national media coverage. In all likelihood, the $58 million in paid
media from Mr. Pickens’ own pockets has already been matched in unpaid
media hits.

"Our goal was all Boone all the time, and we’ve exceeded our goals,
which is easy with a client like Boone Pickens," said Melissa McKay of
Sloane & Co., who is handling PR for the campaign. "He’s very easy
to sell."

Before the campaign, Mr. Pickens didn’t have a Facebook page; now he’s
got 3,279 friends and counting. His Sweetwater visit prompted a local
media frenzy. "Sweetwater Basking in the Glow of Television Lights,"
read the headline in one local newspaper. National media swarmed to the
small town in central Texas, population 10,634, shooting segments with
local development officials and residents.

Blogs are also afire with a mix of criticism and praise for the plan.
Critics have pointed out that Mr. Pickens is pushing wind at the same
time he’s building the biggest wind farm in America on a 400,000-acre
stretch of land in the Texas Panhandle.

Corporate welfare?
"Everything he is outlining in this plan will pad his already ample
bank account," said Jerry Taylor, senior fellow at the Cato Institute,
who likened the plan to corporate welfare, since it calls for $1
trillion in government investment and an extension of tax credits for
wind companies that are set to expire at the end of 2008.

Mr. Pickens’ own PR man, Jay Rosser, who handles public
relations at BP Capital, an investment fund owned by the oilman,
defended his boss’ motivations.

"He’s 80 years old. His net worth is in excess of $4 billion, and he’s
given away $700 million in the last five years. The bulk of his estate
will go to charity," Mr. Rosser said in an interview. "This is about a
realistic, practical energy plan for America."

Mr. Rosser also repeatedly characterized the buzz created by
the campaign as "grass-roots." But it’s clearly carefully orchestrated,
using every new-media tool available.

At pickensplan.com,
there are video blogs by Mr. Pickens and a Facebook-style sign-up tool
that’s already attracted 50,145 members, who have posted pictures,
started heated debates on discussion boards, filled out profiles and
invited friends.

Invested in the plan
A bio of Mr. Pickens on the campaign website carefully downplays the
billionaire’s stake in wind. Forbes magazine pointed out in a recent
article that the Pickens plan lines up nicely with his business
interests in Mesa Power, which recently spent $2 billion to purchase
667 General Electric wind turbines.

Mr. Rosser defended the omissions, saying Mr. Pickens frequently talks
about his wind-farm plans in media interviews, arguing there’s no
reason to hide anything since focus groups have shown that Americans
simply don’t care.

"They want a plan, and they would like someone to invest in the plan and have some skin in the game," Mr. Rosser said.

So does Mr. Pickens have a chance of changing consumer views about how to solve America’s energy crisis?

Ed Legge, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a
Washington-based trade association for electric-utility companies,
including Duke and Exelon, said he expects consumers to eventually get
a reality check on wind’s shortcomings.

"You can’t depend on wind," Mr. Legge said. "Our customers are trained
to expect the power is available and on. An intermittent source is
automatically problematic, and that’s what wind is right now. Wind
stops blowing."

EEI favors the development of plug-in hybrids to solve the nation’s
dependence on oil, readily admitting that it favors the electric

No Responses to “Why a Texas Oilman Is Spending $58 Million to Promote Wind Power”

  1. It’s just a good plan: Pickens Plan

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