By RICK RUGGLES, Santa Fe New Mexican
SANTA FE, NM (AP) – The New Mexico utility company invested more than $ 1 million in advertising from March through June to market its proposed Avangrid merger to the public.
Of the four invoices sent to PNM by marketing firm Albuquerque 3 Advertising, there is one from early March for $ 864,290 for the planning and production of advertising campaigns, as well as broadcast, radio, digital and printed, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The expenses – and in-person visits by PNM and Avangrid executives to key influencers – indicate companies are not only facing a challenge in securing approval for the merger by the Public Regulatory Commission. They are also seeking broader public support in a process that could immediately go to the state’s Supreme Court if the commission rejects the proposal.
Advertising continues to pour in.
“Well, there are a lot of them for sure. It’s pretty incredible, ”said Jeff Albright, who represents Bernalillo County in this matter. “I think it would be good if they put the same level of effort into working with the parties” affected by the proposal.
Connecticut-based Avangrid, which hopes to buy PNM for $ 8.3 billion, has had a bumpy ride since announcing the planned merger late last year. Avangrid has been accused, among other things, of withholding information from the Public Regulatory Commission about service issues involving its subsidiaries in the northeastern United States.
Avangrid ran a full-page newspaper ad in The New Mexican on July 11, titled “An Open Letter to New Mexico from AVANGRID.” The letter, signed “Humbly Yours, Bob” was from Bob Kump, President and Deputy CEO of Avangrid.
He wrote that Avangrid “never intended to leave the impression that we were withholding information and if we created that impression, we apologize.”
PNM and Avangrid also published a joint full-page ad that day in The New Mexican which stated: “PNM merges with AVANGRID”. But the approval of the merger by the Public Regulatory Commission seems uncertain.
And businesses don’t just advertise. PNM, Avangrid and Avangrid’s parent company, Iberdrola, based in Spain, invited their bosses to chat with people who have contributed to key organizations’ positions on the proposed merger.
Pedro Azagra Blázquez, who serves the dual role of Avangrid board member and Iberdrola director of corporate development, came to New Mexico last Monday to garner support for the proposal.
Among those he met in Albuquerque were representatives from Bernalillo County and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utilities Authority, neither of whom signed the merger proposal.
“We are still trying to close the gap and we are making progress,” Albright said, adding that there was “still a long way to go.” Attempts to schedule an interview with Blázquez through Avangrid and PNM public relations staff were unsuccessful.
Many organizations have agreed to the proposed merger. These include the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Western Resource Advocates and the NAVA Education Project.
And some haven’t, including the Sierra Club and the New Mexico Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance.
Some of the outstanding issues include the composition of the board that would oversee the PNM, the amount of economic development assistance that would be given directly to the state as part of the deal, and an investigation in Spain into wrongdoing. potential involving two Iberdrola executives and executives from other companies. .
Avangrid said the investigation was only a fact-finding mission, adding that there had been no charges and that Iberdrola was cooperating with investigators.
The merger proposal has the backing of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Hector Balderas, both Democrats.
Supporters say MNP and New Mexico are lagging behind in converting to increasingly important renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. They say New Mexico is teeming with both and that Avangrid and Iberdrola, who have considerable experience in renewables, could bring the state into a new era.
Pat Vincent-Collawn, president and CEO of PNM Resources, was among the executives of Avangrid and PNM who met with representatives of The New Mexican’s editorial board in May.
Speaking at this meeting, Vincent-Collawn said, “I’m sure you know we would like you to take a good look and finally approve of the merger we are talking about with the Avangrid family of companies. … But today we would like to answer each of your questions, however difficult they may be.
PNM and Avangrid make their arguments about the importance of this merger through advertisements. “They say shareholders are paying for it,” said Mariel Nanasi of Santa Fe, merger critic. “Almost every week now, they have advertisements in the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican.”
Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University in Illinois, said “you have to make sure the benefits come in” when companies come up with a proposal like this. Calkins did not study the New Mexico situation in depth.
“Some of the negatives get a lot of attention and overwhelm the positives,” he said. He said it was best to build an image for businesses early on because “playing catch-up” is difficult. “And when you miss that window, it’s hard to get past it.”
The four invoices to PNM from 3 Advertising were acquired by Nanasi, responsible for New Energy Economy. Nanasi is a staunch opponent of PNM and the merger who has searched document after document through the discovery process authorized in the affairs of the Public Regulatory Commission.
Documents acquired through discovery are shared with dozens of other participants in a case, such as lawyers and staff, and may become relevant to a case.
Avangrid hired Joanie Griffin, a marketing and public relations specialist at Sunny505 in Albuquerque, to help with ads and media relations. Griffin said she and her company were receiving their standard rate, totaling $ 150 per hour.
The advertisements are designed to “showcase the business” in New Mexico. Griffin helps write the advertising copy and design the marketing strategy.
“They hired me to have someone on the team who is local and knows the media here,” she wrote. “Advertising is one of the ways we use… to get the truth out. “
Griffin, contracted for the service in May, said by email: “I have joined the effort because I think the merger is the best way for New Mexico to meet the governor’s goals. be 100% renewable by 2045. ” She said the feedback she was getting from people on the proposal was excellent.
Some expert witnesses, such as Scott Heempling, a Maryland lawyer who has written extensively on utilities, offered scorching written assessments of the merger proposal. The proposal is required by the commission to be in the public interest. Heempling said the proposal seemed designed to benefit shareholders rather than the public.
Commission hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer, who serves as a quasi-judge with recommending authority to the final decisions panel, has handed down harsh rulings against the companies. In one, he asked PNM and Avangrid to publicly disclose a letter they had sought to keep confidential.
In another, Schannauer said Iberdrola should be included as a claimant in the proceeding despite the company’s wish to stay out of the process.
Albright said PNM and Avangrid hoped to have a hearing in March, but that was pushed back to August. He said of the Avangrid leadership: “I don’t think they have a good idea both of the process and of the different entities that would be involved here. “
The ad has given many New Mexico media outlets a fair amount of money, although none say how much. An invoice showed that full-page ads had been placed in nine New Mexico newspapers in May. This invoice from 3 Advertising showed an invoice for $ 180,763 to PNM.
PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval did not return messages for the story.
The company also advertises in small media.
“We get at least two a month,” said Cynthia Fitch, advertising representative for Las Vegas Optic. PNM and Avangrid usually run different ads, she said. She said the New Mexico Press Association is helping her newspaper and others in the process.
Not all media received a portion of the advertising revenue from the merging companies. Bill Anderson, vice president and general manager of KRQE-TV in Albuquerque, said PNM has an account with his TV channel but not Avangrid.
Anderson said, “We just haven’t met the new guys yet.”
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