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CHECKMATE?PACIFICORP'S BOLD AD CAMPAIGN HAS LEFT PINWEST LOOKING LIKE A DORK

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Gutierrez claims his polling data show that public acceptance of PacifiCorp is "substantially higher" than of APS, and that increasing numbers of people, including those in leadership positions, are resigned to the "fact" that, sooner or later, PacifiCorp will prevail.

PacifiCorp has not persuaded all those in local leadership ranks. Michael Welborn, chairman of Citibank in Phoenix, says he has not been contacted and worries about whether PacifiCorp will be as generous as PinWest in supporting local causes. "I don't know what PacifiCorp would be, but I know APS has been very involved and boy, we really need that," says Welborn, who helps chair the annual United Way funding drive. (PacifiCorp increased the amount of local donations after acquiring Utah Power & Light and recently got a good citizenship award from Utah Governor Norm Bangerter. If it did the same thing in Arizona, it'd have to top APS' annual community contributions of $750,000 in cash donations and more than 4,000 hours of volunteer time.)

Attorney Cohen, who also happens to chair the Phoenix Arts Commission, says, "This is an area I personally looked into, and I'm confident they will participate fully. Indeed, I was pleased with their record and attitude in this area."

THE PACIFICORP DIGS are a sharp contrast to the office of APS President Mark De Michele, or that of PinWest CEO Richard Snell, from which people on the ground look like ants. The contrast holds true for PinWest's effort to counterattack.

Where PacifiCorp reaps praise from advertising experts for waging a "brilliant," "gentlemanly" campaign on the merits, PinWest's efforts to rehabilitate its image are labeled "ineffective, clumsy and late in coming."

Phoenix residents hate APS so much, in fact, that efforts to advertise its virtues are apt to provoke more sneers, the experts say. "It's the company everybody loves to hate," Francine Hardaway says.

The PinWest follies--particularly APS' history of high rates and managerial goofs--have made so many people so angry for so long that PinWest has become, in essence, PacifiCorp's secret weapon. "We know you have a plan, but we don't care," one irate stockholder told PinWest directors at the annual meeting. "Listen to me carefully, you have no credibility with us."

Snell is purposely vague in describing how he plans to combat PacifiCorp. "Basically ours is a public information campaign, with some ads, some one-on-ones, some speaking," he says. "We will not descend to the depths they have, but we're gonna do what's necessary to dispel some of the misinformation that's out there."

Snell refers to a PacifiCorp radio ad suggesting that APS' current, record-high rate request is needed to pay off debt from PinWest's disastrous diversification schemes. "Even Marcia Weeks with the corporation commission said that went too far," Snell says. (In February, Weeks told New Times, "When the public asks `Is APS requesting this rate increase to pay off the MeraBank deal?' I think the answer is `Yes,' though they don't directly state it." Weeks now says the PacifiCorp radio ad "is a bit of a stretch, in that it suggests the rate hike is going directly to PinWest, but otherwise I don't have a problem with it.")

Pressed for other examples of "misinformation" in PacifiCorp ads, Snell says, "I don't have the ads that firmly in mind, I can't think of any right offhand."

Snell says PinWest operatives have looked into PacifiCorp's record elsewhere and hints they found damaging information, but he declines to discuss it. "I'd rather not comment on what we know about them, release of the information depends on what they do next," he says. "But we're quite prepared to respond to any move they make."

PinWest has not attempted to assess the impact of PacifiCorp's campaign through surveys or other scientific means, Snell says, but his "anecdotal impression" is that PinWest still has solid support among community leaders. "We've had a New York-based firm on retainer for a while to help us with strategy," he says, but adds that the firm's job is to lobby the nation's financial community, not the people of Phoenix.

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Kathleen Stanton