The changing self-image of the energy utilities

The ubiquitous "energy crisis," brought to the public's attention by the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, thrusted southern California’s two largest energy utilities unwillingly, and unexpectedly, into the media limelight. For the first time in their more than 100 year histories, Southern California Gas Company (the nation’s largest gas utility) and Southern California Edison Company (the fourth largest electric utility in the country), were forced to deal with energy as a “hot” public issue. The act of coping with the energy issue in this new position of importance caused far-reaching changes in the form of the two companies’ external publicity and, more importantly, had the effect of altering the two utilities’ self-identities. The author’s study took the form of attempting to explain the suspected phenomenon by proffering the following Two-Dimensional Hypothesis. First, it was hypothesized that when two companies deal with the same sensitive public issue over a long period of time, it causes a drastic alteration in the emphasis of their respective external publicity content. Second, the public issue also acts as a medium of mutual interest, creating a bridge between the two companies. This has the effect of altering their individual self identities and merging them into one self-image focused on the public issue. (See more in text)