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June 17, 2010
PR Plight of BP Dealers
Think BP has a PR problem? How about the independent small business dealers who sell gasoline at their BP-branded stations? They didn't spill anything. They don't even necessarily sell BP-refined gas. But they're being boycotted because of the name on their signs, and they have long-term contracts with BP.

So what do BP dealers do to to defend themselves? The Wall Street Journal looks at that all-too-timely PR question.

Here's the situation in a Journal nutshell: "Nearly all the 10,000 service stations around the U.S. flying the BP flag are owned by independent dealers that are obligated under long-term contracts to sell BP fuel. The actual gasoline sold at any station is a mixture of fuel from multiple refiners or importers, so the direct impact of any slowdown at BP-branded stations is minimal for the company, which can also sell excess supplies as private-label fuels to other retailers. Maintaining a brand presence is important to BP but the marketing segment only represents a sliver of profits for the oil company."

The backlash, not yet widespread but growing, started when tar balls began washing ashore, the WSJ reports. BP dealers are easy targets, all too easy. Many must be wishing they had created stronger word-of-mouth identities and loyalties. "People are kind of melting away," says one dealer.

BP employees are trying to help out. They're "working with local fuel retailers to launch grass-roots marketing campaigns and are visiting sites to talk to outraged consumers," says the director of the BP Amoco Marketers Association. And BP is reportedly giving retailers a full reimbursement for advertising, rather than splitting the costs, the normal practice."

However, the situation is an illustration of the importance of community standing for small businesses. BP dealers "believe with their standing in the community their customers are going to support them," says Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association for America.

That's if, we'd suggest, a dealer troubled to be expressly concerned about community standing beforehand. Like, for example, smiling when they pay out for winning lottery tickets or training their employees in relationship skills.




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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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