Environmental campaign requires front-line action

October 7, 2021 By    

While we have good reason to celebrate the environmental messaging playbook introduced by the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), with the new logo and messaging, we also have reason to proceed with optimistic caution.

Our effectiveness ultimately lies in our industry’s ability to impact our states and local communities where the energy decisions are implemented. The problem is the propane industry does not have a good track record on the front line. Historically, propane marketers have not used PERC resources and tools at meaningful levels. Lobbying at the state level is generally performed by a select few. Finally, most state associations are not equipped to create and execute the kind of holistic strategy required to counter the well-organized and resourced electrify-everything movement.

All of this lends itself to making paid media the main part of our industry’s fight, which will promote the new logo and environmental messaging. Our traditional mindset to achieve a desired end, such as grow gallons, is advertising. But how has that worked out for us? The reality is our industry is too small to influence public opinion through paid media, especially in today’s overly saturated media world. Therefore, let’s not pin much hope on PERC’s state advertising campaign. Leaders of state associations should be wary of this “dry hole” before committing its limited resources for the campaign’s paid media.

If paid media is not our imperative for success, what is? The answer lies in the enduring fact that all politics is local. Therefore, the engagement of our industry members through the state associations is our imperative. Our new logo and messaging provide the start. The hard part is creating a holistic strategy, preparing and supporting industry members, and managing the execution of the strategy.

Here are the most critical elements of the playbook:

⦁ Customer communication: Direct communication from the propane marketer to the industry’s more than 10 million customers. The propane marketer must communicate through a combination of its newsletters, webpages and employees who come in contact with the customer. This is more complicated than it sounds, and most propane marketers do none of this well. For example, Chris Caywood’s LP Gas column in July shared that only 6 percent of propane marketers in his delivery area talk about the environment on their webpages. Current propane users have chosen to use our product for a variety of reasons and may or may not be receptive to complex explanations regarding “renewable” fuel sources (solar and wind) that are promising to deliver energy that’s totally clean.

⦁ Local lobbying: Educating county supervisors and city officials about the benefits of propane and the negative impact of wind and solar on the natural beauty of rural communities should happen before use permits are granted or agriculture land is rezoned.

⦁ Local partnerships: Propane marketers should seek like-minded community leaders when creating strategies. Our industry is paying more attention to these potential constituents, but effective partnerships take time to identify and develop.

⦁ Opinion writers: Develop relationships with people who will write letters to local papers touting a personal experience with the benefits of propane as a fuel source or the negative effect of solar fields and wind farms that have already become eyesores in rural areas. These people are likely customers who could be provided with relevant facts from PERC research and suggested talking points that will help formulate a message in their own words.

⦁ Counter false and/or negative information: The misinformation about propane and the electrification movement is everywhere. NPGA and PERC are tasked with countering false claims in the national media. For example, a recent article in The New Yorker stated cooking with gas caused up to 30 percent of childhood asthma – a claim supported with flimsy research. Misinformation in the local media must be identified and countered through the state associations and its volunteers.

As an industry, we certainly have our work cut out for us. Are we up for the challenge?

Randy Doyle is a 40-year industry veteran who serves on the NPGA board of directors and is active in the Virginia Propane Gas Association. He is a past PERC councilor. He consults with Holtzman Propane in Mt. Jackson, Virginia.

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