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PERC, new communications firm explore branding strategies

August 1, 2012 By    

Propane is “exceptional energy,” but is that good enough?

That question was pondered when the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) met on July 11 in Napa, Calif.

The council discussed whether it’s time to modify the industry moniker, “Propane: Exceptional Energy,” amid today’s changing energy environment. The topic surfaced during a presentation on brand refinement by Brent Schott and Katie Sands of Swanson Russell, PERC’s new lead communications firm. The council agreed to pay Swanson Russell,Hanley Wood and several other vendors about $4 million for a market outreach and communications program for the second half of 2012 while a strategy is developed and refined for 2013. Swanson Russell, the lead vendor, says those funds will be used in many different areas, including for media buys, printing and photography, and would be spent only as the work is completed.

PERC President Roy Willis says people inside and outside the council are pushing to link propane more closely to natural gas – with shale drilling significantly boosting natural gas supply and attention in recent years – and he’s willing to explore the possibility of presenting propane in a different light. Willis says the tagline has been in place since 1998, but different phrasing or new keywords might serve the propane industry better.

“Seventy percent of [propane] now comes from natural gas, and there continues to be a push for natural gas in this country. More people are more favorable to natural gas,” PERC Chairman Joe Armentano of Paraco Gas says. “If we can link off it, it would be helpful. We’re always looking to get away from our ties to oil.”

In response to Willis’ questions on exploring a branding change, Sands says, “It’s a time of enormous change in the marketplace. Whether or not the brand should be changed completely, it’s the right time to be asking those questions.”

The discussion was an offshoot of Swanson Russell’s presentation on brand refinement and PERC priorities for the rest of 2012. Over the next 12 to 13 weeks, the Lincoln, Neb.-based agency will help PERC improve the branding of programs with more consistency in tone of voice and style, Schott says. The agency will also provide product launch support for a new line of towable generators, the Freightliner 8.0-liter propane bobtail and the PSI irrigation engine.

Another major issue that Swanson Russell will address is a low level of national awareness about propane. A new public relations initiative called “Thought Leadership” aims to elevate propane’s visibility and highlight council activities to national, local and trade media.

Willis and Armentano expressed to Swanson Russell the need to measure the progress and level of success of these communications strategies.

In other PERC news, the council proposed a $36 million budget for 2013, with final approval expected at the October meeting. The budget allots $20.3 million, or 56 percent, for operating programs – $10.8 million for research and development, $5.9 million for training and $3.6 million for safety.

The council also approved funding for the following projects, with principal contractor:

• $2.7 million to PERC for the Partnership with States program, which supports the industry in safety (73 percent of funding), research and development (16 percent) and training (11 percent) by matching state association funds that are allocated based on the API sales survey.

• $700,000 to Certification Services International (CSI) for a 6.0-liter heavy-duty liquid propane engine to fit on-road and off-road applications. CSI provides certification on alternative fuel conversion systems and engines through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Total project cost is $1.6 million; lateral certification with a compressed natural gas engine reduces costs.

• $552,500 to Southwest Research Institute, GM Millbrook and Livernois to investigate spark ignited direct injection engine technology for propane autogas.

• $450,000 to Southwest Research Instititue for a diesel/propane dual fuel evaluation project, which will evaluate the potential of the Navistar DT466 diesel engine to operate a dual-fuel system.

• $400,000 to GSI Inc. for an advanced efficiency, high capacity tower dryer for grain.

• $356,500 to Sales Transformation Now for marketer technology and sales training, helping the propane marketer take advantage of new business opportunities created by new products.

• $244,918 to Dashe & Thompson for a CETP update on performing railcar product transfers and maintaining DOT intermodal tanks.

• $200,000 to Roush and New Eagle for a large spark ignited engine evaluation project, which aims to assess a 7.6-liter, I6 turbocharged engine converted from a diesel base platform.

• $160,000 to PERC for 2012 industry outreach, covering operating expenses required to interact directly with industry members.

• $154,000 to Power Solutions Inc. for PSI 2.0- and 2.4-liter propane engine development and certification. The engines would offer a replacement for two GM engines in the forklift market.

• $50,000 to the Dunlap Group for a CARB certification roadmap, which would clarify expectations for vehicle certification; help ensure propane is recognized in the California fuels marketplace; and serve as a contact for PERC partners seeking regulatory recognition in the state.

Willis also approved $35,000 for a Yanmar gas heat pump market study.

Since the April meeting, PERC has approved 69 state rebate requests totaling about $1.8 million.

The council will meet next on Oct. 3-4 in Colorado Springs, Colo. – Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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