Take control of your messages to improve perceptions of propane

September 3, 2013 By    

Propane and popular culture haven’t exactly had a smooth marriage.

From the television screen to the big screen, propane is often linked to fire and outlandish actions. Examples are aplenty.

A new series on CBS called “Under the Dome” portrays propane in a sinister way. Corrupt city officials are using it to manufacture drugs. And one recent episode involved a shootout and subsequent explosion of a truck carrying propane tanks.

Former television series “CSI: Miami” had a 2011 episode titled “Propane Killer,” in which investigators probe a propane explosion at a hotel.

A short video promoting the recently released animated Disney movie “Planes” features the airplane character El Chupacabra, who, in touting his strengths and abilities, leaves a path of destruction in his wake. In one scene, wind from the plane shatters the windows of an airport control tower and leads to a “J&E Propane” tank explosion.

“Over the Hedge,” another animated movie that was released in 2006, includes a scene where two characters are jettisoned high into the air on a propane cylinder. While they parachute down on an umbrella, the cylinder crashes into a car and causes an explosion.

In the 2006 movie “Casino Royale,” James Bond creates a fireball by shooting a 100-pound propane tank with a handgun, prompting the Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” to test the action by actually shooting at empty and filled tanks. At least one propane company houses the YouTube footage that disproves the actuality of the Bond scene.

So what gives? I wonder whether the portable nature of our product, which makes it so valuable to customers, leads Hollywood writers to create such wild scenes and storylines.

Back to reality

And then there are the real-life incidents that can affect perceptions.

Extensive media coverage of two particular propane incidents – severe burns suffered by ESPN anchor Hannah Storm in a December 2012 grill explosion and the July explosion at a Blue Rhino production facility in Florida – have drawn national attention to propane.

The industry must focus now, more than ever, on safety and education. We must learn from these incidents and lead, using every opportunity to remind customers about the safe use of propane while easing their concerns.

“Hannah Storm was a real hero,” says Stuart Flatow, vice president of safety and training for the Propane Education & Research Council. “She was a woman severely burned, and she could have really taken the propane industry to task. And yet, I think her bottom line was there were things she didn’t know about operating the grill.”

During a Rose Parade broadcast on Jan. 1, Storm explained in an emotional segment what went wrong when her grill flame went out on a cold December evening and she attempted to reignite it. The propane hadn’t dissipated and it exploded in her face.

Storm took time to explain to her audience about the need to wait before relighting a grill – many grill manufacturers say to wait at least five minutes, according to Flatow. These seemingly little details can make a big difference.

Spread the word

Maybe we can’t control Hollywood and the negative attention on propane, but we can control our safety messages and accentuate the positive aspects of the industry to customers and communities.

Who can forget Hurricane Sandy last fall and the heroic response of the industry to come together to provide power, heat and hot meals for customers, the portable nature of our fuel coming through? What positive impact is your company making in the community?

“Some marketers might want to consider inviting neighbors on a plant tour to show how pristine some of them are, the safety devices there and how buttoned up and straight-laced their operations are,” Flatow suggests.

Propane is a safe, versatile and valuable fuel – you know what it can offer. If you don’t educate your customers and potential customers about propane, who will?

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

About the Author:

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

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