In August of 2000, BP Amoco contacted McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations (MP&F) in Nashville, Tenn., to help roll out a new low-sulfur premium fuel to its retail outlets in Middle and West Tennessee as a part of its global initiative to bring cleaner fuels to its worldwide distribution system and particularly to cities whose air quality was low or in danger of being harmful to the environment. BP Amoco turned to MP&F to develop a public relations plan for their announcement that would reach both Middle and West Tennessee and to gain extensive local and statewide media coverage about the initiative, the importance of using cleaner fuels, and to further establish BP Amoco as a worldwide leader in the preservation of the earth’s environment. The U.S. EPA had proposed that low-sulfur gasoline requirements be met by the year 2004. BP Amoco was years ahead of time in delivering the cleaner, lower sulfur gasoline. Nashville and Memphis would join Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Birmingham, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee as the latest metropolitan areas to offer the fuel to consumers. The announcement successfully linked several other environmental initiatives and gained extensive media coverage while helping to raise awareness of BP Amoco as an oil industry leader.
MP&F faced many challenges while organizing the event. BP Amoco tasked MP&F with the responsibility of coordinating and quickly delivering the announcements. The announcements would be made in Nashville one day and Memphis the next day. MP&F had to develop a plan to garner media coverage for both cities, and deliver similar messages in very dissimilar markets while highlighting the unique benefits these products would offer to each market. They also had to draw attention to a product that had already been rolled out in other markets to widespread media coverage. And the Nashville and Memphis markets had very different air qualities and environmental issues.
Nashville was not currently suffering from harsh air pollution; Memphis was. MP&F decided to focus on the fact that BP Amoco chose Nashville because of its potential for air pollution problems, and because of the company’s operational ability to bring cleaner fuels to the region. Also, the partnerships that BP Amoco had forged with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), General Motors (GM) and Saturn allowed for an immediate impact on Tennessee and perhaps to prevent some of the dire air quality issues many cities already faced.
On the other hand, Memphis is a city that has been close to falling out of compliance with government ozone and smog requirements for years. It is also a city where an unusually high percentage of consumers already preferred premium grades of gasoline. With the dramatically low sulfur content in BP Amoco’s new fuel, it was reasonable to foresee that the product would lead to a sharp reduction in ozone-caused pollution and a measurable improvement in air quality.
MP&F was faced with packaging each partner’s message in such a way that the public understood the importance without losing the message that BP Amoco was the driving force and the other components were helping BP Amoco achieve their goals. While each group was delivering a different message, they all impacted one another greatly. GM and Saturn committed to fill all their Saturn S-Series vehicles built at the Spring Hill, Tenn., manufacturing plant with BP Amoco’s low-sulfur premium fuel. GM and Saturn’s initial fill agreement would be the equivalent of selling 3,000 additional new Saturns per year without impacting Tennessee’s air quality and they would use 600,000 gallons of clean fuel each year. Another component to the announcement was highlighting the ongoing relationship between BP Amoco and TVA, who would bring solar energy to all new BP Amoco retail outlets. With TVA’s involvement BP Amoco would commit the solar electricity powered by the first several new stations in Tennessee equipped with solar panel canopies to TVA’s Green Power Switch program. As a result, the canopies would offset the service stations’ electricity usage and cost by 10 percent to 15 percent.
BP Amoco wanted the potential consumers in the two markets to know, not only about their new product and partnerships, but also about the impact that they were making on the environment and its future.
MP&F met with all of the parties to discuss and determine the key messages to be presented. Along with the messages, appropriate speakers were also identified. MP&F also developed a strategy for the location of the event, gaining media attention, and attracting opinion leaders and officials for the rollout in both cities.
MP&F advised BP Amoco executives to hold a news conference and luncheon to launch the Nashville announcement to the public, along with TVA and Saturn executives to demonstrate the seriousness of the partnership. It would also be a good opportunity for the public to see the partners in action. To gain added interest the group decided that only limited amounts of information would be released prior to the news conference treating the announcement as a “mystery.” MP&F also recommended that the news conference be held in a setting that promoted the environment and included a group of schoolchildren since the message would impact their future. The venue selected was a local children’s learning museum, the Cumberland Science Museum.
After the Nashville launch, BP Amoco executives would travel to Memphis and carry out a vigorous media and government relations campaign, which included a high-profile sales promotion with a local radio station.
To incorporate BP Amoco’s overarching theme and commitment to the environment, MP&F selected Nashville’s Cumberland Science Museum as the location. The announcement was made under a TVA solar panel display, which fit nicely with BP Amoco’s relationship with TVA and the solar canopies that were going to be built on new BP Amoco stations.
MP&F culled a list of approximately 375 elected officials and opinion leaders to invite to the news conference and luncheon. The list included numerous state and local officials, as well as opinion leaders and representatives from Davidson County and other counties where the low-sulfur gasoline was going to be available, as well as guests of GM, Saturn and TVA. The wording of the invitation reflected the seriousness of the announcement, yet had an air of mystery so as to pique the interest of our invited guests and the interest of the media. Members of the media in Davidson County and those counties surrounding Davidson were delivered invitations with a matching bouquet of sunflowers and a media advisory.
Because of BP Amoco’s strong commitment to the environment for future generations, it made sense to include the leaders of tomorrow in the announcement. MP&F and BP Amoco invited a second-grade class from a local school, Whitsett Elementary, to tour the Cumberland Science Museum and then attend and open the news conference by singing “This Land Is Your Land.” The second-grade class was appropriately dressed in BP Amoco T-shirts, and weeks prior to the news conference the children had been learning about the environment in class, and decorating bags with environmentally friendly pictures that would be used to serve bag lunches for the luncheon following the announcements.
At the end of the news conference, BP Amoco, GM, Saturn and TVA signed a memorandum of understanding on the hood of a red Saturn S-Series, containing the initial factory fill of the gasoline.
BP Amoco executives were then off to Memphis, Tenn., where MP&F had planned an extensive media tour and promotion. Executives met with The Commercial Appeal, The Memphis Business Journal, Tri-State Defender and The Daily News. A total of seven interviews with morning news shows and radio interviews were held. The group also met with Memphis Mayor Dr. Willie Herenton and Mayor Jim Rout of Shelby County, Tenn., the following day to make sure that they understood the company’s initiative and the potential impact it would have on the air quality in Memphis. Executives also met with state senators, House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and state representatives.
To create consumer buzz about BP Amoco and its newest product in the Memphis area, MP&F arranged for BP Amoco to team up with a local radio station, Oldies 97.5, and had a live remote featuring BP Amoco’s new low-sulfur 93 octane and all other grades of gas for 93 cents, for 93 minutes. A squad of two dozen or more company volunteers pumped gas and directed traffic smoothly through the station. At one point, the line of motorists was about two and a half miles long.
In addition to generating considerable consumer interest, the promotion provided a powerful backdrop for media interviews about the company’s decision to offer its new low-sulfur fuel.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
BP Amoco’s clean air announcement was considered a huge success in Middle and West Tennessee and garnered extensive media coverage in both cities. In Nashville, the event landed a spot on the front page of the local section of Nashville’s daily paper, The Tennessean, as well as coverage in the Nashville Business Journal, The Daily Herald, The Green Hills News and The News-Examiner. The announcement was also the top story on the three local news stations and many radio stations as well. Along with the hits in The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Business Journal, MP&F and BP Amoco gained a total of 33 exposures through print, radio and television. MP&F’s efforts helped to raise awareness of BP Amoco as a different kind of oil company, one with an unusually strong sense of social responsibility and environmental sensitivity, and helped to define BP Amoco as an industry leader.