Fuel crisis lacks any issues management

The story about thousands of vehicles stalled by rogue fuel is an interesting one for public relations practitioners in terms of crisis management – since no-one seems to know whose crisis it is, yet a lot of different parties are involved.

Tesco (whose forecourts have been the main imagery used) and supermarkets have been mainly implicated (with mention of Sainsbury and Asda too) – as has independent oil company .  But none of these organisations have a statement or advice on their websites.Drivers fill up at a Tesco petrol station. Trading standards officers are launching an investigation into claims that garages are selling contaminated fuel

Neither does whose offices in many areas of the country are investigating claims of contaminated fuel.

This story seems to have emerged slowly – the reported it yesterday afternoon, but the problem seems to have been around for over a week. 

The lack of “ownership” and issues management means there is no clear communication to anyone who is currently a latent or aware public – motorists don’t know if they are affected or if they should take action.

There is no advice on the website of the  but it is quoted in the media as recommending motorists to change the petrol in their tanks.  However, the (which similarly has no advice on its website) is quoted as warning drivers not to do this themselves for fear of damaging their engines – and environmentally, A motorist holds a fuel pump at a petrol station...petrol needs to be disposed of carefully.  Besides, if you don’t know the source of the problem, can you be confident in the replacement petrol?

It seems the breakdown organisations, garages and car manufacturers have noted a trend in incidents and orders for oxygen sensors – but they are bystanders in the crisis at this stage.  Manufacturers and independent garages will undoubtedly be drawn in when it comes to costs of repairs.

Hurrah to the (Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders) which does have the same advice on its site as media quotes that recommend motorists to note their mileage and keep fuel receipts, and if affected to contact their car dealer or the manufacturer’s customer service department for technical advice and Trading Standards for legal advice.

The has a statement on its website claiming the problem is nothing to do with its members’ UK refineries.

In a crisis where no-one is able to take control, the media hunt around for experts who are prepared to speculate on causes.  Hence an engineering “expert” from the University of Aberdeen is seen as worthy of suggesting possible causes. 

We also have the issue of “false” reporting with the claiming to have received reports from 2,000 motorists including outside the south-east where the problem first emerged, and even reports relating to diesel-engined cars.

Again, when no-one can give factual information, a form of “hypochondria” seems to take hold with every minor car problem being linked to the “hot issue”. 

Rumours also take hold and with online opportunities to share their stories, a mythology seems to be spreading as tales get told. 

Petrol pumpI have no ideas where this one is going – I suppose until there is some clear evidence to go on or incidents start to decline, the media can keep it spinning for a little while.  But will there be a peak of panic as linear crisis models propose or is this going to fade away with no clear cause established? 

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

3 thoughts on “Fuel crisis lacks any issues management”

  1. Nice post Heather – I’ve watched this one evolve over the last 24hours with some confusion – it’s one of those stories that it’s difficult to work out where it’s come from really, but will snowball with coverage. Your post sums up the key issues really well – I think there’s definitely some car hypochondria at work…

  2. Our Scotland on Sunday traced it back to a couple of locations and the fact that silicon was the troublesome component. OK for diesel engines but apparantely dire for petrol engines.

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