New to AZ: Community Relations

By Nonprofit Marketing ArizonaApril 22, 2016

The brand of any company is not what its executives say it is, or what the marketing team says it is. The true brand of a company is what everybody else says it is. I’ve always believed that, and I’m proud to say that the entire leadership team at Western Refining believes it. That’s why our brand focus includes, to a significant degree, community relations. We want people outside of our company to feel the right things about our brand, and you can’t achieve that unless you peel away the corporate layers and show them who you really are and what you stand for. One of the most powerful ways to do that is through community relations. 

At Western Refining, we use the words community involvement instead of community relations. Although the latter term is certainly understood in the generic sense, to us, there’s an important difference. Since the company bought its first refinery in 2002, we have never wanted to simply be “related” to the communities in which we live and work in the expected ways – giving to high-profile charities and attending major fund-raisers. Rather (and here’s the difference for us), we want Western Refining to be fully immersed in those communities and interact with people in meaningful ways. Sure, it takes a financial commitment to do that, but more, it takes a personal commitment. So we try to find ways to support Arizona’s nonprofits in ways that engage our employees. In many cases, it not only increases our giving amounts, it also provides a real sense of “team effort” as well as individual fulfillment among our employees. 

Several years ago our company went through a comprehensive brand analysis, and we asked ourselves some tough and thought-provoking questions. One of those questions was: What do we really stand for? Of course, many of the answers were the standard and expected top-of-mind replies: integrity, honesty, safety, great people, etc. While those descriptions are all true of our company, they didn’t get deep enough. And frankly, many companies can say those things. But what kept bubbling up from this analysis was how Western Refining touches people in their everyday lives.

What we refine and sell (fuel and petroleum products) helps them get to work, get the kids to school, gets goods to the grocery store, gets emergency vehicles where they need to go, supplies the military with jet fuel, gets shipments delivered by trains, and helps build the roads we drive on. If it involves a car, truck, train, or plane in their community or region, it was most likely our fuel that helped make it happen. In other words, we provide the fuel that helps people do what they do in their everyday lives. From these insights, our brand statement emerged: Fueling our lives.

Something else came out of that analysis, and it ties specifically to what we do and contribute to a community. It is the fact that Western Refining provides another kind of fuel, too -- the fuel of our financial commitment and the fuel of our employee commitment to non-profits. Together, they represent our day-to-day mission as a company to do what we can to affect meaningful, sustainable change in people’s lives. So “Fueling our lives” has a dual meaning -- one focused on our products and one focused on our charitable and civic support. The first makes the second one possible; the second fulfills our brand promise of community involvement and giving back. We could not achieve that brand promise without our employees. 

All of us at Western Refining are extremely proud of what our employees have done to be involved in their communities. They have excelled in this regard, both on a company level and a personal level. They are the driving force behind our ability to positively impact people’s lives, and they have made our brand stronger by bringing it to life. 

As I stated earlier in this article, our brand is not what we say it is; it’s what others, outside of our company, say it is. And who better can represent Western Refining outside of the company’s offices than our employees? They’re the ones who can truly touch people where they live, work, and play. They are the ones who can best provide the “people fuel” to affect change. To us, that’s the “community relations” definition that really matters – it’s our employees volunteering their time, energies, and talents to help their neighbors. It’s community involvement at a grass-roots, people-to-people level. 

Here are some ways in which Western Refining’s Fueling our lives brand statement becomes real because of our dedicated and caring employees. 

In 2013, 19 firefighters from the Prescott Fire Department died while battling the 2,000-acre Yarnell Hill fire. We initiated a fund-raising drive at Western Refining through our Phoenix-area employees, but never imagined the compassion and desire to help that would come from that effort. With our pledge to match their contributions and with very little encouragement, over 200 Western Refining employees wrote personal checks or made payroll deductions totaling over $108,000. You can do the math, but that’s a significant contribution per employee. All of the funds went to the families of those firefighters. One of our employees summed up what defines the “people fuel” of Western Refining: “It was an honor for me to give what I could. I wanted to show my appreciation for the sacrifices made by these firefighters who gave their lives to protect others.” 

This year, our convenience stores throughout the Southwest raised almost $525,000 during the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s summer camp mobile program to help support children fighting muscular dystrophy and related life-threatening diseases that limit muscle strength and mobility. But this was not just a company program – it required creativity and work from our store employees. Many of them decorated their stores and did out-of-the-ordinary things that generated those kinds of customer donations. It was employee driven, and that was the foundation of the program’s success. 

One other example of how our “fuel” of support and help works is the Summer Hydration program initiated for A New Leaf in Tempe. A New Leaf is a nonprofit that operates programs across the Valley, providing homeless and domestic violence shelters, affordable housing, behavioral health services, foster care and community access services. Our employees came through -- again with very little urging from corporate leadership -- and purchased, unpacked, and then loaded over 1,000 cases of water for transport to A New Leaf. This was a tremendous outpouring of help from employees, and represented one of the largest product donations ever provided by Western Refining to a nonprofit partner organization. 

These examples represent a very small portion of the “fuel” of support and involvement that our employees provide and are engaged in. It is an important part of our brand, and it is brought to life by the daily dedication and commitment of our employees to their communities. 

The results of our focus on community involvement is cemented in our reputation. Western Refining is widely recognized as one of the nation’s best refining companies, and an exceptional place to work. So while we relentlessly pursue giving back to our communities in meaningful ways, the “outside” perception of our company and brand is consistently lifted up and embellished in a positive way. We plan to continue that in Arizona for many years.