MAN ON (IN) THE SPOT

Rental Agent Happy With Starring Role For BP

Rick Scali, the rental agent in Destin, Fla., who stars in a BP image spot now playing in many markets from Detroit to New York to Dallas, says that BP has done right by him and his panhandle beach community. But he's not so pleased with how the national media has covered the spill and its aftermath.

BP began airing spots in January showing how the oil giant has helped restore Gulf Coast communities harmed by last year’s massive oil spill.

Rick Scali, who owns Easy Street Vacation Rental in Destin, Fla., is the subject of one of the spots. And while he can’t say how effective they have been repairing BP’s image, he attests that they have worked for him and his Florida Panhandle beach town.

“I’m a star all over the U.S and Canada,” he told me. “Now six out of ten reservations come from that TV ad. I hear from St. Louis. I heard from out West, and people see it here.”

 And they come. “They say, ‘We were going to West Palm Beach until we saw that ad. We never even heard of Destin…but we want to help.’ I think more people are coming to Destin than ever. It’s unbelievable. They’re thinking of making me the ‘voice’ for the tourism bureau. They say I have a good voice for it.”

He actually does.

In the spot, Scali, a credit union executive who retired and moved to Destin to start the rental business with his wife Debbie, explains in his own words how BP has worked to clean up the area.

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 “We were booked up for the entire year and then the oil spill hit,” he says in the ad. “BP said they would make it right with us…I didn’t know what to expect, but they did what they said they’d do.”

In the ad, he sounds only satisfied, not ecstatic. For an image ad, BP comes off as a straight-shooter, not a saint.

BP has bought local time to show the ad in “some of our key fuels markets,” a BP spokesman says, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus and Indianapolis, as well as in markets with people who regularly visit the Gulf, like Dallas, Houston, Austin, Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta and Little Rock.

In New York, at least, I’ve noticed BP is getting prime TV real estate within or adjacent to local newscasts.

The ad has also been placed in the Gulf markets, including Florida, where, presumably, it shows the locals the efforts BP is making to rebuild tourism. Terry Cole, the GM of Panama’s WEAR, guesses that BP has scheduled about $20,000 worth of time on his station,

On YouTube, the ad, called “Renter,” has been viewed more than one million times.

BP paid Scali $136,000 for lost business last year, but not for the commercial.

He has no beef with BP, but he’s not as pleased with Kenneth Feinberg, the federal administrator hired to decide how to dole out the rest of the $20 billion BP reparations fund to victims. He’s still waiting for an offer from him.

“The major culprits, I’m sorry to have to tell you, are the national newscasts,” which, he says, didn’t explain how large parts of the gulf were only minimally affected.

Scali’s business had risen an average of 30.5% in each of the five years prior to the spill. Last year, he was up 20% before the spill. He ended up 12% behind for the year.

This year business is good, but not quite normal because people know they can negotiate. There’s a lot of low-balling. “We’re still putting heads in beds,” he says, but because of discounts, he might not do as well as he used to.

He now offers customers a 100% rebate if they see evidence of the spill on the beaches. “They ask all the time when they book,” he says. (He hasn’t had to pay off yet.)

“I walk my dogs on the beach every single day, and the only time I ever saw anything this whole time—I’ll tell you exactly when it was—was June 26. I found a dime-sized tarball.”

When Scali agree to do the spot, he said he had only a few conditions: He could say what he wanted, he could promote Destin and he could promote his business.

He has no complaints about the spot. But when he saw the edited-down end product, he noticed something missing.

“At one point when were shooting this ad,” he confides, “my throat choked up and as I talked about how my wife and I had a vision that we were going to lose everything we ever had. They took that out. That was a little too strong for them.”  


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