Nov 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The expanding battle over oil-and-gas PR

Climate activists just launched a campaign that could create bad PR for the PR industry.

Driving the news: "Clean Creatives" aims to pressure PR firms and ad agencies to drop oil-and-gas industry clients. The campaign alleges they help those clients spread "misinformation."

The latest: They're vowing to reveal "concealed relationships" between PR and ad agencies and fossil-fuel clients, and organize employees of those creative agencies.

  • Another tactic will be organizing sustainability-focused business, nonprofits and others that don't want partner agencies to have contracts with oil-and-gas interests.

Where it stands: Fossil Free Media is leading the effort. Others include the Hip Hop Caucus, Sum of Us, Climate Investigations Center, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

The other side: The American Petroleum Institute, the big trade association whose ad and PR spending is targeted in the campaign's rollout, called it "divisive and unfounded."

  • “This so-called campaign recycles tired and disproven rhetoric about natural gas and oil companies that have innovated to reinvent themselves over and over in the past few decades to measurably reduce U.S. emissions and deliver affordable and reliable energy from coast to coast to schools, stores, hospitals and homes," spokesperson Megan Bloomgren says.

Why it matters: The campaign shows how advocates are seeking new or expanded avenues to pressure oil companies' finances and, in this case, social license to operate.

  • For instance, Law Students for Climate Accountability is looking to put a negative light on big law firms' work with the sector
  • The divestment movement, over the last decade, has spurred universities, pension funds and other investors to ditch oil and coal stocks.
  • The new "creatives" campaign builds on past efforts to investigate and attack industry PR efforts, such as advocacy journalist Amy Westervelt's "Drilled" podcast.

The intrigue: Per a weekend piece in the New Yorker by activist and writer Bill McKibben, the PR giant Porter Novelli, after his inquiries, said it's ending work with the American Public Gas Association.

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