Friday, February 20, 2015

Why Big PR is Dropping Big Oil

The world's dirtiest power couple has broken up. The biggest PR firm has recently split with the largest oil lobby. The fact that PR firms are refusing to represent fossil fuels is very significant even if it is a matter of self interest. It suggests that it is getting harder to create a compelling oil narrative. It also suggests that fronting for oil interests undermines the image of those who represent them. In the process of trying to improve the image of the fossil fuel industry, PR firms have done harm to their own reputations.

According to news reports, Edelman public relations has dropped the American Petroleum Institute (API). API gets its money from dues paid by companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron.

In addition to being the focus of a massive divestment campaign, the fossil fuel industry is having trouble finding firms to lie on their behalf.

Big Oil is getting no love, not even when it pays astronomical sums for it. Between 2008 and 2012 Edelman has reportedly billed API more than 327 million for lobbying and public relations. In 2008 alone API was responsible for one third of Edelman's revenues.

The cleavage may be due to increasing pressure being leveled at the PR firm due to blatant misinformation about climate change. Edelman is not the first to divorce big oil but it is the biggest. Many PR firms have announced that they will not represent climate deniers and it would appear that Edelman could not resist the trend.

Defending fossil fuels interests is hard work. No industry is more despised around the world. They are increasingly being perceived as pariahs and no amount of public relations can mend the public's mistrust.

When it comes to B2C big oil may be a lost cause. The brand franchise of the oil industry is at an all time low and declining faster than a penny dropped from the Empire State building. In the court of public opinion the fossil fuel industry is mud.

The reason for their declining popularity is obvious. Big oil is at odds with the sustainability and CSR movements that are invading board rooms all around the world. There is no way to redeem yourself when your business model will result in the destruction of civilization as we know it.

That is why a big part of Big Oil's pitch has involved denying climate culpability and often climate change itself. However, in light of the reams of scientific data this view is increasingly being perceived for what it is, a bold faced lie.

What we are dealing with is an organizational narrative that is so deeply flawed that no amount of spin can redeem it. No amount of story pitching can make things right.

The propaganda of the oil industry once held sway over public opinion, but those days are rapidly coming to an end.

The fossil fuel industry still has vast fortunes that they will bring to bear, so it may be a bit premature to write big oil's obituary. The public relations war is far from over as there are many others who will gladly prostitute themselves to weave hydrocarbon lies.

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