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Can Big Oil and Enviros Work Together to Get What They Want?

Why face-to-face may work better than TV ads

In the rush for corporations to catch up with consumer interest in all things green, sometimes marketers forget an important piece of the messaging mix: dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been counseling clients to utilize almost all types of advertising to tell their green story for 11 years. However, issue advertising must consider technical, economic, social and political factors. Many companies are re-thinking their stand-off approach of dealing with environmental stakeholders as a segment of their green marketing.

Oil companies need political support to allow more drilling in Alaska to meet consumer demand, and environmental advocates need political support to get new laws to regulate carbon emissions and reduce global climate change. Is it a “pipe” dream to think they could hold hands and work together to get what they want from Congress and the President?

Unlike most oil companies, Shell Oil has spent more time and money on a 50-city “talking tour” than a defensive TV ad campaign, like most of their competitors.

Shell Oil Company President John Hofmeister has said he supports engagement with environmental groups to promote climate change legislation as a means to help the oil industry achieve its legislative goals related to short-term oil production needs.

Hofmeister told a crowd of hundreds of energy executives at Houston’s Presidential Summit it is important to help low-income Americans reduce the pain of $3 per gallon gasoline, and the best way to do that was by having the U.S. government open up domestic sources of oil. “Poor people face a daily crisis at the gas pump,” Hofmeister said. “If we don’t address energy security, it will impact homeland security and economic security.” He added, “The problem is, we’re preaching to the choir in Houston. We have to move this message out across America.”

After the speech, Hofmeister spoke with me about energy security and climate change. “I support green jobs and energy efficiency, but if we want to move quickly on climate change, we need a national framework and a ‘Manhattan Project’ approach being advocated by Senators Hagle and Clinton.”

Hofmeister pointed to Shell’s membership in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) as evidence of his company’s commitment to collaborate with environmental groups.

When asked if he supported 2008 passage of the Lieberman-Warner bill on climate change in Congress, he said, “It needs more work. Right now, Congress is trying to write legislation aimed at singling out five specific (oil) companies -that’s called punitive taxation.”

Does the Sierra Club Control The New York Times?

Karl Pope, president of the National Sierra Club, was also a speaker at the energy summit. He was compelled to respond to a previous speaker who blamed the Sierra Club for negative media coverage about the energy industry. “Despite what people may think, we don’t own the New York Times, and we don’t pull their strings. We have to pitch our stories the same way you do.”

Pope did not comment on domestic oil drilling, but did offer an olive branch to the energy executives saying, “In the 21st century, fuels are expensive, knowledge is abundance, and pollution is a critical problem. We need to collectively work together to design a high performance energy sector around those three principles.”

In the 2007-8 wave of media attention on all things green, perhaps a lesson for companies and other stakeholder groups is to talk to each other before they launch their new PR or ad campaign. The impact will be greater.

Kevin Tuerff is President of EnviroMedia Social Marketing.

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