The Alberta public relations shop last known for picking a fight with Netflix over an animated children’s movie has been handed responsibility for promoting the province’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials to would-be investors in its beleaguered fossil industry.
“There is a lot of trust-building that has to happen,” Calgary energy economist Peter Tertzakian told the Globe and Mail, as the Canadian Energy Centre—also known as the province’s fossil energy “war room”—geared up for its latest marketing battle.
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The war room “has seen its fair share of controversies since it launched in December, 2019, to counter what Premier Jason Kenney calls misinformation about the energy sector,” the Globe states. Earlier this month, “it was the focus of widespread criticism and jokes about its campaign against a children’s cartoon about a mythical bigfoot family on Netflix.”
Tertzakian didn’t say the information coming from the war room is wrong, the Globe writes. “The problem is they have never established trust with the public, so the public doesn’t believe it,” he explained. “Nor do environmental groups. Nor do people outside of Alberta.”
The Globe traces the war room’s activities and budget to date, producing 35 research reports and more than 200 other pieces of content since it launched. The tally includes “numerous advocacy campaigns, including a letter-writing push in Saskatchewan urging Regina residents to oppose a motion by a councillor that would have banned oil and gas logos on city-owned properties, and one to then-president-elect Joe Biden voicing support for the Keystone XL pipeline.”
(The smaller campaign worked. The more consequential one didn’t.)
War room CEO Tom Olsen, a failed United Conservative Party candidate in the last provincial election, described the quasi-independent agency as “a marketing advocacy organization with a robust research arm” in an interview with the Globe, adding that the centre has been promoting the Alberta fossil industry’s ESG efforts since its inception.
“You don’t do anything by accident. You don’t make decisions on instinct,” he said. “There’s got to be metrics and it’s got to make sense, whether we’re doing research or a marketing campaign.”
But Simon Dyer, deputy executive director of the Calgary-based Pembina Institute, said there’s nothing terribly new or innovative about that effort.
“Let’s talk about the issues. Let’s talk about how oil and gas—which is Canada’s largest source of emissions, at 26%—is going to be part of the solution to net-zero,” he told the Globe. “It just doesn’t feel like the Canadian Energy Centre is actually tapped into the discussion that’s taking place in 2021. It seems to be relitigating discussions from 10 years ago.”
The Globe has details on the war room’s performance to date, including Tertzakian’s preference for “raw data that analysts and others can interpret as they wish”.
“Do we need the information? Yes, we do,” he said. “But do we need a communications platform to take on negative press and be a communications agency? The answer to that is a little more nebulous in my mind.”
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