A letter signed by more than 450 scientists is the latest salvo in an intensifying effort to convince public relations and ad agencies to stop underwriting the fortunes of fossil fuel clients.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, with the support of a campaign led by Clean Creatives, has come out swinging against PR giants like Edelman that have made their fortunes burnishing the street cred of Big Oil, reports the Washington Post.
Case in point: the annual US$68.9 million paid by the American Petroleum Institute to Edelman, “from 2008 through at least 2011,” for an ad campaign that depicted regular people beside a pitch for “developing our plentiful domestic energy resources.”
By some estimates, Edelman “earned at least an additional $100 million from the trade group,” the Post writes.
Edelman also actively tutored fossil clients in how to thwart climate activism. The Post cites a May 2015 conference near Washington, DC where an Edelman executive shared slides warning of “activism on the rise worldwide,” and offering supposed insights into the “anatomy of an activist” and the “activist playbook.”
Cited in PR Week, the scientists’ letter condemned PR efforts that “seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risk of the climate emergency.” Those campaigns “represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action [that] science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency and avert total disaster,” they added.
“The pollution of our airwaves is inextricably tied to the pollution of our atmosphere,” said Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, the non-profit behind the Clean Creatives campaign. “The only way to clean up both is to stop this propaganda at the source: the PR and ad agencies that continue to work on behalf of fossil fuels.”
It’s time, Henn told PR Week, “for creatives to come clean.”
Determined to encourage creatives to wash their hands of fossil dollars, Clean Creatives plans to send the letter not only to PR titans like Edelman, but to some of their “largest sustainability-focused clients, such as Unilever, Amazon, Microsoft, and The North Face.”
So far, while “no client has agreed to stop working with the agencies targeted in the letter, teams at Unilever and Ikea are looking into the issue,” Henn said.
For its part, Edelman has just concluded a “two-month study of its climate principles,” reports the Post, and “scrutinized more than 330 of its 2,000 clients, including conducting ‘a deep dive’ on 20 whose emissions are particularly large,” including colossal fossil ExxonMobil. “So far, however, Edelman has not severed ties with any clients.”
President and CEO Richard Edelman told the Post: “We’re simply recognizing that this is the most important issue of the day and that clients, most clients, are going to want to do this.”
But Pennsylvania State climate scientist Michael Mann said Edelman and its ilk are merely flipping the page from climate denial to climate delay, following fossils’ lead in promoting “supposed ‘solutions’ that kick the can down the road.”
The letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists comes just two months after Clean Creatives gathered more than 100 signatures from activist and artist communities in support of a direct demand that Edelman drop Exxon and other fossil fuel companies and petroleum trade groups as clients. “Ending advertising and PR for fossil fuel companies is a crucial step toward climate justice,” the letter stated.
Signatories—including comedian Amy Poehler, Indonesian forest conservation activist Farwiza Farhan, and author Ta-Nehisi Coates—urged thought leaders, advocates, activists, creatives, influencers, and social media managers “to join us in using your platform to pressure the advertising and PR industry to drop fossil fuel clients. Our voices and our platforms have power and it is our responsibility to use it.”