PR giants like Edelman, McCann, Ogilvy, and Publicis Groupe are under the microscope during New York Climate Week after the Clean Creatives campaign launched its 2023 F-List, an inventory of 500 fossil fuel contracts with 294 advertising and public relations agencies in 2022 and 2023.
“Scientists and global leaders have condemned the work carried out by advertising and PR agencies to spread fossil fuel disinformation, and their warnings demand a response,” Clean Creatives Executive Director Duncan Meisel said in a release this morning. “This is a turning point for the industry—communications agencies who work for oil and gas clients are knowingly accelerating the global climate emergency, and their legal risks will accelerate, too.”
After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment report stressed the role of media in shaping the public discourse on climate change, the industry “cannot continue to be this far out of step with scientific and political reality and expect to avoid backlash,” Meisel added.
The 2023 F-List “documents the agencies that choose to continue working with fossil fuel companies despite the scientific consensus that this work is destroying the planet,” Clean Creatives writes. “It’s a snapshot of an industry in transition—and the laggards allowing themselves to fall behind on the most important issue of our time.”
The report points to two holding companies, WPP and Omnicom, with 94 fossil PR contracts between them, even after WPP signed a global net-zero pledge. Independent agency Pitch Digital holds 22 contracts, mostly with Canadian oil sands companies.
Clean Creatives says more than 700 agencies in 38 countries and more than 1,700 “creatives” have pledged to refuse to work for fossil fuel companies.
During New York Climate Week, the group plans to blanket the city with posters addressed directly to employees of some of the world’s biggest public relations agencies.
“Orange is not our color. It’s great for that chunky cardigan you love—but not for our skyline,” says the poster directed to McCann staffers. “Why was the sky orange? Because fossil fuel companies like Saudi Aramco, Petro-Canada, Copec, and more keep polluting—and McCann still works for them.”
“This was weird. New Yorkers didn’t always have to worry about wildfires. Or ‘100-year’ subway floods every year. Or worse,” says the poster addressed to Edelman employees. “Your employer is working for fossil fuel companies Shell, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, TotalÉnergies, and more. They’re causing these disasters.”
All the posters end with an identical tagline: “It’s not your fault. But you can fix it, and we can support you.”
Last week, DeSmog reported on the millions of dollars that Edelman took in to burnish the “green image” of the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers. That effort helped land Sultan al Jaber, the oil and gas CEO who will controversially preside over this year’s United Nations climate change negotiations in Dubai, at the “top levels of climate diplomacy.”
Citing hundreds of pages of documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, DeSmog traces Edelman’s US$6.4-million campaign from 2007 to 2009 to boost the country’s green reputation. The news story lists two important elements—the plan to pitch the futuristic Masdar City as a zero-carbon metropolis, and the successful effort to make Masdar the headquarters city for the International Renewable Energy Agency.
“This award-winning public relations drive laid the groundwork for the United Nations to choose the UAE as the host of this year’s crucial climate talks with al Jaber as COP 28 president, even though the OPEC nation plans to invest $150 billion in new oil and gas production over the next four years,” DeSmog writes.