Flacking Cancer, Flacking Coal - The Public Relations Industry, Tobacco and Climate Change

smokestack_cigarette.jpgby Dan Zegart, author of Civil Warriors

I remember when it was tobacco that desperately needed an emergency public relations rescue, the way fossil fuels do now.  

There are certain kinds of companies you don't want to get caught representing, as illustrated by the flap over Edelman Worldwide's tortured responses to the Climate Investigations Center's survey about whether it acknowledges the threat of climate change or would represent companies that deny climate change.

Unfortunately, the client's need for public relations increases in direct proportion to its public toxicity. And the greater the need, the more they'll pay.  And PR firms are the beneficiaries.

All of which is why, of the twenty-five largest PR firms that received the Climate Investigations Center's questionnaire, sixteen - and every one of the top ten firms - worked for Big Tobacco at one time or another. (see Tobacco Roots below with list of companies)

A trip through documents unearthed during lawsuits by the state attorneys general against the cigarette makers demonstrates the immense range of Big PR's involvement with the tobacco industry, from handling publicity for the cigarette-funded Virginia Slims Tennis Tournament to creating front organizations to pass laws making it harder for sick smokers to sue the industry. 

I don't remember that I ever asked the PR firms representing tobacco whether they believed it hadn't been proven cigarette smoking was addictive and caused cancer, but that was Big Tobacco's position when I started covering them in 1994.  By 2000, when I published my book on the "cigarette wars" between the industry and its various antagonists - particularly plaintiff's lawyers - they had finally admitted the truth.

Edelman Submits New Answers to CIC Climate Change Quiz

tt_kid_classrooom1.jpg

Remember when you wished you could take that Chemistry 101 final again...not often you have a teacher willing to accept a do-over.

Edelman took the opportunity to rewrite its answers to our April climate survey this week.  This after giving CIC one line somewhat incomplete answers to our April survey and after the now ex-CEO told his staff they need not respond to our four (quite straightforward) questions and also told them, "there are only wrong answers for this guy".

Out of fairness, we invite all the companies we surveyed to re-submit their own more complete answers as well. 

Below are Edelman's new answers to our climate questions, in full, as sent by Ben Boyd (I redacted Ben's phone numbers as a courtesy):

Kert,

I appreciated the opportunity to connect with you yesterday on the WBEZ program regarding your survey and The Guardian piece.  As you can imagine, we welcomed the chance to clarify our position and also appreciated today’s update by The Guardian, including your statement. 

As I conveyed on-air, you have my apology that your initial request for answers to your survey was so mismanaged by our firm.  Completely unacceptable.  

While we have certainly passed your deadline, I would like to resubmit our answer to the CIC Survey for your consideration:

  •          Does your company acknowledge the threat and challenge of climate change as companies like Walmart, Coca Cola, Apple, Google, AIG, Swiss Re, NRG, Unilever and others have done?

Yes. Edelman fully recognizes the reality of, and science behind, climate change, and believes it represents one of the most important global challenges facing society, business and government today. To be clear, we do not accept client assignments that aim to deny climate change.

We believe that business, government and society must work together to address climate change by balancing the interdependent priorities of human development, the environment and the global economy. As such, we support our clients’ efforts to reduce emissions from their operations, improve energy efficiency, advance alternative fuels and sustainable energy solutions and lead in the transition to sustainable and socially responsible business models. We also work with clients to constructively participate in the dialogue around climate change and contribute to policy discussions, with the goal of making progress on this shared global challenge.

  •          Does your company have any internal carbon accounting policies or energy use reduction targets? Have you taken actions to reduce your “carbon footprint”?

As a firm we are determined to reduce emissions and foster an employee culture of sustainability. We hold ourselves accountable to reduce our carbon footprint at every Edelman office around the world.

We have taken proactive steps to reduce our GHG emissions through document management, lighting efficiency, videoconferencing, local “green” citizenship teams, and global E-waste recycling.

We track and report on the progress of these policies through our global citizenship dashboard. Each of the 65 offices in the Edelman network receives a customized dashboard about their specific progress toward these goals and is accountable for the continued progress and improvements made in their office.  Our progress toward these goals will be reported annually in our global citizenship report, the latest of which will be released in October 2014.

  •          Does your company have an internal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy regarding climate change or the environment generally?

Yes, Edelman has a Global Environmental Policy.

  •          Has your agency advised any client corporations on communications around CSR programs with a specific climate change focus, or on other climate change related public relations efforts?

Yes. Edelman provides counsel to a range of clients across many industries, including counsel on CSR programs and on key issues such as climate change.

If you would like to discuss these answers or if I can be of further help to you, I would welcome the chance to speak.  My mobile number is 

Cheers, 
ben boyd

president

practices, sectors & offerings

edelman 

Not Walking the Walk: Obama's BLM's Funding Dirty Coal Exports, Propping Up World's Worst Fuel

PRB_Greetings.jpgIt's been a crummy summer for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The bureau sells development leases to mining companies that want to scrape out coal deposits that lie under taxpayer-owned dirt on federal land. 

It has managed to draw fire from the Interior Department's Inspector General, the GAO, The Nation and a half-dozen environmental groups. 

The gripe is that by charging bargain-basement prices for its coal - that is, our coal -  BLM is perhaps the most important player keeping the American coal industry alive, while costing American taxpayers some $30 billion over thirty years according to a July report by Center for American Progress.  

One important way BLM undervalues American coal is by failing to take into account the vast mark-up domestic producers can reap by shipping the coal to Asia, Europe or South America, rather than trying to unload it on a shrinking American market, where 150 coal-fired power plants have already closed and new carbon limits are likely to make coal less and less economical according to a July report by the Sightline Institute.

As the American wing of Big Coal turns increasingly to exports to prop up what's left of its bottom line, coal producers have come to depend on vast mineral reserves in the western United States, particularly in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, that can be extracted cheaply via surface mining and shipped overseas. Almost all of this coal is found on federal lands where the Bureau of Land Management is virtually giving its leases away, according to several recent studies.    

A July report by Greenpeace - "Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the Federal Coal Leasing Program Undermines President Obama's Climate Plan" - goes several steps further than others, pointing out that in addition to ignoring coal's export value,  BLM failed to consider carbon pollution impacts of between $52 billion and $553 million from coal leases issued during the Obama administration.  And by making coal so cheap, the bureau undercuts Obama's own plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions which the adminstration is fighting for against intense opposition from Republicans and the lobbying and financial might of the fossil fuel industry.

"With companies looking to double America’s coal exports, the nation’s growing position in the global energy trade could make global warming worse, fueling the world’s demand for coal when many experts say most fossil fuels should remain in the ground to avert the most disastrous effects of climate change," noted the Associated Press in a recent story.  

If the Obama-ites have missed it, at least one federal judge sees the connection.  

In June, district court Judge R. Brooke Jackson blocked the expansion of a Colorado mine, scolding the administration for failing to use its own social cost of carbon figures to assess the expansion's impact on global warming. 

Making matters worse is that bidding in the coal leasing program in the west is already rigged in favor of cheap leases.  This goes back to 1990, when President George H.R. Bush's administration reversed decades of precedent and decided that the Powder River Basin was not a "historic coal production region," effectively ceding control over the lease program to Big Coal.  Since then, 96 of 107 western coal-lease sales held by BLM have had only one bidder.  

One study that documents coal sales at mines Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Utah by some of the largest producers, including Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy zeroed in on specific companies to expose the mechanics of what has become modern coal's dominant business model.

The report, entitled "Unfair Market Value: By Ignoring Exports, BLM Underprices Federal Coal" was prepared by the Sightline Institute and four other environmental groups.

A case in point is Cloud Peak's Spring Creek Mine in southern Montana, near the Wyoming border. 

Most of the 18 million tons of coal Cloud Peak sold its Asian customers in the last four years came from Spring Creek.  The company paid the federal government - meaning us, the taxpayers - a maximum of 18 cents per ton for the coal, which Cloud Peak resold on the Asian market for more than $60 per ton for profits "four to five times as high as the margins that Cloud Peak earned on domestic sales."

Cloud Peak, like other western producers, is pushing hard for the development of three new port or terminal facilities in Washington and Oregon, such as the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham, Washington, which would connect by rail to its mines in Montana and Wyoming.  Meanwhile, as the struggle over the terminals plays out, Cloud Peak is trying for another round of giveaways, by bidding for an additional 198 million tons of coal deposits next to Spring Creek.

Meanwhile, local residents activists, environmentalists and the Democratic governors

of Oregon and Washington are demanding that the administration consider the effect on global warming of building terminal facilities that would help double American coal exports.

So far, the administration has flatly refused.

 

Resources:

Center For American Progress: Federal Coal Leasing in the Powder River Basin - A Bad Deal for Taxpayers, July 2014

Sightline Institute: Unfair Market Value - By Ignoring Exports, BLM Underprices Federal Coal, July 2014

Greenpeace: Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change - How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan, July 2014

The Nation: How the Obama Administration Is Keeping Big Coal AliveZoë Carpenter, July 7, 2014

Associated Press: Not in My Backyard - US Sending Dirty Coal AbroadDina Cappiello, Jul. 28, 2014

 

 

WBEZ Interview: PR firm Edelman faces PR scandal

After the interview Tuesday on WBEZ Chicago (below), Edelman shifted slightly yesterday and published a "Position on Climate Change", and while leaving lots of wiggle room, is being more declarative in its statements.  This may be the first such position by a major PR agency against climate denial.

The Guardian published this shift in stance today with the headline "Edelman formally declares it will not accept climate denial campaigns"

We still want to know how they reconcile belief in the urgency of climate change and promoting fossil fuel exploitation for American Petroleum Institute (Vote4Energy, Energy Citizens) or working for the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose recent meeting in Dallas was loaded with climate denier presentations from Heartland and CFACT along with model bills aimed at undermining EPA greenhouse gas regulations.  MotherBoard at VICE dug in a little deeper on where the twain meet.

To be continued...

WBEZ Afternoon Shift August 5, 2014 (rough transcript)

Niala Boodhoo, host: You're listening to the Afternoon Shift. I'm Niala Boodhoo. The world's most powerful public relations firms stake their business on having the ability to influence people and policy, right? Well, now it seems several top PR firms are taking a stand against climate change denial. Ten of the world's largest public relations firms, such as Weber-Shandwick and WPP - that's the parent company of Burson-Marsteller and Ogilvy Public Relations - say they will no longer do business with entities that reject the existence of climate change. This is all because of a survey from the Climate Investigations Center that was done with the UK's Guardian newspaper. It tried to find out where the top PR houses stood on representing those who reject the science of climate change. Notably not on that list was Chicago-based Edelman Public Relations Firm. Joining me to talk about why is Edelman's Ben Boyd and Kert Davies, the executive director of the Climate Investigations Center. Gentlemen, welcome to the afternoon shift. 

Kert Davies, CIC: Thanks for having me. 

Ben Boyd, Edelman PR: Thanks so much. 

NB: Kert, let's start with you. What's the Climate Investigations Center and why did you do this survey?

KD: The Climate Investigations Center is a relatively new organziation building on the work I did at Greenpeace for thirteen years, looking into the funding of climate science denial and organizations like the Heartland Institute there in Chicago, and Exxon's involvement in this, the Koch brother's involvement. This organization's dedicated to researching and uncovering where the climate debate - where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. So we're digging into a variety of different things. People can find out more at ClimateInvestigations.org.

NB: How many firms did you send this survey to, Kert? 

KD: We sent it to the top 25 firms operating in the US based on their revenue and, uh, it's a lot of revenue. 

NB: And how many firms responded? 

KD: We only got responses from a few firms directly, and then some punted to their parent organizations, their parent companies - that's WPP. So, in total, we got direct responses from six [firms] and then we got indirect responses from another few. It's a mixed bag, but we, you know - the response we accidentally got from Edelman, straight up, was "there are only wrong answers for this guy." Their CEO at the time, who has now left the company, accidentally emailed me. So, I think a lot of companies probably felt the same way - we don't need to answer these questions. And we think it was a pretty simple question: "do you acknowledge the threat of climate change?"

NB: Well, Ben, let's ask him - uh, let's ask you to respond to that. Do you want to answer that question? If you -

BB: I think, look, it's really simple. If I were Kert, I'd feel exactly the same way. I mean, the fact of the matter is that Edelman fully recognizes the reality of and the science behind climate change. And we do not accept client assignments that aim to deny climate change. I think, unfortunately - and there's no excuse other than just poor communication, which is probably ironic for a communications firm - but, you know, junior staff handled the completion of the questionnaire. It was not Mark Hass. And, again, that email was completely unacceptable and inappropriate. So, you know, I would begin by first clarifying that that is our position and I would also offer Kert and the CIC an apology for what was an inaccurate or, rather, incomplete answer to what I agree with him to be four very simple questions. And I would also state unequivocally Edelman's desire to work with him and the CIC in terms of further investigation and engagement with our industry, as outlined in his larger post of today. 

NB: Ben, you know, you said that you don't accept client assignments that aim to, as you said, obstruct or dilute regulation designed to address climate change. How does that square with your representation of say, like, the American Petroleum Institute. That's one of your clients, right? 

BB: Yeah, I think that the reality is, you know, this is - we want to paint a lot of these debates as black and white, right? So if you look at the notion of ethanol and greenhouse gas emissions and the points of view around ethanol as an acceptable alternative, the fact of the matter is that there are varying opinions. So, again, we do not work for deniers, but we recognize that there is great nuance and grey in this conversation. And I think what we have espoused in terms of our own corporate view is the need for business and government to work together as it relates to these large societal, complex issues and topics. But, again, we fully accept and believe the science behind climate change and we do not work for clients who deny that. 

NB: Kert -

KD: Well, one of your clients is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which just held its meeting in Dallas. And I don't know if Edelman's still working for them, but were in 2012 when they ran into some protests from outside groups. And ALEC just hosted this meeting with the Heartland Institute, with this other group called CFACT - hardcore climate deniers who were instructing legislators on how to attack the EPA, how to question the science. I don't know that you do that work with them -

NB: Ben, do you still work with them? 

BB: I'd have to look at our client roster with, you know, thousands of clients on a varying school. I'd be happy to look at that, Kert, and connect back with you on that in terms of active engagement with them. 

NB: Ben, to Kert's point, do you - I mean, now that you - I say, you don't do that, have you, obviously, you're such a large firm, I can't even imagine how many clients you have. Do you have a process of going through and determining whether or not they're people you'll work with or won't work with them in terms of climate change? 

BB: I think we certainly have a policy, which is available on our website. It's pretty black and white. I think that policy is shared clearly internally and our client leaders are expected to uphold the values that we espouse as a firm and that we believe as a business, as the right and ethical way to operate. I cannot guarantee to you guys or anyone else that in a firm of 6,000 I won't have ethical lapses. What I can guarantee you is that when ethical lapses - when and if those lapses happen - and those choices, yaknow, have consequences and we move on those. But we do not consciously, especially from a management perspective, accept revenue from those who deny the science behind climate change. 

NB: Kert, let me ask you one last question. Which is - Ben was talking about the nuances of this. Did you hear other firms say that as well? What's your position on this? 

KD: You know, there was a broad range of responses to our survey - very interesting stuff. Some firms were being pushed by their clients. One firm engaged with IBM who said, "well, what's your carbon footprint?" to the ad firm and they didn't have one - they had to develop one to take the contract. Edelman has a whole carbon accounting program I didn't even know about because it's in the appendix to their citizenship report. They're doing their own carbon footprint and have targets on airline miles reduction. That's remarkable, but, as you said earlier, it barely squares with a multi-million dollar contract to push oil, push the Keystone pipeline, without mentioning potential carbon impacts. It's very easy in the ad industry to avoid subjects and to stress the positives - 

NB: well, but, Kert, to my question about - did you find that PR firms or other firms you talked to, are they saying "no" to these campaigns or are they saying no to firms that don't believe in climate change? What are other firms telling you? 

KD: Some committed - we didn't really ask that question. The Guardian asked that question and they got commitments that they were not working with climate deniers. And that is a major step forward - it's a question that, frankly, has never been put to this industry before. The reason we did this survey was because pretty much every other sector has been questioned about climate change. You take banking, or insurance, or, yaknow, the oil industry, obviously - all of them, over the decades, have been questioned, "do you believe in this, do you think it's a major push?" Because we have to have the corporate community working alongside governments to solve this problem, and the PR industry's just never been asked. So I think it's a work in progress, getting the PR industry to wake up to the fact that they are important. One commentator in an article said, this is probably the biggest PR problem in the world, getting people to understand climate change. It's a very hard thing to get done. We need the help of the PR professionals to do that. 

NB: And, Kert, now that Ben - uh, Ben, now that Kert has posed the question to you, what's your response to how you think PR firms - what responsibility do you think public relations firms and Edelman has to this whole issue of climate change and climate change deniers? 

BB: Yeah, not a great question. Unequivocally, I think we have stated that business has to play a role in solving these complex world problems. I don't think that Edelman or the PR industry is an exception to that, uh, assumption. I think the work that we do around the trust barometer looks and points to the expectations of peoples around the world in 27 countries where we survey for business to be a responsible good actor with, actually, greater trust in business to lead change. So, again, we do not work with those who deny the science. I think we continue to scrub, on a daily basis, our client roster and look at the behaviors of our clients - even outside the assignments that we have. And I think our commitment, as he outlined in terms of our own carbon footprint and presence, is something that we proactively began. Our work with Unilever, again, is a demonstration of a partnership in which we look at how to help raise larger conversations in the public sphere that are important around the topics of sustainability and corporate behavior. That has been, you know, a bold proclamation of our CEO in terms of what is necessary for business to be successful in the long term. And, again, we are not in any way immune from that belief. 

NB: Well, thank you so much both of you for joining me. That's Ben Boyd, the global chair of corporate practices for Edelman - based, of course, here in Chicago - and Kert Davies, the executive director of the Climate Investigations Center. Thank you. 

KD: Thank you.

BB: Thanks very much. 

 

PR Industry Climate Change Survey

Clmate_MadMen.jpg

"I don't believe we are obligated in any way to respond. There are only wrong answers for this guy."  

That was the first response we got to our survey email, accidentally copied back to us by no less than the (then) CEO of Edelman, the very largest PR firm in the world.

An article by Suzanne Goldenberg of the Guardian broke the news of the survey we sent to the top U.S. PR agencies in April.  Ari Phillips of Climate Progress then extended the story.  Much more to come.

This opens a new CIC project on the the Public Relations Industry and Climate where we will be conducting research on the PR industry role in the climate change debate, not a new subject, but not one that has really been tackled well.

We recently revealed with Huffington Post that Burson-Marsteller was secretly behind the latest public relations ploy by Peabody Energy Corporation (aka Peabody Coal) the largest coal company on Earth.  Two years ago Greenpeace dug into the history of advertising by the "coal industrial complex" including AEP, and others as shown in this HuffingtonPost slideshow and this new article by Rebecca Leber of the New Republic.

After the Burson Peabody story, we wondered if the multi-billion dollar public relations industry has a climate conscience or even climate consciousness.  Every other business sector has been ask to go on the record about climate change. It seemed no one had ever asked the multibillion dollar PR industry.  So we asked them.

We sent a short survey to the top 25 public relations agencies in the United States (ranked by fee income, according to the industry journal, The Holmes Report).  As the beginning of phase two of our survey we added the Brunswick Group to the query list.  We emailed, sent certified mail and phoned Presidents, CEOs, General Counsels, Sustainability officers and as many high ranking officials as we could locate email, mailing addresses and phone numbers.

We asked four simple questions about the agencies' work vis a vis climate change:

  • Does your company acknowledge the threat and challenge of climate change as companies like Walmart, CocaCola, Apple, Google, AIG, Swiss Re, NRG, Unilever and others have done?
  • Does your company have any internal carbon accounting policies or energy use reduction targets? Have you taken actions to reduce your “carbon footprint”?
  • Does your company have an internal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy regarding climate change or the environment generally?
  • Has your agency advised any client corporations on communications around CSR programs with a specific climate change focus, or on other climate change related public relations efforts?

The PR Agencies Surveyed

All together, the 25 firms included in our survey (thus far), plus MSL Group which answered the survey for the newly acquired asset Qorvis Communications, garnered income far exceeding $5.5 Billion dollars in 2012, the latest year of data.  There is a wide range in size. Edelman at the top had annual revenue of nearly $666 Million in 2012.  The 25th ranked US PR firm, Bite Communications had revenue just under $27 Million. WPP, a large parent company that owns four of the top ten companies, responded to our survey as well.

 

TOP RANKED U.S. PR AGENCIES BY INCOME

Fee income     

CIC Survey response

Parent Company

1

Edelman

$665,600,000

yes

 

2

Weber Shandwick

$628,350,000

yes

IPG

3

FleishmanHillard

$546,000,000

 

 OMC

4

Burson Marsteller

$454,500,000

 

 WPP

5

Ketchum

$440,000,000

 

 OMC

6

Hill+Knowlton Strategies

$390,000,000

 

 WPP

7

Ogilvy Public Relations

$297,000,000

 yes

 WPP

8

FTI Consulting

$186,700,000

 

 

9

GolinHarris

$175,000,000

 

 IPG

10

Cohn & Wolfe

$159,000,000

 

 WPP

11

APCO Worldwide

$121,800,000

 

 

12

Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Inc.

$118,462,000

 yes

 

13

Porter Novelli

$116,000,000

 

 OMC

14

ChandlerChicco Companies

$76,000,000

 

 

15

W2O Group

$62,005,000

 

 

16

Ruder Finn, Inc.

$57,663,000

 

 

17

Text100 Corporation

$50,890,670

 yes

 NFC

18

MWW

$42,875,000

 

 

19

Marina Maher Communications

$35,000,000

 

 OMC

20

DeVries PR

$35,000,000

 

 IPG

21

DKC Public Relations

$32,896,560

 

 

22

Finn Partners

$32,293,000

yes

 

23

Qorvis Communications*

$29,500,000

 yes*

MSL Group 

24

Citizen Relations (Citizen Paine)

$28,500,000

 

 

25

Bite Communications

$26,895,639

 

 NFC

 

*survey response from MSLGroup, based in France, the 4th largest PR firm in the world after FleishmanHillard, with 2012 Fee income of $526 Million

Source for income data: Holmes Report. Many figures are undiscoverable and estimated. Different figures available from Odwyers

Parent companies:

WPP

Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG)

Next Fifteen Communications Group (NFC)

The Omnicom Group (OMC).

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