The PR and advertising firms turn down fossil fuel clients

The PR and advertising firms turn down fossil fuel clients

Marian Ventura

Marian Ventura gave up all fossil fuel clients last year

Up until three years ago, PR and advertising firm boss Marian Ventura was more than happy to work on projects for oil and gas companies.

“I felt like I was driving change from within and working to improve their transparency and accountability,” says the founder of Done! based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

She says the fossil fuel industry is considered “prestigious” in Latin America. “They sponsor every sustainability event or award in the region and of course they are the ‘best clients for their big budgets’.”

Then, in 2019, Ms. Ventura’s feelings began to change when she decided to certify her company as a “B Corp” organization. This is a global certification system in which companies strive to meet the best possible social and environmental standards.

“As a B-company, we know that in order to fulfill our corporate purpose, we cannot turn a blind eye to these questions: Who am I selling to? What am I selling? In 10 years, will I be proud of what I’m selling? ‘ says Ms. Ventura.

fuel pumps

While a small but growing number of advertising and PR firms are now no longer working with fossil fuel companies, it’s important to remember that many others still do

As a result, it began reducing its oil customers, but took it a step further in 2021.

Last year she decided that Done! would become one of the now 350 advertising and PR firms that have joined a movement called Clean Creatives. Joining the movement means they commit to oppose any future work for fossil fuel companies or their trade associations.

“We’ve sold at least four active oil and gas-related customers and declined a dozen requests for quotations that actually keep coming back,” says Ms. Ventura.

She adds that her decision has met with criticism. “People with whom we have closer ties have told me that they disagree with our position because they believe that oil and gas are irreplaceable resources for society and they affirm that it can be developed in a responsible manner. “

The United Nations (UN) recognizes that burning fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal – is “by far the largest contributor to climate change”. They account for “nearly 90% of all carbon emissions,” it says.

Already in April, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on the subject: “Some government and business leaders say one thing but do another”. He added: “Governments and companies with high emissions are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the fire.”

Meanwhile, a report this year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that “corporate advertising and branding strategies may also attempt to deflect corporate responsibility.” The study also asked whether stricter advertising regulation was needed.

Duncan Meisel, director of US-based Clean Creatives, says he sees a change happening. “We know there are agencies that are not taking the pledge and have privately told us they are no longer reaching out to fossil fuel customers. This is a step forward.”

Duncan Meisal, left

Duncan Meisal, left, and his organization Clean Creatives have registered 350 advertising and PR firms

He adds: “The fossil fuel industry uses advertising agencies and PR agencies to make it harder for governments to hold them accountable. And advertising is misleading and gives companies the impression that they are more committed to climate protection than they actually are.”

However, some advertising firms continue to work with fossil fuel clients, such as Britain’s WPP, whose subsidiaries have worked with the likes of BP, Shell and Exxon Mobile.

“Our customers play an important role in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and the way they communicate their actions must be accurate,” says a WPP spokesman. “We apply strict standards to the content we produce for our clients and strive to fairly represent their environmental commitments and investments.

“We will not accept any client or work whose aim is to thwart the policies required by the Paris Agreement [on climate change].”

An old Shell ad

Fossil fuel companies have been big earners for advertising and PR firms since the early 20th century

Meanwhile, the world’s largest public relations firm, Edelman, was criticized late last year for its work for fossil fuel companies. His customers include the American fuel and petrochemical manufacturers and Exxon Mobile.

The US-headquartered company then conducted a 60-day review of its climate strategy, and chief executive Richard Edelman said in a company blog post in January that it may need to “distance” from customers who are not committed to net-zero committed to emissions.

Edelman declined to provide BBC News with subsequent comment on this article.

Oil and gas trade association Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) says it is wrong to criticize PR and advertising firms working with the energy sector.

“Pressuring regulators to avoid working with companies involved in oil and gas is counterproductive to tackling climate change, as they are also the ones with decades of experience in the energy space who are developing and deploying the cleaner technologies needed.” , says OEUK Director of External Relations Jenny Stanning.

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A spokesperson for the advertising association says he doesn’t think the fossil fuel industry should be banned from advertising, “but we recognize the right of individual companies to choose who they do and don’t work with.”

“Accuracy and honesty throughout advertising are paramount,” he adds. “This is an area that is carefully regulated by both the CMA [Competition and Markets Authority] and ASA [Advertising Standards Authority]which expects advertisers to provide evidence for any claims they make about the environmental impact of the products and services they offer.

“We believe in freedom of speech and Clean Creatives exercise that right. Our end goals are the same, ie net zero, but we think a more differentiated approach is needed.”

Solitaire Townsend, head of British advertising agency and PR firm Futurra, gave up working with oil and gas clients about 15 years ago.

She says that more and more companies in their industry have to follow suit – if they want to attract the best employees.

“Many agencies get to the point where they have to make the decision of whether they want to be able to hire the brightest,” says Ms. Townsend. “Young people don’t want to work in oil and gas [clients].”

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