Porter Novelli is one of the world’s largest PR firms and belongs to the Omnicom Group. In November 2020, they announced, in response to a query from The New Yorker that, “Porter Novelli is committed to regularly assessing evolving issues, the science that guides them and their impact on diverse, global audiences. As such, we have determined our work with the American Public Gas Association is incongruous with our increased focus and priority on addressing climate justice—we will no longer support that work beyond 2020”.
The ‘work’ was a campaign conceived and executed by Porter Novelli, for their client, the American Public Gas Association, to “get millennials excited about natural gas“.
The campaign is called ‘Natural Gas Genius‘ and one of the many outlets for the dissemination of the ‘message’ is Instagram.
According to the American Public Gas Association, the campaign’s “target audience is homeowners who are looking to buy or renovate a home in the next five years. We are confident in the ability of this new type of message that speaks to the emotional aspect of natural gas, to help us achieve our goal of increasing consumer consideration of natural gas direct use in their homes” (Source: The New Yorker)
This, as The New Yorker adds, is the opposite of what climate science suggests: “That is, they were trying to do the opposite of what climate science suggests. If you’re buying a new home or renovating an old one, you can install an electric air-source heat pump instead of a gas boiler. It will heat (and also cool) your home effectively and cheaply, and produce far fewer greenhouse gases in the process. You can also install, instead of a gas stove, an induction cooktop—an appliance whose use is growing rapidly in Asia and Europe. Not only will it boil water considerably faster and help with the climate; it will remove from your kitchen a flame that pollutes the indoor air and can harm your kids“.
1. The Gas Industry Is Paying Instagram Influencers to Gush Over Gas Stoves (Mother Jones)
2. This Woke PR Firm Is Quietly Running an Influencer Campaign for Fossil Fuels (VICE)
So, why is Porter Novelli signing off of one of their more lucrative clients? One of the many reasons is the increasing opposition to PR and advertising agencies working on greenwashing and misinformation campaigns.
And who is opposing such campaigns and agency partnerships?
Here’s one campaign, called Clean Creatives. Launched in November 2020 by an advocacy group called Fossil Free Media, Clean Creatives has been mounting pressure on creative and public relations agencies to reassess their working relationship with fossil fuel clients. Clean Creatives took the statement from Porter Novelli as a sign of their campaign’s success.
Most recently, Forsman & Bodenfors, an international advertising agency, signed the Clean Creatives Pledge! What is the pledge? Clean Creatives has three, to choose from, one for clients to not hire agencies that work with fossil fuel clients, one for agencies to not work with fossil fuel clients, and one for creatives to not work on fossil fuel client mandates.
While Clean Creatives does not reveal (to the extent of my search) which agencies, creatives, or clients have signed the pledge, the idea is interesting for multiple reasons.
If an advocacy group could disseminate a campaign to mount pressure on advertising and PR agencies to not work on fossil fuel clients, what other topics could be included under the basic idea of “X industry is bad. PR and advertising agencies should consider not working with them”?
The most notable of such industries was the cigarette/tobacco industry. After having run rampant in PR and advertising, multiple countries have all but ostracised the cigarette industry and layered them under multiple restrictions, in terms of labeling, marketing and advertising, and PR.
Now, it is the turn of fossil fuel industries.
What next? When do you think the multiple industries and categories that promote sugar consumption (sweets, ice cream, cola, and so many other products) would come under similar pressure for targeting children in their communications?
What about products that use unhealthy food and advertise it to children?
To some extent, there is widespread pressure on products that promote unhealthy standards in ‘beauty’ and the recent name-changing drama by Unilever/Hindustan Lever is an outcome of such campaigns on a sustained basis.
For the agencies, such clients represent a significant chunk of their earnings. Letting go of such lucrative clients would have a chain reaction in terms of revenue loss, job loss, and more.
The more interesting observation is this: these are some of the world’s best advertising and PR agencies. They work extensively on creating and molding the perceptions of their clients. But, when their own perception is tarnished by ragtag campaigners fighting specific causes, they are forced to take note! The agencies operated in the background, letting their clients do the talking (as they should), but when the light is on the agencies’ role, and such role is being questioned as being destructive to the only planet (and its inhabitants, young and old) that we currently can live in, they don’t counter them using the method they recommend to their clients – by launching a campaign. They sever ties with problematic clients and move on if they can afford such divorces.