Oil flacks keep their ear to the ground

March 12, 2009

Very good response from the flacks at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers about the National Geographic text on the oil sands. They set up a section on their Web site to deal with this (and certainly encourage friendly columnists to use their speaking points), then intervene on the blogs where the topic is discussed… including our own little Final Spin here.

It’s all very professional. The flack clearly identifies himself. The comment picks up on something that was written in the post (he mistook a quote I used for my own opinion but no matter). It’s respectful. And of course there’s a link to their Web site. Very nice. That’s 21th-Century PR.

I bet they monitor the reactions to their comments too (hello there Mr. Davies). It took them almost three days to get their response on this blog, that’s a bit long but not that much. And it took me more than a day to realize it got stuck in the spam filter – putting two hyperlinks in your comments will do that. Sorry.

I’d love to see the social media campaign report the CAPP flacks will write after that one. There’s a nice little case study in there. How about presenting something at the CPRS conference?

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Poll: National Geographic vs. Alberta oil sands

March 8, 2009

This post below received quite a few visits since it got posted a few hours ago. This looks like a good opportunity for a little poll. So read the post and vote if you are so inclined.



National Geographic and the oilsands: what the heck are they complaining about in Calgary?

March 8, 2009

I’ve been scratching my head for a few days now, trying to make sense of the uproar out West about the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine. The venerable yellow-framed publication, famous for the quality of its pictures and focus on conservation, ran a 20-page section on Alberta’s ‘oilsands’. It illustrates the dark side of the sand operations – you know, the scoured landscape, the sick people, the dead birds, the complete lack of restraint from the industry.

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

Gary Lamphier in the Edmonton Journal denounces it as eco-propaganda. Predictably, the National Post is outraged. Biased, soft-handed tree-huggers from New York, don’t they know they need Canadian oil to drive from their country home to their Manhattan office?

But reading the magazine made me wonder why the heck they are complaining about.

Sure, a text in National Geographic about the oilsands would be cause to send Cheryl Rubb at Syncrude’s media relations service into a panic. But as it turns out, the oil patch, as well as the Alberta government, have plenty of reasons to rejoice: even a cursory reading of the magazine’s text shows that it contains all the messages they’ve been trying to get through to Americans for years:

  • Canada is America’s no. 1 oil supplier and has reserves greater than Saudi Arabia’s.
  • Canadian oil is the best way to reduce America’s dependency on oil from the Middle-East.
  • Alberta’s oilsands are open for business: it’s full steam ahead and development will not slow down.
  • Extraction even of the deeper oil is plenty profitable.
  • In the grand scheme of things, the oilsands’ carbon footprint is negligible and First Nations are seeing this as an opportunity.

As for the environmental aspect of the oilsands, the text makes it clear that it’s a Canadian problem that has no impact on the U.S. Canada wants to turn part of their own countryside into a hellish hellhole to pump oil south of the border. It’s their business.

I’m sure the oil patch’s PR wizards see it that way, if they have any wits. Curiously, it’s the newsroom hacks who get blinded by rage. Lamphier can’t even get past the pictures:

“No one reads National Geographic. Like Playboy, it’s all about the pictures. And you can bet that everyone from Al Gore to David Suzuki to the righteous folks at Greenpeace will be using the magazine’s grim photos to convince the pliable masses, and U.S. politicians, that the oilsands are indeed the world’s greatest eco-disaster.”

Right. Apparently publishers have a responsibility not only to be balanced, but also not to publish pictures that could be used to support a public relations campaign. Interesting how the ethics of journalism shift with who is doing the spinning.

If Lamphier and the National Post editorial board like to pretend American public opinion is ripe for an eco-crusade involving oil production right now, it’s fine. After all, we’re used to frequent high-pitched whining from either of those sources. But nobody should think their outrage has anything to do with reality.

POLL UPDATE: What do you think? Take the poll!


Government of Canada wins award at important environment conference

December 8, 2008

While the Canadian Parliament lockout continues, Environment Minister Jim Prentice is in Poznan (Poland), spinning his way through the latest round of negotiations on climate change. Canada was awarded a Fossil of the Day Award (2nd place) on Friday, for aggressive back-pedalling on its commitments. Unfortunately, Mr. Prentice couldn’t make it to the awards ceremony…

Way to go, Minister Prentice. Let’s assume this is only the first of a long list of awards you plan to earn as Canada’s new Environment Minister.


Only the truth can be embellished

November 24, 2008

The above is what one of my PR teachers used to say back in university, when he felt the need to explain to us PR professionals do not lie. For some reason, he felt he had to repeat his mantra almost every class.

I was reminded of that teacher and his desperate attempts at finding some moral ground for our profession to stand on when I read this CBC report on tar sands carbon sequestration.

So yes, there are ways to capture carbon from tar sands extraction so that it doesn’t get released into the atmosphere. The technology exists and can be improved. It’s the truth.

Except the truth has been embellished in a monstrous way. It turns out that according to the government scientists working on carbon capture, the method is very inefficient, at least when applied to the tar sands. It’s only possible to treat a small proportion of the carbon. That will continue to be the case even after governments spend $2.5 billion to improve the technology.

It’s simple arithmetic: when you treat only a small fraction of the emissions, it doesn’t matter much if your treatment is 20% or 100% effective. It’s like trying to cure a bad case of cancer by using a really good treatment, but only on the patient’s feet.

No matter. Somebody decided the government would focus on carbon capture as the way to go to reduce carbon emissions causing climate change. So government communicators have been pushing carbon sequestration as a way to address our little flatulence problem while we keep drilling and pumping. Or in the case of the tar sands: digging, trucking, rinsing, heating, pressurizing, emitting, spilling … and spinning.

The whole thing raises interesting policy questions, which I will leave to other blogs to address. This here blog is only concerned about public relations. So here’s the question I should have asked my teacher back then:

How much can truth be embellished before it becomes a lie?


PR, social change and the politics of compassion

November 4, 2008

I caught this conference on TVO this weekend (one of five people watching I guess), journalist Malcolm Gladwell and philosopher Mark Kingwell talking and debating about how to effect social change. Gladwell is more about the correct focus of social change campaigns while Kingwell looks at it from a much wider, humanist perspective.

Malcolm Gladwell –

“We’ve done ‘knowing’ perhaps better than ever before in the past. But what have we done on the ‘doing’ side? Well almost nothing. What do I need to know about what I can do as an individual?”

“We have an enormous gap between knowing and doing in this case and we don’t know what to do. No one has come along and told us in a clear and precise way, what the plan of action is and how awareness ought to follow that desire for action in the future.”

“We tend to favour the awareness side of things because we’re so good at it. We’ve got this wonderful technology, we’ve got the Internet that allows us to reach people for nothing, we’ve got email (…), we’ve got lots of people with tremendous skills who write beautiful essays (…), we’ve got people who can do wonderful advertisements, we have people who can design gorgeous web sites. But that’s not change. That’s advertising. And we need to acknowledge the difference.”

Prof Mark Kingwell –

“It is not enough just to comfort the afflicted. We must also afflict the comfortable.”

 

 

“Journalism in the traditional mode of ‘the media’ – whatever they are – is only part of what public discourse is. It has nevertheless a fundamental democratic role to play at its best. And Malcolm and I and you too, and many other people in this room, know the ways in which it failed to be democratically responsible in that respect. But it’s still one of the only places where certain kinds of things can be done. That is characteristic of the modern age where literacy is the basic right of every citizen. Because it is the basic condition of taking up your full responsibilities as a citizen.”

There’s much more in that hour-long broadcast. Useful to reflect on all this while re-reading this post on social change campaigns.


Networks didn’t really want the Greens in the debate, Evil Consortium boss says

September 10, 2008

This morning, former Evil Network Consortium boss Tony Burman says that the networks couldn’t agree between themselves that including the Greens in a Leader’s debate would be good television, let alone present a common front to the political parties: Read the rest of this entry »