PR Firms Influencing Public Policy
By Joanna Rothkopf, Assistant Editor, Salon
Many climate change deniers will have to start handling their own public relations.
The Guardian reports that several of the top 25 global PR firms have confirmed that they will no longer do business with clients that reject the existence of climate change, or take on campaigns with the goal of blocking carbon pollution regulations. The PR firms include WPP, Waggener Edstrom (WE) Worldwide, Weber Shandwick, Text 100 and Finn Partners. (Crossbow Communications also refuses to work for companies and causes that threaten biodiversity, endangered species, endangered cultures or our endangered planet.)
The Guardian reports that the PR firms were responding to surveys conducted independently by the Guardian and the Climate Investigations Center, a Washington-based group that conducts research on climate disinformation campaigns. This could have a knock-on effect on the advertising and lobbying campaigns targeting Barack Obama’s regulations limiting carbon emissions from power plants, and the international negotiations for a climate change treaty, now entering a critical phase.
“The PR industry is a major component of the influence peddling industry that stretches across Washington and the world, and they are making large sums of money from energy companies and other important players that have businesses connected to fossil fuels and energy policy,” said Kert Davies, the founder of Climate Investigations.
The survey points to the major power these firms have in shaping public conversation.
“For the majority of them, they would rather remain neutral on any issue,” Davies continued. “They don’t want to have positions on anything because they like to keep options open to take on any client who walks in the door.
They pretend they are above the fray and they are not involved, and yet they are the ones designing ad campaigns, designing lobbying campaigns, and designing the messages their clients want to convey around climate change.”
Edelman, for example, is leading the way in its programs for reducing the company’s carbon footprint, while at the same time representing the American Petroleum Institute, the main energy lobby opposing carbon emission regulations. “I don’t believe we are obligated in any way to respond,” read an email by an Edelman representative, accidentally sent to the Climate Investigations Center in response to the survey. “There are only wrong answers for this guy.”
Still, what happens when Public Relations firms have agendas? While rejecting climate deniers is an obvious coup for science, what would happen if the board of a major firm is dominated by representatives of a less noble cause?