PR firms vow not to partner with climate change deniers

Agencies including Weber Shandwick, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, and WPP, the parent company of Ogilvy and Burson Marsteller, have made the bold step.


According to public relations conventional wisdom, wading into touchy political debates when one doesn’t have to is a bad idea. Yet 10 of the world’s biggest public relations firms, including Weber Shandwick, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Text100, Finn Partners, and WPP, the parent company of Ogilvy Public Relations and Burson Marsteller, have publicly stated that they would not work with clients that deny that man-made climate change exists. The agencies made those assertions in response to a survey conducted by The Guardian and the Washington D.C.-based Climate Investigations Center. “We would not support a campaign that denies the existence and the threat posed by climate change, or efforts to obstruct regulations cutting greenhouse gas emissions and/or renewable energy standards,” Weber Shandwick spokeswoman Michelle Selesky said. WPP offered its support with one big caveat: Namely that the 150 companies that operate under the WPP umbrella are independent and choose their own clients. For example, Ogilvy wasn’t keen to make any promises. Edelman, the world’s largest independently owned PR firm, also didn’t promise anything, stating that it signs clients on a case-by-case basis. An initial email response to the Climate Investigations Center which was apparently meant to stay internal stated, “I don’t believe we are obligated to respond. There are only wrong answers with this guy [CIC founder Kert Davies].” Other firms that declined to answer included Hill & Knowlton and Qorvis, yet even those firms touted their environmental bona fides, with many of them noting that they have internal programs aimed at reducing carbon emissions. About 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is man-made, according to NASA, but politically, the issue is still quite divisive. Davies argued that PR is a major factor in that continuing political debate, as firms “are making large sums of money from energy companies and other important players that have businesses connected to fossil fuels and energy policy.” Davies went on to argue that the firms who declined to answer the survey directly were trying to remain neutral so they could opt to participate in such campaigns, but vowing off partnerships with clients could also lead to lost business that has nothing to do with climate change at all. What do you think, PR Daily readers? Is the bold action of stating one’s firm won’t work with climate change deniers worth the potential loss of business?

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