Tuesday, October 19

Talking Too Much: Chevron

Chevron CampaignOn Monday, Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) launched a new ad campaign entitled “We Agree,” which seeks to establish solidarity with people around the world on key energy issues. It also describes the actions the company takes in producing energy responsibly and in supporting the communities where it operates.

The campaign can best be likened to throwing a family of mongooses—all sporting T-shirts that say "some of my best friends are snakes"—into a cobra pit. I don't know exactly what would happen, but chances are those little guys on either side wouldn't stand around and sing Kumbaya.

And yet, this is the thinking behind Chevron's new campaign, except its T-shirts read "It's time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy" as an extension of its longer running campaign Will You Join Us.

It also comes at a time when Chevron is embattled with an Ecuadorian lawsuit. Sure, the lawsuit recently lost some credibility as raw footage might suggest collusion to inflate the extent of the Amazon rainforest pollution (that the company may or may not be partly responsible for), but telling the truth requires the right timing. And regardless of where you stand on energy issues, this was not the right time.

Sometimes The Truth Is Reliant On Timing.

Big corporations make easy targets. Oil companies are especially soft. It's difficult for them to hold any defensive position when they produce a product that — despite demand for it — has been singled out as one of the most harmful to the environment.

"We hear what people say about oil companies – that they should develop renewables, support communities, create jobs and protect the environment – and the fact is, we agree,” said Rhonda Zygocki, vice president of policy, government and public affairs at Chevron. “This campaign demonstrates our values as a company and the greater value we provide in meeting the world’s demand for energy. There is a lot of common ground on energy issues if we take the time to find it.”

Zygocki is right. Most oil companies want to embrace renewable energy. It is on the drawing board for any company that hopes to have sustainability. In 2007, Chevron was among the first to admit 10 percent of Americans “hate us and our industry and there’s nothing we can do to change their minds." Since the Gulf Coast oil spill, which involved another oil company campaigning for green, that hate has grown exponentially.

Naturally, Chevron didn't launch the campaign to attempt to clean up ill feelings over the Gulf as some people initially speculated. That wasn't (even though it should have been) a consideration. This campaign hopes to minimize some of the damage caused by the film Crude and the Ecuadorian lawsuit, which is still being played out to determine who might be the biggest villains.

This is also why the timing of the campaign launch couldn't be worse. The situation for Chevron in Ecuador might have improved as new information is being brought to light but the verdict is still out. So instead of coming across as more green or responsible, the only thing the company has succeeded in doing is drawing even more attention to the ugliness of the case.

Chevron Earns Push Back Before The Campaign Is Launched.

Almost immediately, the release sent out by Chevron was parodied. And some publications, unfortunately, ran with this news release, which is tied to this spoof Website. It seems fact-checking is optional these days.

It also wasn't the only parody release. I received a second release yesterday morning, also a spoof, quoting a frothy mad CEO as vowing to take revenge on the "environmental groups" that hijacked their new campaign. While I didn't bother to verify who sent the mock release, I suspect it also belongs to the Yes Men.

I've written about them before. The media generally likes them, except when the media gets punked. The giveaway in the one I received was that it was published under the guise of a shareholder message. I don't own investments in Chevron. I've also read plenty of real shareholder statements.

You Do Have More Than Two Choices.

Barry Silverstein, writing for the brandchannel, tried to sum it up with his lead-in. "When your brand's industry has a major PR problem, you either hide your head in the sand, or get out there and make a statement," he wrote.

And therein lies most of the problems with marketing and public relations today. There aren't two choices. There are a million choices. And the reason Chevron picked one of the worst choices is exactly why its industry has a public relations problem.

They talk too much. They talk so much, I am almost convinced they never listen. There is only one way the oil companies can regain some lost ground. They have to stop telling stories and start having dialogues. Specifically, they must start having dialogues with people who don't like them. And then, those people, will be the ones who tell the stories.
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