Perhaps you heard the good news - the world's largest public relations firm, Edelman, just spun off an advertising subsidiary so that it could show a commitment to not aiding the denial of climate change science. The Guardian explains how API's contracts with Edelman were so massive--tens of millions of dollars--that it was up to 10% of the PR giant's income.
For years, Edelman has managed multi-million dollar contracts with the American Petroleum Institute (API), using its Blue Advertising subsidiary to help API run commercials selling fantasies to people: that oil and gas are our only viable, plentiful, "AMERICAN" sources of energy.
In the saga that led Edelman to dump the lobbyists at API, Greenpeace had a small role to play: we infiltrated a commercial shoot, run by Edelman's Blue advertising arm for API. The commercials were to be called "Vote 4 Energy," casting the illusion of mass popular demand for more oil and gas drilling (and more pollution, more climate change, and more government giveaways to prop it all up).
After being dressed up in a button-down, plaid orange shirt--I'm not sure what look they had in mind for me--I was put in front of the camera and told to repeat lines back. This despite the casting call for "REAL PEOPLE not Actors!" Huh.
Instead of telling them "I Vote" for oil and gas, I ran off script and demanded a prioritization of clean energy, not continued pandering to oil lobbyists at API. As I was ushered off set, the person I appealed to for a clean energy future was Robert McKernan, president of Blue Advertising, the company that Edelman is ditching. He was the last person I saw before being booted out of the studio rooms, and as we locked eyes, I appealed directly to him: "we need clean sources of energy, like wind and solar." Here's a transcribed recording of that on-set disruption:
Shockingly, API and Edelman didn't stop the commercial shoot there and reinvent it into an appeal for clean energy (yes, that's sarcasm). And as Edelman and API moved forward with the commercial, Greenpeace got another idea.
On the day that API's commercials debuted, Greenpeace created and released a fake Vote4Energy commercial, mocking their bizarre message with parody oil executives dismissing clean energy and using empty patriotic jargon: "I vote for prosperous American liberty jobs for Freedom."
We crashed API's launch event for Vote4Energy, rolling out an astroturf mat for politicians and lobbyists to make their entrance, framed by oil company logos. Online, we buried their actual website with our spoof material and drove more traffic to our fake commercial. Some journalists actually linked to our silly video in their stories about API's Vote4Energy campaign.
This was in January, 2012. Since then, big things have happened at Edelman.
Edelman's Make-Or-Break Moment
Fast forward to last fall, 2014: Edelman suffered a months-long PR crisis--the last thing a PR firm wants--over its representation of API and other climate science denial organizations. Edelman's chairman, Richard Edelman, hastily put out a statement affirming his company's commitment to climate change.
Mr. Edelman was personally urging the press that he cared about the issue, and fired a top executive who was uncooperative with the Climate Investigations Center, which was surveying PR firms on their climate change policies. It was awkward.
The mess was intensified by another round of documents showing Edelman was helping TransCanada--the operator of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline--with campaign planning to subvert local activism in Canada against TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. After the plan was leaked, TransCanada dumped Edelman.
It seems that Big Oil is starting to be a Big Headache for Big PR. Of course, there are still plenty of public relations firms with little to no moral standard out there, unrecognized by the public, for Big Oil to pay for dirty PR.
But for the world's largest firm to take some meaningful steps to throw in the towel on climate denial - that indicates a precedent for an industry that most activists wouldn't have bothered to spend time trying to change.
And it's a good thing, because climate scientists aren't getting any less distressed about our changed climate. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is getting desperate enough to officially call for "unproven technology" in attempts to mitigate the crisis. Despite the weight of the crisis, which is just getting started, coal companies, oil companies, the Koch brothers and their legion of front groups are creating layers of red tape to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the first regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants.
Perhaps there's a slick PR firm out there willing to make right of its past and do something productive for the climate, and all of us who rely upon it.
Edelman: you're up. Show us you mean it this time.
Today, the American Petroleum Institute unveiled its 2012 Vote 4 Energy astroturf campaign, centered around a major election-linked CNN advertising package that PolluterWatch helped expose last month with audio recordings from inside the studio. Vote 4 Energy attempts to show 'real Americans' who are 'energy voters,' meaning they are committing to vote for whichever politicians support Big Oil's dirty agenda in this election year. Typical. API also bought the back page of the A section of the Washington Post with a Vote 4 Energy ad, space that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to normal people.
Anticipating this new misinformation campaign, PolluterWatch created a mock commercial to show how API and it's oil company members (Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and all the usual suspects) have to fake citizen support for the oil industry:
The American Petroleum Institute (API) is Big Oil's top lobbying firm, using a $200 million budget to push dirty energy incentives and tax handouts for oil companies into our national laws. They have been caught in the past staging rallies for their Energy Citizens astroturf campaign, as revealed by Greenpeace in a confidential API memo to oil executives. Why do they fake citizen support? Probably because Americans overwhelmingly support clean energy over dirty oil development.
Knowing that API is rolling out the astroturf on cable TV, we decided to roll out actual astroturf at the location of their press conference today, literally making attendees walk down a long astroturf 'green carpet' shrouded by Big Oil logos as they entered the event. The K St lobbyists seemed downright confused by seeing the corporate logos that are normally invisible at API events.
Inside, API CEO Jack Gerard announced the campaign and promoted dirty energy development like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in his "State of American Energy" address. Apparently Jack thinks he's the President of United States of Energy, I thought he was just an oil lobbyist. Reporters leaving the session spoke about how bogus the event was--same old same old from Jack.
Jack Gerard may want to trick Americans into his Vote 4 Energy nonsense, but he demonstrates the same predictable rhetoric that oil companies always use to make themselves sound somewhat responsible, when everyone knows they aren't--see our profiles for ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, all multi-billion dollar corporations, making record profits even in a global recession, and looking for more tax breaks and handouts. If you are watching election coverage on CNN and spot API's astroturf ad, don't buy the lie. Vote for yourself, not oil executives.
UPDATE: story covered in Yahoo News today.
Recently, Greenpeace got a rare look behind the curtain at how Big Oil stages citizen support for huge oil companies, when activists got inside a TV commercial shoot in Washington DC. The American Petroleum Institute (API), and their PR firm Edelman, were filming a new series of TV commercials that we learned API plans to air nationally on CNN starting in January. The ads, aimed at the 2012 elections, will aim to demonstrate authentic citizen support for the oil industry's agenda.
Greenpeace disrupted API's astroturf commercial plans by not following instructions and going off script, declaring support for a clean energy future and demanding an end political interference by the oil industry's lobbyists and PR firms.
Inside API’s Secretive Commercial Shoot:
Details of the CNN January ad campaign as described by API and other clips are posted below.
Activists (or…citizens) were led through the wardrobe and makeup process, approved for looks by representatives from API and Edelman Blue Advertising, before waiting their turns to go on set. Participants were required to be registered voters, explained an API representative, to protect API from ”opponents” who may inquire if actors stating “I vote” are actually eligible to do so. Other recruited actors were being watched by the industry representatives during their takes, repeating lines like “That [energy independence] will come from our own energy resources – like oil and natural gas.”
Late in the morning, the API Edelman team filmed three unexpectedly honest ‘citizens’ who made clear the script did not represent their real opinions on energy. Greenpeace researcher Connor Gibson of the PolluterWatch project repeated their scripted line, “I vote,” then declared, “But I am a clean energy citizen. I will not believe the lies and influence peddling of the American Petroleum Institute, which would leave you to believe that I am a citizen that is okay with giving my tax payer dollars to billionaires and millionaires that run oil companies, the most profitable industry on the planet.” Gibson stressed movement away from a “perpetual petroleum future” and finished his speech by telling Edelman Blue President Robert McKernan “we need clean sources of energy, like wind and solar.” Listen to Gibson's full declaration and read the transcript, below.
In addition to Gibson, two other participants refused to recite API’s script. Peter Roquemore of the Sierra Student Coalition and Gabe Elsner, Deputy Director of the Checks and Balances Project showed up to the shoot with the expectation that they would provide their own assessments of American energy. Both decided not to participate once they were fed oil industry talking points on camera.
API’s New “Vote4Energy” Ad Campaign Exposed
In a taped conversation with the activists, an API communications advisor described the upcoming Vote 4 Energy advertising package in great detail: "This is scheduled to launch in January in a commercial on CNN, so it'll be a national spot...API—American Petroleum Institute—bought into an election package so anytime CNN does anything like covering the presidential debates, cover a caucus, anything like that, those will be the kinds of programs where the commercial is seen." The commercial debuts on January first. How much the deal with CNN cost remains an open question.
The API rep also said, “we are shooting a ton of people so, you know, you may make the cut, you may not, it all depends on the demographic.” Earlier in the morning, API agents were overheard expressing a need for more people of color in the commercials, noting that black and Asian demographics tend to disagree with Big Oil's warped political positions. API has been caught in the past photo-shopping print ads to include racial minorities in purchased iStock Photo to make their already fabricated supporters appear more diverse.
API BUSTED: Staging Grassroots Support for Dirty Energy
Over two years ago, Greenpeace obtained a confidential memo [pdf] from American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard, asking API member oil companies to support a campaign to fake a grassroots movement called “Energy Citizens.” Under the guise of this astroturf group, Big Oil would pay for public events similar to Tea Party rallies in support of their absurd wishlist: killing global warming legislation, unrestricted offshore oil drilling, increased tar sands development through the looming Keystone XL pipeline, hydraulic fracturing for “natural” gas, and no form of accountability for their immense contributions to climate change.
Luckily, the leaked memo was revealed on the front page of the Financial Times and covered in the Washington Post, Guardian and on Huffington Post. The New York Times Editors called it "Another Astroturf Campaign," revealing what a fluke Energy Citizens was before Chevron had the chance to bus its employees to API’s first round of staged rallies, the majority of which were organized by oil lobbyists. Greenpeace called attention to API’s tactic by installing astroturf on the front entrance of API’s Washington DC headquarters, featuring the logos of its largest members: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP and the banner CLIMATE FRAUD: FUNDED BY BIG OIL.
Given the nature of API’s newest commercial shoot, its Energy Citizens rallies where participants had to be instructed to clap (see [Astro]Turf Wars), and its repeated use of iStock Photos to boost the perception of public support for Big Oil, it is reasonable to question the authenticity of similar PR moves like the “1’m One” or “One in a Million” advertising campaigns, also run by PR company Edelman, which purport to show real people who work for the oil industry.
The American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying firm for the oil and gas industry, has spent at least $30 million peddling its dirty influence to our federal government in the last five years, and recently announced it would start funneling oil money to politicians. With it's $200 million Big Oil budget, API has played a key role in the industry’s climate denial movement by funding junk scientists like Willie Soon and coordinating a public relations strategy to create doubt over climate change.
Recordings from Inside the American Petroleum Institute Vote4Energy Commercial Shoot:
API explains the commercial deal with CNN (click to listen)
API: "Just so you know, I don't know how much they told you, but this is scheduled to launch in January in a commercial on CNN, so it'll be a national spot...API--American Petroleum Institute, uh, bought into an election package so anytime CNN does anything like covering the presidential debates, cover a caucus, anything like that, those will be the kinds of programs where the commercial is seen."
API reveals commercial debut date (click to listen)
Greenpeace Activist: “So what date is this going to launch?”
API: “Um, January first.”
API Says Chance of Being in Commercial “Depends on the Demographic” (click to listen)
API: “And so to your point though, we are shooting a ton of people so, you know, you may make the cut, you may not, it all depends on the demographic.”
API explains concern over “opponents” (click to listen)
API: "And I'm sure they checked with you but you're a registered voter and all that stuff?"
Gibson: "Yeah, they asked me. I don't know how you check that, but I am."
API: "We, um...the only reason is really a lot of the, you know, the script is saying "I vote," "I vote for energy," "I vote for..." so, we at least want to be genuine in the sense that you are a registered voter. As you can imagine, there are some opponents of the oil and natural gas industry and so we always have to be very careful of, you know, what our opponents could use against us. And that is, you know, if they found out that we were using people who aren't actually registered voters, or not even eighteen, or whatever, so..."
Production staffer explains how lines are fed to participants (click to listen)
“No they put them in costumes and then the makeup lady takes care of them and then they walk them out, and all they do is the director feeds them the lines and he talks them through it. It’s…he’ll [Gibson] be fine.”
Transcript of Greenpeace Activist going off API script (click to listen)
Director, prompting the first scripted line: “Smile, deep breath... ‘I vote.’”
Gibson: “I vote. But I am a clean energy citizen. I do not believe in the lies and influence peddling of the American Petroleum Institute, which would lead you to believe that I am a citizen that is okay with giving my taxpayer dollars to the billionaires and millionaires that run oil companies, the most profitable industry on the planet. The American Petroleum Institute is peddling its influence to make you think people like me are fully in support of [a] perpetual petroleum future. ‘Energy Citizens’ is an astroturf front group created by the American Petroleum Institute to make it sound like there is citizen support for petroleum in our energy future, and we need clean energy – like wind and solar.”