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PR Firm Edelman Ends Relationship with U.S. Oil Lobby

Words by Leon Kaye

Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm and arguably the force that has defined the global PR sector for years, will stop working with one of the most powerful business groups in the United States. According to the Holmes Report, Edelman has ended its relationship with the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Blue Advertising, a division of Edelman that had managed the relationship with API, will spin off from its parent firm and manage the account on its own. It is a gutsy business move for Edelman, on par with CVS deciding to stop selling tobacco products, since the Guardian has estimated that its relationship with API delivered as much as 10 percent of Edelman’s annual revenues. Meanwhile the firm developed a growing corporate social responsibility and sustainability practice, a profitable move considering more multinationals are cleaning up their supply chains while taking more action to address climate change. The result was the firm carrying on a balancing act of grooming its social responsibility practice while representing a controversial industry: a dance that was becoming more uncomfortable to watch over the past year.

Last year, several public relations firms declared they would no longer represent companies that denied humans’ impact on climate change. Edelman also announced it would no longer work with climate deniers. The problem was that the firm was still working with such organizations such as API (which doesn’t exactly technically deny man-made climate change but it’s not hard to read between the lines) and ALEC, industry groups that were fighting tooth and nail against any climate change campaign that would affect their member companies’ businesses. Hence Edelman continued to score plenty of criticism, all the while working with clients to make them more sustainable and responsible organizations. As someone who receives press releases faster than I can hit the delete key, I have to say an email from an Edelman rep almost always has substance—as one would expect from a firm that is top in its industry.

Meanwhile, the public relations field is growing, while more restrictive laws have led to a decrease in lobbying and the meltdown of traditional media companies is causing the journalism field to shrink. Some see this as a nefarious trend, and television shows such as Scandal help perpetuate the myth that the PR is nothing but a cynical industry that excessively hypes positive news—or creating spin when a client is in trouble. Such an assessment is shortsighted because a reputable firm such as Edelman also serves as a strategist and adviser: In this age where everyone is a blogger and can tweet in a heartbeat, there is too large of a global peanut gallery to simply “spin” a problem or hype a new “green” product or policy that is simply toothless.

But just as it made Olivia Pope queasy when she had to represent election-rigging Hollis Doyle, it is becoming more uncomfortable for any organization to maintain their relationships with the oil and gas industry. Universities are under pressure to divest their energy holdings, more stakeholders and shareholders are pressuring companies to clean up and green up their operations and investors want less to do with the energy sector. The pressure is everywhere, even in the art world, as in London, where activists pressured Tate Modern to publicly release its decades of funding from BP. So Edelman’s move may temporarily hurt them on the ledger, but in the long term, it should benefit its business as more organizations realize they need to become more responsible—but need assistance in delivering on such a plan.

Based in California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Image credit: Edelman

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked and lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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