You could spend a good number of hours out of your day tracking coverage of the oil and gas industry. Trade media, bloggers, local, national and international media are examining the industry from any number of angles. More often than not, the industry’s viewpoint is not being communicated with the same energy, and the results are damaging the industry’s public perception.
It is difficult to digest all the media scrutiny. If you want a good daily roundup, check out the news aggregator, Realclearenergy.org.
But what is abundantly clear is that the coverage is commensurate with the impact the industry is having, from shifts in the global economy down to the tiniest of tremors registered in a small Ohio town. Coverage often reflects public concern, government observation and expert opinion.
Consider these headlines posted within a few weeks of one another:
“New shale projects worth $3.5 billion planned in Ohio,” Oct. 11, Columbus Dispatch.
“Speakers warn of misinformation about fracking, effects on industry,” Sept. 26, Natural Gas Intelligence
“Changing gas sources present rare opportunity,” Oct. 15, Wall Street Daily
“Fracking in Ohio triggered 400 tiny earthquakes over 3-month period, scientists say,” Oct. 15, ClimateProgress
“Fracking’s funny numbers,” Oct. 9, Bloomberg
Some of these articles reflect the positive impacts of the oil and gas industry; others are more critical. But you get the point. Just like the increasing volume of oil and gas emerging from the ground, the volume of media coverage is continuing to grow.
We’ve already discussed the “Lightning rods of controversy” that challenge the oil and gas industry. Earthquakes. Water contamination and water use. Air releases of greenhouse gases. Oil spills with the potential to pollute land and water. These lightning rods of controversy pose challenges to an industry that urgently needs the enthusiasm and support of communities, investors, suppliers and government officials.
In his Sept. 26 article in Natural Gas Intelligence, Jameson Cocklin begins: “The Marcellus Shale Coalition’s (MSC) annual conference in Pittsburgh was underscored with warnings and apprehension about a battle for public opinion between the oil and natural gas industry and those opposed to it.”
According to Cocklin, the Heritage Foundation’s chief economist, Stephen Moore, said “the industry must do a better job of championing its successes.” Moore later noted “a losing battle for the public’s perception of fracking.”
At the same conference, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson praised the industry for its positive impact on the nation. But, he said, “it was imperative that the industry step up its public relations efforts to combat a noticeably growing opposition movement.”
Richardson is right, of course. Increased public relations efforts are needed. But what does that mean?
In reality, strategic communications have to fit both your culture and your comfort zone. Local and national media relations can be a powerful tool to communicate your story and support your brand. But what if you aren’t comfortable with that approach?
In this video blog, my colleague Gary Wells describes a valuable option called brand journalism, where companies and organizations produce their own content to tell their story. They distribute the content via social media and their website.
Other companies may prefer to complement media relations efforts with brochures, microsites and social media posts designed to engage local audiences and optimize Internet searches.
Either way, it is far better for the industry to adopt a proactive approach and communicate its story. As Cocklin quoted XTO Energy Inc. President Randy Cleveland telling the Marcellus Coalition, “We need to continue to reach out and educate the public. Our presence in local communities around the nation has given us the opportunity to engage with the public at a very local level.”
Without increased engagement, the industry is ceding control of the information the public digests to determine whether they support or oppose fracking. At a time when increased communication is needed, that is the equivalent of drilling a well without the benefit of studying the area’s geology first. You could get lucky, but you wouldn’t want to bet your livelihood on it.
If you have any questions or comments on these issues, please feel free to send an email or give me a call. We are always glad to share our thoughts and hear the views of others as we all learn together. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.241.2145.