The "public relations" industry helps many of the world’s top brands respectfully communicate their positions, products and points-of-view. With deep skills in market positioning, media relations and branding, public relations experts are powerful agents to help clients deliver clear, unambiguous information to groups that matter to them.
I have a lot of experience in this industry and know most public relations professionals honestly put a clients best foot forward with clutter-free clarity in a gauzy, garbled world.
"PR" is a behemoth in the service sector, generating around $5 billion a year in fees to bend, shape, position and advance public attitudes about key issues of our time.
That is why I was interested in the recent survey hosted by the publication The Guardian, along with the Climate Investigations Center, a watchdog of climate deniers’ disinformation campaigns, in their survey of the world's 25 largest public relations firms and their attitudes about climate change.
The survey is designed in part to help determine whether top communications agencies would go beyond informational “spin” and actually propagate disinformation as professional deniers of Climate Change.
Only 10 of the 25 largest agencies responded to the survey, including Shandwick, Burson Marsteller, Ogilvy Public Relations and a few brave others.
That is a troubling signal that the PR industry knows climate deniers have a lot of money to spend and that they would consider helping them spend it.
Agencies won’t alienate prospective clients by answering questions that cast doubt on their loyalty to their clients. And besides, the industry knows everyone deserves his or her day in court.
The danger is that a small number of communications experts are spin-doctors that would intentionally confuse the public with half-truths, deflections or calculated stonewalling of the facts in the name of their clients (and their own ) avarice or power.
But professional message makers are smart people. Most are perfectly aware that the United Nation’s latest report states the scientific debate about human-caused climate change is effectively over; that, in its 5th iteration, there is at least a 95% certainty of accuracy of the research.
Public relations firms need to be wary of the so-called research being cooked up by the industrial brands that stand to lose when the public has the real facts on climate. The “denier” industry is small but packs a wallop with outsized budgets at its fingertips, for use as an obfuscator of facts, a reviser of history and rejector of scientific conclusions.
The way large communications firms choose to manage established truths on climate against the shallow claims of large carbon emitters will have long-term implications for communications ethics. Denial of vetted climate science is fast becoming the industrial equivalent to Big Tobacco denials of cancer-causing agents in their products.
Communications firms of integrity don't want to be tarred by such a brush.