“I don’t believe we are obligated in any way to respond. There are only wrong answers for this guy.”
That was the first response we got to our survey email, accidentally copied back to us by no less than the (then) CEO of Edelman, the very largest PR firm in the world.
An article by Suzanne Goldenberg of the Guardian broke the news of the survey we sent to the top U.S. PR agencies in April. Ari Phillips of Climate Progress then extended the story. Much more to come.
This opens a new CIC project on the the Public Relations Industry and Climate where we will be conducting research on the PR industry role in the climate change debate, not a new subject, but not one that has really been tackled well.
We recently revealed with Huffington Post that Burson-Marsteller was secretly behind the latest public relations ploy by Peabody Energy Corporation (aka Peabody Coal) the largest coal company on Earth. Two years ago Greenpeace dug into the history of advertising by the “coal industrial complex” including AEP, and others as shown in this HuffingtonPost slideshow and this new article by Rebecca Leber of the New Republic.
After the Burson Peabody story, we wondered if the multi-billion dollar public relations industry has a climate conscience or even climate consciousness. Every other business sector has been ask to go on the record about climate change. It seemed no one had ever asked the multibillion dollar PR industry. So we asked them.
We sent a short survey to the top 25 public relations agencies in the United States (ranked by fee income, according to the industry journal, The Holmes Report). As the beginning of phase two of our survey we added the Brunswick Group to the query list. We emailed, sent certified mail and phoned Presidents, CEOs, General Counsels, Sustainability officers and as many high ranking officials as we could locate email, mailing addresses and phone numbers.
We asked four simple questions about the agencies’ work vis a vis climate change:
- Does your company acknowledge the threat and challenge of climate change as companies like Walmart, CocaCola, Apple, Google, AIG, Swiss Re, NRG, Unilever and others have done?
- Does your company have any internal carbon accounting policies or energy use reduction targets? Have you taken actions to reduce your “carbon footprint”?
- Does your company have an internal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy regarding climate change or the environment generally?
- Has your agency advised any client corporations on communications around CSR programs with a specific climate change focus, or on other climate change related public relations efforts?
The PR Agencies Surveyed
All together, the 25 firms included in our survey (thus far), plus MSL Group which answered the survey for the newly acquired asset Qorvis Communications, garnered income far exceeding $5.5 Billion dollars in 2012, the latest year of data. There is a wide range in size. Edelman at the top had annual revenue of nearly $666 Million in 2012. The 25th ranked US PR firm, Bite Communications had revenue just under $27 Million. WPP, a large parent company that owns four of the top ten companies, responded to our survey as well.
|TOP RANKED U.S. PR AGENCIES BY INCOME||
|CIC Survey response||Parent Company|
|7||Ogilvy Public Relations||
|10||Cohn & Wolfe||
|12||Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Inc.||
|16||Ruder Finn, Inc.||
|19||Marina Maher Communications||
|21||DKC Public Relations||
|24||Citizen Relations (Citizen Paine)||
*survey response from MSLGroup, based in France, the 4th largest PR firm in the world after FleishmanHillard, with 2012 Fee income of $526 Million
Source for income data: Holmes Report. Many figures are undiscoverable and estimated. Different figures available from Odwyers
Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG)
Next Fifteen Communications Group (NFC)
The Omnicom Group (OMC).
Why This Matters
The PR industry is the silent partner that expertly helps corporations exert their outsized influence through advertising campaigns. But well beyond old fashioned TV and newspaper advertisements, the campaigns designed by these ad firms now include complex online and social media campaign platforms and are often tied to policy objectives and have lobbying components. In fact many PR companies offer lobbying services and other communications advise on top of straight advertising campaigns. There have been many ads through the years promoting fossil fuel expansion, pressuring government to relax regulations, questioning the urgency of climate action. For a fascinating tabulation of this arm of the influence-peddling industry see The Unlobbyists by Thomas B. Edsall, from earlier this year in the New York Times.
Whether you call it “public relations”, “strategic communications”, “crisis management”, there is a whole class of companies that were not included in the first stage of our survey because their revenue didn’t make the cut on Holmes Report. We had to start and stop somewhere. There are much smaller firms who have a more insidious role in manipulating the public policy arena, such as Nichols-Dezenhall, now Dezenhall Resources which thrives on corporations or people in crisis, ready to advise them, for a large fee. Nichols-Dezenhall was hired by ExxonMobil to attack a public pressure campaign by Greenpeace, ended up setting up a front group Public Interest Watch, as revealed by Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. There is DCI Group whose managing partners got their start working for RJ Reynolds tobacco and now “helps corporations navigate their most challenging political, legislative and regulatory problems anywhere in the world.” DCI also laid heavy ammunition into the climate arena in the early 2000s with its pop-up site TechCentral Station, and later attacked Al Gore and other targets, with we at least Exxon’s backing for a time.
Compilation of responses from PR agencies to CIC climate awareness survey:
|PR Company||response||response via Parent Company|
|6||Hill & Knowlton||WPP|
|7||Ogilvy Public Relations||WPP|
|10||Cohn & Wolfe||WPP|
|12||Waggener Edstrom Worldwide||yes|
|16||Ruder Finn, Inc.|
|19||Marina Maher Communications|
|21||DKC Public Relations|
|23||Qorvis Communications (response from MSLGroup)||yes||MSL|
|24||Citizen Relations (Citizen Paine)|
|25||Bite Communications (Bite Global)|
Most recently-available CSR reports
Seven of the top ten PR firms in the world are held by 4 Major Holding Companies:
WPP – owns Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe, Hill+Knowlton, Ogilvy PR Worldwide WPP Sustainability Report 2012/2013
Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG)–owns DeVries PR, GolinHarris, Weber Shandwick 2014 Corporate Sustainability Report
Next Fifteen Communications Group (NFC)–owns Bite, Text100, Global PR Has CSR practice; no corporate CSR report available on website
The Omnicom Group – owns FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, Porter Novelli, Marina Maher 2011 Omnicom Group Citizenship & Sustainability Report, and 2011-2012 highlights
- Edelman: 2013 Corporate Citizenship Report
- Weber Shandwick* Parent company has CSR report; 2012 Corporate Citizenship Report
- FleishmanHillard* has CSR practice; Parent company has a CSR report; FH does not have its own CSR report
- Burson-Marsteller* has CSR focus; WPP mentions Burson-Marsteller in its CSR report; Burson-Marsteller does not have its own CSR report
- Ketchum* Parent company has CSR report; Ketchum Social Responsibility Report 2012-2013
- Hill+Knowlton Strategies* Parent company will release first CSR report later in the year
- Ogilvy Public Relations* has CSR practice; WPP includes Ogilvy in its CSR report; Ogilvy does not have its own CSR report
- FTI Consulting has CSR Officer, but no corporate CSR report available on website
- GolinHarris* has CSR practice; Parent company Interpublic Group has a CSR report; GolinHarris does not have its own CSR report
- Brunswick Group has CSR experts, but no corporate CSR report available on website
- Cohn & Wolfe* has CSR practice and sustainability commitments; Parent company WPP has its own CSR report
- APCO Worldwide has CSR practice, but no corporate CSR report available on website; highest-grossing environmental firm (see Odwyers and Holmes document)
- Waggener Edstrom Worldwide 2012 Corporate Citizenship Report
- Porter Novelli* has CSR focus, Parent company has CSR report, Porter Novelli has no corporate CSR report available on website
- Chandler Chicco Companies – CSR mentioned as a capability here, but is not mentioned much on website; no corporate CSR report available on website
- W2O Group – Staff members have expertise in sustainability (example); but no corporate CSR report available on website
- Ruder Finn has CSR practice; no corporate CSR report available on website
- Text 100 Global Communication* has CSR practice; no corporate CSR report available on website. From survey: “TEXT100 is compliant with IBM’s CSR policy”
- MWW: 2012-2013 Corporate Citizenship Report
- Marina Maher Communications* have written on CSR on company blog; Parent company has CSR report; no corporate CSR report available on website
- DeVries PR*– minimal mention of CSR on website; Parent company has CSR report; no corporate CSR report available on website
- DKC Public Relations – Holmes Report lists CSR as one of their capabilities, but no CSR report is available on their website and the term is minimally mentioned on their site
- Finn Partners -a young company, Finn Partners is building its CSR practice; its website has no corporate CSR report
- Qorvis Communications: 2012 Report
- Citizen Relations has corporate CSR practice; no CSR report available on website
- Bite Communications* has corporate CSR practice; no CSR report available on website