Big Oil’s PR Spin To Win Us Over

The Washington Post just ran a story that is straight out of a Christopher Buckley novel.

“Big Oil” has launched an aggressive new PR campaign aimed at reminding consumers the oil companies are on our side. According to the article, the American Petroleum Institute, which is the industry’s main lobby, “has embarked on a multi-year, multi-media, multi-million-dollar campaign, which includes advertising in the nation’s largest newspapers, news conferences in many state capitals and trips for bloggers out to drilling platforms at sea.”

The current talking points emphasize the idea that rising energy prices are not the producers’ fault and that government efforts to punish the industry, especially with higher taxes, would only make pricing problems worse. “We decided that if we didn’t do something to help people understand the basics of our industry, we’d be on the losing end as far as the eye could see,” said Nick Naylor, er, I mean, Red Cavaney, the American Petroleum Institute’s spokesman.

The campaign is well-timed with Democratic congressional leaders proposing an energy plan this week that would eliminate billions of dollars of tax breaks for oil companies and impose a tax on windfall profits.

What’s intriguing about this campaign is how the oil lobby is connecting with local media who, let’s face it, don’t get courted very much anymore. According to the article, state capitals are the backdrop for photo opps and local television stations are being granted one-on-one access normally reserved for nationals. The result: prominently placed, upbeat 30-second local news segments after each visit.

Likewise, a lot of the oil lobby’s outreach has been online. The institute said it invited bloggers to Shell‘s facilities in New Orleans and then took them to visit the offshore platform Brutus. The same month, the institute also brought bloggers to Chevron‘s offices in Houston and its Blind Faith platform under construction in Corpus Christi, Tex. (These names really are Buckley-esque: Blind Faith?! Wow.) There are more tours in the works.

It will be interesting to see how the bloggers — typically known for being impervious to spin — report on the Institute’s findings. So far, Cavaney has said his group’s efforts have produced “a very different conversation” about energy, but that the job is not nearly finished.

P.S. If you read my blog and you don’t know Buckley, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Scroll down to the Favorite Novels section on the left and check him out. He and Max Barry are two authors you should know!

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