Should the oil industry really be worrying about its PR?

As the big guns of the oil industry gather in London this week for International Petroleum week, talk has been largely of two things: the effect of Middle East unrest on the oil price and how to improve its reputation, especially after Macondo.

I have just sat through a session entitled: “Restoring the industry’s licence to operate in the face of increasing public and political scrutiny”.

In it, Andrew Griffin, CEO of a PR company called Regester Larkin, explained how the Macondo spill showed that the oil industry needed to do more to explain its importance to the public. This, he said, would help protect companies’ reputations in the case of an accident or other negative event.

Interestingly, Griffin argued that even those oil companies that had nothing to do with the BP spill were at fault for any loss of reputation that ensued, because it didn’t do enough to persuade people about its importance before the spill:

The industry only has itself to blame – if you don’t tell the energy story loudly enough over time then the only thing people will associate you with is the bad things.

But the session seemed to characterise an industry unwilling to tackle the serious questions head on. For, while there has been a talk on managing corporate reputations, I have not seen any entitled “Is deep water too risky in the first place?” or, “Are accidents inevitable?”

As long as the industry is more concerned with its PR than whether it has a sustainable business model at all, it consigns itself to bad PR.

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