PR Firm With Deep Ties to Big Oil Is A Major Presence at Tory Conference

BIRMINGHAM, UK – The elite public relations firm Edelman – long criticised for working with the fossil fuel industry to distort climate science and slow climate action – is hosting an “international lounge” at the four-day Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

Events at the lounge include a number of invite-only events – such as a “Heads of Mission Reception” with James Cleverly, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs – as well as an international trade reception, according to a full-page advert in the party’s conference brochure.

The brochure advert also stated that the party was “introducing” Edelman Global Advisory, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Edelman that is dedicated to helping clients with “building trust in today’s evolving geopolitical environment”.

Among the members of parliament to visit the Edelman lounge were Kemi Badenoch, Secretary of State for International Trade and a rising star on the Conservative right, and Conservative Party Chairman Jake Berry, according to Edelman Global Advisory’s Twitter feed.

The prominent sponsorship has sparked reactions from green campaigners, who say Edelman’s work with oil and gas majors is emblematic of how the public relations and advertising industries long helped big polluters sow public doubt and confusion about climate science.

“Who knows the promises and deals that will be made in these closed rooms?” said Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, an international sustainability strategy and creative agency. “Well, Edelman knows, but the public never will.”

The biggest and most profitable oil and gas companies have long relied on firms like Edelman – the world’s largest marketing and PR company – to block regulation of carbon emissions, slow or stop the transition to low-carbon energy, and even hype the benefits of continuing to rely on fossil fuels.

“These kinds of PR companies are the masters of spin and greenwashing” said Lucy von Sturmer, founder of Creatives for Climate, a group committed to tackling greenwashing and promoting sustainable business. “So it begs the question for citizens – do I really trust the messages coming out of an event like that?” 

Edelman Global Advisory and the Conservative party did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Edelman launched Edelman Global Advisory in 2021 with an initial $10 million investment. The venture is portrayed as a boutique PR company that can help clients “develop government engagement plans tailored to your strengths and cultivate strategic champions to make it happen”.

In January, more than 450 scientists wrote an open letter to Edelman and fellow advertising companies WPP and IPG, urging them to cut off their work with fossil fuel clients. These image-burnishing campaigns  “represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency”, they said

Misinformation and Greenwashing

For decades the advertising industry has helped its fossil fuel clients to spread doubt about climate science and delay policies to slow or stop greenhouse pollution.

The group Clean Creatives recently published a report documenting relationships between fossil fuel companies and more than 230 public relations and advertising agencies. The report found that since around 2015, Edelman has carried out more work for the sector than any other PR company.

In 2021, the climate newsletter Heated reported that since making a promise in 2014 to stop working on climate denial campaigns, Edelman had taken more than US$20 million to promote the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers lobby group, a key opponent of climate action.

According to a 2021 report by researchers at Brown University in the U.S., PR companies “use certain tactics again and again for these clients: promoting misinformation about climate change, greenwashing, creating front groups, and attacking environmental organizations.”

PR companies also greenwash themselves, according to the report. “To maintain their own reputation, many PR firms highlight their work for environmental groups while a large portion of their business is funded by contracts with the fossil fuel industry.”

Andrew Simms, founder of the Badvertising campaign to stop adverts that are fuelling the climate crisis, told DeSmog that these campaigns are effective at slowing progress on climate.

“Until we get rid of those mixed messages, change will be delayed and the goal of preserving a habitable climate will stay out of reach” said Simms.

In 2022, Edelman conducted a climate review of 330 of its 2,000 clients, including a “deep dive” on 20 companies responsible for major greenhouse emissions, according to the Clean Creatives research. 

Edelman is yet to sever ties with any of its clients, Clean Creatives said.

Truss Ally Attacks Net Zero Goal

Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss has faced a groundswell of criticism from climate groups since she assumed office a month ago with pledges to roll back environmental regulations, boost domestic oil and gas production, and lift a ban on fracking. 

Her ties to right-wing think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs, which used the Tories’ annual conference to call for scrapping the UK’s net zero target, have also prompted concerns over her commitment to tackling the climate crisis.

“Tories already had their hands mired in oil before conference, granting fossil fuel companies giant loopholes on windfall taxes and new drilling licences to exploit oil and gas reserves in the North Sea, so it is no surprise to see the oil spill into the heart of conference, ” Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party, told DeSmog.

“It is clear Liz Truss’s government is set on diluting action on climate,” he said. “So PR companies with strong links to fossil fuel companies will feel quite at home at Tory conference”. 

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