“We should never forget that the oil industry, whatever its problems (and most of those are caused by bad government policies) is the single most vital industry in the world.”
This election year, America faces many crucial legislative choices in the oil/gas industry–and the PR strategy of oil companies will certainly affect the outcome.
What should oil company executives do to improve their industry’s reputation and secure their freedom to produce the lifeblood of civilization?
Unfortunately, the conventional answer is: pretend they’re not oil companies. BP’s John Browne some years ago infamously declared his company’s aspirations to be “Beyond Petroleum”–a slogan that obviously does not aid the industry’s desire for more petroleum drilling rights. (BP, to its credit, no longer trumpets this slogan, which defaults BP back to the implicit original, British Petroleum.)
Chevron’s mega-PR-campaign, “We Agree,” features 10 empty slogans, not one of which expresses pride in producing oil, and some of which are downright offensive. “Oil companies should think more like technology companies,” the campaign says–as if the ability to extract the greatest portable fuel known to man from once-useless shale rock 10,000 feet below the surface of the Earth is not a technological achievement.
This kind of posturing is self-defeating–no one believes that oil companies are anything other than oil companies. And it is a disservice to both their industry, which does not deserve flagellation (except when they rent-seek or engage in self-flagellaton), and to the American people, who desperately need to know the positive importance of the oil industry in their lives.
We should never forget that the oil industry, whatever its problems (and most of those are caused by bad government policies) is the single most vital industry in the world.
It has revolutionized agriculture; without oil and natural gas-based agriculture, we would not have the fertilizers, tractors, and transport that enable farmers to feed a record 7 billion people with the lowest malnutrition level in history. In other words, the oil industry solved world hunger. Wouldn’t that be profitable to point out?
The oil industry has revolutionized health care. Every hospital lives and dies based on just-in-time transportation of supplies, sanitary plastic devices and disposables, and petroleum-based pharmaceuticals. Without hydrocarbon-based synthetic pesticides, the U.S. would still be cursed with insect-borne diseases, such as malaria, which afflict much of the undeveloped world. Wouldn’t that be profitable to point out?
I could multiply the examples to every other industry, because every other industry benefits in proportion to the availability of cheap, plentiful, reliable, portable fuel–and that is what the oil industry works every day to bring to us.