Paddy's writing on Business, Brand and Reputation

This blog contains some of my writing on Brand and Reputation, including those on Shell - the corporation that I worked for for 37 years. Some of the articles have previously been published - others are seen here for the first time. The purpose of the website is to contribute to discussions on the role of brand and reputation management in today's business world. Please also see: http://www.roadsideretail.com/search?q=Paddy Comments welcome to me at: paddy_briggs@yahoo.co.uk

Monday, January 21, 2008

Making it green and keep them clean

Comment on article in The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jan/21/marketingandpr


This is a timely article, and of course the ASA was right to castigate Shell for its particular lie about CO2 and flowers. But really this was just a trivial little porky pie in the context of the mendacity of much of the oil giant’s corporate adverting in recent times. Shell is not alone in this of course, but there is a special offence given when the facts of the company’s business – facts which are open for all to see – are glossed over and instead we are subject to a barrage of greenwash on a daily basis.

Having worked for Shell for 37 years I know what the business imperatives are – and I wouldn’t have stayed so long if I didn’t think that these imperatives were perfectly honourable. It shouldn’t need saying but here is a précis of what those imperatives are. Around 99% of Shell’s efforts are focused on the search for, and the discovery, harvesting, transporting, processing and marketing of oil and gas - hydrocarbons from that diminishing stock of geological formations under the ground. That’s what Shell does, what drives their profits and what they are, in the main, very good at. It is fantasy to suggest that that there is any other strategy than the continuation of this business – this is the business! Now Shell likes to operate cost-effectively so there is a bias to ensure that waste is reduced as much as possible – but only if it makes economic sense – not because there is a spurious corporate conscience. So flaring (for example) is reduced primarily because it is waste of assets. But where the costs of reducing flaring exceed the benefits then it doesn’t happen – unless legislation says that it must. Technically Shell could have eliminated flaring in Nigeria years ago – but the cost/benefit analysis didn’t give the right numbers. So they dragged their feet.

Let’s look at processing – for example in refineries. The imperative to reduce waste is an economic one – efficient refineries are those which do not waste fuel. So reducing the amount of energy needed to refine a tonne of crude oil is primarily an economic issue. Shell does avoid waste because it believes that it is environmentally irresponsible not to do so. It does so because the bottom line benefits.

Finally the old chestnut of “Renewables”. I and others have argued for a while that Shell is only in non-traditional energy such as solar and wind for the PR benefits that accrue. There is some simplistic communications strategy going on that says that if your advertising focuses (say) 80% on something that is in reality less than 1% of your business the public will be fooled. But as David Ogilvy once said the public is not a fool – she is your wife!

Not all bad news

Whilst much of Shell’s advertising is like the CO2 flower example direly misleading there is hope. The “Eureka campaign” (see: http://www.shell.com/home/PlainPageServlet?FC=/aboutshell-en/html/iwgen/shell_real/shell_solutions/films/app_view_film.html) I thought was excellent because it told the truth.

Shell should stop posing as some sort of environmentally virtuous benefactor to the world and concentrate (as it did in “Eureka”) in telling the truth about what it does. Then it might be more believed on other things as well.

© Paddy Briggs January 2008