Are PR agencies happy to work for climate change deniers?

Our straw poll reveals that many PR chiefs remain nervous about publicly debating the ethics of representing clients accused of denying climate change.

Given the weight of scientific opinion and the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming, many think that those who deny climate change should be denied a platform for publicity because they endanger the future of mankind.

The world’s largest PR agency certainly does. Last month, Edelman made it known that it would no longer work with clients that produce coal or deny climate change.

However, that view is not shared by the majority of UK PR agencies, according to a straw poll carried out by PRWeek this month.

Just six out of 20 UK agency chiefs questioned said that they would not work with climate change deniers. Only one was brave enough to say that they definitely would. Two said they might and 10 did not reply. One responded with the quip: "What’s climate change?"

You might conclude that, therefore, this was a bad poll with a poor response and no conclusions can be drawn from it. But we know from prior experience that agency chiefs tend to reply to us very quickly when they want to. In this instance, we infer that they did not reply because they want to keep their options open when it comes to working for climate change deniers. They do not want to be drawn into public debate. One even took the trouble to tell us so.

Gavin Devine of MHP Communications was the only agency chief prepared to say publicly that he would work with climate change deniers – although he does not agree with them: "Yes, we would work with people who have questions about climate change science. Not that I personally – nor, I suspect, many people in the agency – would share their views, but it is not morally wrong to take a different position from the mainstream on climate change."

Weber Shandwick rejected the idea of a yes or no answer. "We are part of a public company that has a wide range of clients worldwide. We would be unlikely to strike a pose," said UK chairman Jon McLeod.

However, he added that the agency was unlikely to do anything that would go against "credible science". "It is bad for business to promote bad science," he said.

Another agency chief responded but also declined to answer the question on the grounds that a yes/no choice was not sufficiently nuanced to deal with the complexities of global warming. "I think the term ‘climate change denier’ is rather loaded," he wrote. "Some people accept some of the science but have perfectly reasonable objections to some of the policy prescriptions put forward."

One agency head pointed out that Edelman’s decision concerned not only climate change den-iers, but coal companies too. He suggested that perhaps this was clouding response. "Why single out coal?" he asked. He was concerned about the growth of what might be called ‘eco-fascism’. "Is this going to be the start of a carbon witch-hunt? If so, many perfectly responsible companies and any industry with a large carbon footprint could be denied a voice."

So what does this say about the UK PR industry? That it will refrain from clear moral judgements as long as money is at stake? Or that a subject as apparently clear-cut as global warming is seemingly too complex for simple prescriptions?

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