BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Esso ready to respond to greens' criticism

The wounded Esso tiger is about to spring back at its critics after

receiving a recent mauling at the hands of the media (and Bianca


In the wake of recriminations over the collapse of the Kyoto protocol,

Esso and its US parent company ExxonMobil have been singled out for

criticism for allegedly helping bankroll the presidential campaign of

Kyoto villain-in-chief George W Bush.

Jagger, backed by a shrill chorus of NGOs, launched a 'Stop Esso'

campaign, urging consumers to boycott the company's forecourts because

of its opposition to the treaty.

According to a recent story in The Guardian, the tiger is not planning

to take it lying down. The paper described a massive PR offensive

brewing for the company and claimed to have received confidential

documents from Insight Research revealing Esso hopes to gauge - and

ultimately sway - public opinion through a series of surveys.

Esso whispered rather than roared its response. Head of media relations

David Eglinton said: 'Our actual position has received little coverage

in the media. There have been reports, mostly quoting the activists'

campaign material. The challenge for us is to address that.'

Esso will seek to counter the myth that being 'anti-Kyoto' is synonymous

with being 'unconcerned about climate change' or convinced no such

change is occurring. It will stress it takes global warming seriously

and is developing cleaner fuels to help counter the phenomenon.

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon, author of an FT report into oil retailing, said

Esso's PR response is unlikely to be as dramatic as it should be.

'If they lose market share - and I'm not sure they will - they'll just

drop the price of petrol on the forecourts. Any PR offensive will be a

few bland quotes. Esso's traditional treatment of PR issues is

breathtakingly arrogant. Both Esso and the other oil firms missed out on

an opportunity to get their point across regarding taxation and global

oil prices during the recent protests,' he said.

However, he added: 'Esso seems to get the flak. The other oil firms

played a part in the scrapping of Kyoto. But the campaign focuses on

Esso because it's a US company with a high profile.'

Eglington refused to detail future PR strategy but insisted the

criticisms of past strategy were unwarranted. 'During the fuel strike we

were constantly explaining our position,' he said.

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