Chevron has taken an integrated, unique approach to changing the public conversation about the industry. In early October, Chevron's "Power of Human Energy" TV ads debuted, featuring impressive visuals and messages positioning Chevron as part of the energy solution. Representing an evolution of the company's message track from energy "issues" to energy "solutions," the ads are the latest outcropping of a truly integrated communications program built around engaging the public and policymakers.
"Historically, the industry didn't do a good job of communicating the value and importance of energy in people's lives," says Dave Samson, Chevron's GM of public affairs. "[Policymakers] don't have a comprehensive understanding [or] a lot of context."
Russ Yarrow, Chevron's external relations manager, explains that the "overarching goal has been to drive deeper understanding of our business and the value we provide, as well as to create more understanding of energy issues among key stakeholders that influence energy policy and regulations that directly affect our business."
The engagement strategy came to life in June 2004 when chairman and CEO David O'Reilly delivered a speech to the US Chamber of Commerce called "Global Energy: A New Equation," which called for business community engagement in energy issues and stressed interdependence. The communications team describes the speech as a "manifesto" on Chevron's views of 21st century energy markets and energy policy.
"We brought a different point of view about what constituted effective communications, and we all have a common philosophy - that is what makes it easy to execute," Samson says. "Everybody knows an integrated campaign aligned against a common platform is the most appropriate approach."
Yarrow says the speech was a collaborative effort. "The 'new equation' [concept] reflected senior management's thinking," he explains. "We helped focus the thinking into a compelling and memorable concept."
Helen Clark, corporate brand and reputation manager, notes that stakeholders felt oil companies were talking about themselves rather than issues. "The speech became the genesis of the communications campaign," she says. "It has to be very integrated because it's thought leadership."
Messaging has evolved to focus on "energy security" vs. "energy independence," an idea that's buzzing around political circles.
"We don't think [energy independence is] realistic or a goal to drive policy," Yarrow says. "We're trying to help [stakeholders] understand the reality of the global energy market and to focus on energy security, which is [about] reliable and affordable energy."
In driving discussion around the realities of energy markets, Chevron has engaged the media, as well.
Last year, the company conducted "Follow the Barrel" media tours to demonstrate the scope and complexity of Chevron's business by taking reporters to facilities. They learned about geological technology and field communications technology in Houston. They also went aboard drill ships in the Gulf of Mexico, toured a refinery, and rode in gas delivery trucks.
Chevron has even tackled profit backlash with the media. "While the company generates $200 billion a year in revenue, [we] may turn profit in the $17 billion range, [and] we've committed to reinvesting $20 billion this year [on] projects that can take eight to 15 years to complete," explains Don Campbell, media relations manager. "[At a] production facility in Texas, we're building a $3.5 billion [oil production] platform. [Reporters] can't get a sense of [its size] if we're talking on the phone or meeting at a coffee shop."
Samson adds that the tours have helped reporters become more "attuned to the sophistication" of the business. "For example, when we announced last year a breakthrough in deep water drilling, reporters got very excited, and it got incredible coverage," he says. "When you engage reporters, they never cover your industry the same way again. That's the value of engagement."
The public is engaged directly via such tools as willyoujoinus.com (WYJU), which launched in July 2005, and Chevron.com, which was redesigned this month to make information on topics such as Chevron's position on climate change, community development, and renewables, easier to find. WYJU invites dialogue on key energy issues, including alternative energy acceleration. It has attracted more than 2 million visitors and a lot of positive media attention.
For example, BusinessWeek reported that WYJU "helps Chevron look concerned," "deflects public criticism," and "could help move favorable legislation forward by sparking public discussion."
Energyville, an online interactive educational game, launched last month in collaboration with The Economist. It has received more than 200,000 visitors from 172 countries with play averaging 10 minutes. Creating blogosphere buzz and a companion direct mail piece helped drive traffic.
"[Many] companies have big ad partners where they spend a lot of dollars, and that's the end of the relationship," Samson says. "We are engaging media partners in new and different ways. Brainstorming with The Economist about creative ways to achieve our business objective extend[s] brain power."
"We've focused on telling a story about what we do and how we do it," Yarrow adds. "We'll continue to focus on that, but also on why we do it and the value we bring. We want to communicate how energy drives economic growth and human progress, and create recognition of the industry as an indispensable asset."