December is upon us, and that means three things. Radio stations switching to Christmas music, shoppers racking up debt in the name of giving, and the PennWell Tulsa office building resembling a ghost town as pretty much everyone here goes to the Power-Gen conference.
December also means the fast-approaching end of 2012. As is customary when we barrel toward the end of the year, I’ve decided to take a look back on the past many months, and wonder if any common theme stands out. Sure enough, I see a message emerge in the form of the industry’s lack of message. As a new year approaches, it worries me, because without telling the world what we’re doing, the world will make its own assumptions.
2012 proved to be another year when the energy industry was on many people’s minds. From the Keystone XL debate, to the Deepwater Horizon fines, to the summer’s refinery explosion in Venezuela, there was a lot for people to talk about, and most of it cast the industry in a less than favorable light. Add onto that the U.S. Presidential election, which made oil & gas subsidies an almost nightly dinner-table topic, and you can see how a major marketing push might be needed.
I’ve been submerged in this world for more than a year now, and I continually come back to one very important concept – most people have no idea what’s going on here. They don’t understand the costs of the industry, they don’t see the safety and environmental efforts, and they don’t know who to believe. The oil and gas industry isn’t simply lacking in PR, it’s suffering a crisis.
If I could ask Santa for anything this Christmas, I’d ask for a PR firm. They need to be big, they need to be well funded, and they need to be ready to fight for a single, enormous theme – help the public understand where energy comes from. This is a multi-faceted, mixed media message that must be furthered every single day across all broadcast channels. This isn’t just press releases and FOX NEWS interviews. This is Facebook posts and sponsorships and collaborations, and a strong, informed, seemingly constant presence on the most liberal of media outlets. The more foreign the environment, the more uncertain the audience, and the more unique the approach, the better.
If I could speak to this PR firm, I’d tell them honesty and forthrightness must be paramount to the project, and any attempt to deceive or bamboozle the public was an ill-conceived path. We cannot risk the backlash of misinformation. More importantly, I think most of the public would support every seemingly dubious subsidy, and every legislative side-deal, if they understood the role it played in keeping the lights on and the tires on the road. The world enjoys illumination, literal and figurative. Let’s give them one, so we can keep providing the other.
The coming new year brings us a chance for a new direction, and I think in 2013 it should be toward a stronger and more open dialogue with the public we serve.