PR agency Edelman plans to “part ways” with clients that do not align with its climate operating principles, following a review of more than 330 clients and a deep dive on 20 emissions-intensive clients. According to CEO Richard Edelman in a blog post on 7 January, the review was led by the agency’s global climate chair, Robert Casamento, and analysed Carbon Disclosure Project reporting and scores, the latest IPCC reports, and industry emissions pathway analysis.
During the review, Edelman found instances where clients have no public position on the Paris Agreement; clients with no emissions data readily available; as well as a few clients that do not have net-zero ambitions or goals. The agency also found a few examples of communications that were susceptible to challenge and criticism by others, as well as gaps in staff understanding of climate issues. The agency is currently initiating discussions with clients and account teams to confirm its findings and engage on pathways forward.
“We want to have a seat at the table with companies seeking change and to help them solve problems more powerfully through trusted communications. This includes rescoping our work to enable us to be in-line with our principles and collaborating to make changes,” Edelman said.
This announcement comes after the agency launched Edelman Impact last November, a global practice intended to harness expertise across Edelman’s existing ESG, Purpose and Sustainability offerings. Edelman Impact was rolled out following a petition by Clean Creatives which called for Edelman to “drop Exxon Mobil and all other fossil fuel clients”, according to multiple media reports back then including The New York Times. Clean Creatives is an initiative that pushes for advertisers, marketers and PR professionals to cut ties with fossil fuels. The agency has also since made a board-level commitment to set a science-based target in line with 1.5C.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer November 2021, more than 50% of people do not trust climate communications, and Edelman sees this as an area where it can contribute the most, to have a positive impact on affecting change.
Moving forward, the agency plans to work with companies committed to accelerating action to Net Zero and in compliance with the Paris Accords; put science and facts first; advance best practices and standards for climate communications; and ensure inclusivity. At the same time, Edelman will also focus on a just transition and hold itself accountable.
Among other steps the agency plans to take include investing in mandatory climate change communications training for all staff, to be completed this year; and finalise an independent council of external climate experts to offer input and guidance on strategy and on assignments and client situations of concern.
Edelman will also fund the establishment of a global climate communications council with other communications firms that will explore ways and make recommendations for enhancing the implementation of Article 12 of the Paris Agreement. These covers “appropriate measures” on education, training, public awareness, public participation, and what public access to information could look like within the official COP process.
Meanwhile, Clean Creatives remained sceptical about Edelman’s commitment to climate change. In a series of tweets, it said CEO Richard Edelman “never took this review process seriously” as there were no outside experts involved, and no transparent standards for evaluating clients’ climate goals. “He didn’t even take the full 60 days he said would be required,” Clean Creatives tweeted. Edelman said in an earlier blog post on 15 November that it will conduct a 60-day portfolio review but a check by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE found that it was only approximately 53 days up until 7 January.
Clean Creatives also alleged that Edelman is “on the path of branding itself as the agency only polluters can trust”. At the same time, Duncan Meisel, Clean Creatives campaign director, also said in a statement that Edelman is "going to try the classic PR trick of confusing the situation". "So we want to make things really clear: if Edelman wants to be trusted on climate, [it needs] to drop fossil fuels. That means ending all their work with clients that are expanding fossil fuel production, perpetuating climate deception, or hindering climate legislation. Anything less is greenwash," he said. Edelman declined to comment.
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