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Charred Earth Communication Awards

Extinction Rebellion disrupts flagship PR Week Awards Ceremony, attacking PR firms for greenwashing fossil fuel companies
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Charred Earth Communication Awards

Last night (13 Oct) Extinction Rebellion disrupted the prestigious 2022 PR Week Awards, holding a colourful alternative ceremony at the venue and attacking the hypocrisy and ghastly greenwashing activities of PR companies who hide their links working with some of the world’s worst polluters and their funders.
The group of activists, many in black tie, hosted a competing Charred Earth Communication Awards at the prestigious Marriot Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane, complete with its own trophies and bottles of crude oil ‘champagne’. 

They handed awards to the worst offending agencies and holding companies, and distributed hundreds of copies of Clean Creative’s devastating F-List 2022 report, which lists the agencies involved in the work.

Those attending the awards were asked to ‘work their conscience’, either by whistleblowing through XR’s TruthTeller.Life or by working to improve their agency.

Global comms companies ‘complicit’

The protest targeted global communicators such as Edelmann, IPG and WPP and the work they do greenwashing the most dangerous companies in the world – including Shell and Saudi Aramco. The event underlined how PR agencies are complicit in accelerating climate breakdown.

Much of this work is even hidden from staff within agencies, so protesters had conversations with as many attendees as possible, many of whom were surprised by their agency’s client list.

Stickers promoting TruthTeller, which mimicked the successful Ask Angela campaign for help with problematic ‘dates’, were stuck on toilet doors in the venue. TruthTeller.Life worked with Carline Dennett earlier this year in her widely publicised resignation from Shell. 
The campaigners also highlighted the ridiculous, disingenuous claims of PR giants to be aiming for carbon neutrality in their own offices, while ignoring the enormous emissions of clients whose catastrophic products they are trying to push.

‘Morally indefensible’

The high-profile PR Week Awards highlighted the best work of the industry, but made no mention of massive contracts with oil majors, refiners and their trade associations.

After previous criticism, agencies now try to hide this work, deleting fossil fuel clients from their websites and even keeping details from many of their own staff.

This is after Edelmann PR’s own report in Sept 2021 found that up to 60% of staff would leave an ‘unethical’ firm.

‘PR contracts with fossil fuel companies and climate-destroying banks are morally indefensible and utterly destructive. Until we get rid of this massively-funded greenwash, rapid, appropriate action will be delayed and the goal of preserving a habitable planet will stay out of reach. Agencies are hiding this work from both the public and their own staff, as we’ve seen from conversations with PR’s kept in the dark here this evening.  Instead, we call on holding companies to openly refuse this work altogether, and put their creative genius to work on the right side of history.’

Former PR and now science teacher, who attended the protest

Drop fossil fuel clients

Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, said last month that ‘The massive public relations machine [is] raking in billions to shield the fossil fuel industry from scrutiny. Just as they did for the tobacco industry decades before, lobbyists and spin doctors have spewed harmful misinformation. Fossil fuel interests need to spend less time averting a PR disaster – and more time averting a planetary one.’
In January, more than 450 climate scientists wrote an open letter to Edelman and fellow advertising companies WPP and IPG, urging them to cut off their work with fossil fuel clients.

They wrote that these image-burnishing campaigns ‘represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency’.

Charred Earth award winners

The winners of the Extinction Reellion’s Charred Earth Communication Awards were: 

  • Maximum Filth Holding Company of the Year: WPP, ‘for work with just about every mass polluter on the planet, including: Saudi Aramco, Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, Equinor, Peabody Energy, PetroChina…’
  • Climate Gigolo Agency of the Year: Hill and Knowlton, ‘for managing to find time to work with Saudi Aramco, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, all within a single agency’
  • Don’t Look Here Award: Adam & Eve DDB, ‘for nominating themselves for an award for their work with the International Paralympic Committee and the International Disability Alliance, while conveniently neglecting work with ExxonMobil’
  • Let’s Double Down on Disaster Award: IPG, ‘for making so much money greenwashing Saudi Aramco through at least five existing agencies that they needed to start another ‘secret’ agency – Well7 – to handle all the work’
  • Lifetime Achievement Gaslighting Award: Ogilvy, ‘for their Personal Carbon Footprint calculator, deflecting blame for the climate crisis from their client BP’
  • Lifetime Achievement in Shortening Lifetimes: Edelman, ‘for decades of work for Shell, Exxon, Chevron, American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, National Mining Association, TransCanada and Task Force on Shale Gas amongst others’

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