NGOs and BBC targeted by Shell PR machine in wake of Saro-Wiwa death

Originally posted at SpinWatch.org.

By Eveline Lubbers and Andy Rowell, published in the Guardian on 9 November 2010.

Secret internal company documents from the oil giant Shell show that in the immediate aftermath of the execution of the Nigerian activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa it adopted a PR strategy of cosying up to key BBC editors and singling out NGOs that it hoped to “sway”.

The documents offer a previously hidden insight into efforts by the company to deflect the PR storm that engulfed it after the Nigerian activist was hanged by the country’s military government. Shell faced accusations that it had colluded with the government over the activists’ deaths. Continue reading “NGOs and BBC targeted by Shell PR machine in wake of Saro-Wiwa death”

Dialogue at Shell: PR & intelligence

Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.

Shell was one of the first companies to take a hit in the new-media war. The company was taken by surprise in 1995 when a Greenpeace campaign against sinking the redundant Brent Spar oil platform succeeded. Such a disaster would not be allowed to happen again. Shell International developed an online strategy, which included monitoring what was being said about the company in cyberspace.

For my book Battling Big Business I researched the on line detective agencies hired by Shell. Back then I also found out that the company’s impressive new website offered means of surveillance too. The forums were used to monitor Shell’s critics. For my present PhD research I was curious to know what had happened to the forums since. Continue reading “Dialogue at Shell: PR & intelligence”

Dictionary of Republicanisms

Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.

Sometime a good project deserves some praise & PR from the like-minded. I just got very inspired after reading Katrina vanden Heuvel’s
blog in the Nation

Before we can win the great battle of ideas, we must debunk the right’s political discourse, a veritable code of encrypted language that twists common usage to deceive the public for the Republicans’ purposes. The key to their linguistic strategy is to use words that sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to them.
We decided we needed to break the code by building a Republican dictionary. For six months, thenation.com accepted suggestions from everyone who wanted to participate. Here are some of my favorites.

Continue reading “Dictionary of Republicanisms”

John Kenneth Galbraith rules!


Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.

John Kenneth Galbraith has recently written an essay that has been published under the somewhat misleading title “The Economics of Innocent Fraud”.

Dealt with in this essay is how, out of the pecuniary and political pressures and fashions of the time, economics and larger economic and political systems cultivate their own version of truth. This has no necessary relation to reality. No one is especially at fault; what it is convenient to believe is greatly preferred. (Galbraith, 2005, p2)

All of who have some interest in economic and political life should be aware of this, he warns. Continue reading “John Kenneth Galbraith rules!”

Shell’s problems in Argentina and Malaysia.

Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.

Last March, Radio Netherlands called me to comment Shell’s most recent PR problems. This also resulted in an article on their website: Oil giant goes on drilling despite bad press, by Pieternel Gruppen, 23 March 2005.

Despite massive attempts to change the way in which it is perceived, Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell is facing familiar problems once again. Having pumped money and effort into trying to shake off a negative image, the company is again attracting bad press. Following a rise in petrol prices, Shell is now the subject of a boycott in Argentina, and is meanwhile entangled in a border conflict between Asian neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia.

It was back in 1995 when Shell announced a major change in corporate policy, promising to focus greater attention on areas such as the environment and human rights. Socially-responsible entrepreneurship and transparency were the new watchwords. One of the factors behind the changes was the well-publicised controversy surrounding the Brent Spar oil platform.

Change of heart
Shell planned to scrap the Brent Spar, and the cheapest option was to sink it in the ocean, rather than dismantle it on dry land. The company was completely taken by surprise by the storm of protest that blew up over the plan. Environmental organisation Greenpeace launched a major campaign, which ultimately resulted in a change of heart by the petrol giant. Eveline Lubbers, an investigative journalist who follows public relations strategies of large multinationals, believes the company learned a lot from that experience:

“They’ve now got very good risk-assessment departments. They were the first company to begin using scenarios in their planning, as in: if we do this, what will happen then? They also involve all kinds of people from outside the company to learn from them, too.”

Stoking up conflict
These procedures, however, do not necessarily mean that Shell will choose the ‘popular’ option. Eveline Lubbers cites Shell’s oil-drilling activities in part of the Sulawesi Sea, and says the company made a conscious decision in that particular case. As she points out, it’s well aware of the slumbering dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia, which both lay claim to this stretch of sea and have made commitments to various oil companies.

“It’s not hard to work out that drilling for oil in that region is going to stoke up the political conflict. So, as a company, you have to weigh things up: what’s more important to us? The prospect of being back in the focus of publicity again, or getting down to drilling? They opted for the latter.”

In Argentina, too, Shell appears to have given the profit-goal priority over its reputation. However, Eveline Lubbers thinks the company didn’t expect such a strong public protest – in the form of a boycott.

Get drilling
She believes the company is now concentrating on something else rather than its image, and has an explanation as to why:

“Of course, they’ve incurred an enormous amount of criticism in connection with the incorrect estimates of the company’s reserves. That caused them a lot of damage, both economically and internally. I think those reserves are now the priority. They just have to get drilling again, to get the reserves up to the right level.”

As for the image problems in Argentina and South-East Asia, Ms Lubbers thinks it’s unlikely that the negative publicity will cause Shell much long-term harm. Looking back on previous events, it appears that the only real damage to the company has been caused – as in the case of the Brent Spar – by protests which had a good campaign and strong organisations behind them.

© Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, all rights reserved

Shifts in governance

Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.

My research has a fair amount of overlap with the Dutch Shifts in Governance NWO research programme, as it is also dealing with the control mechanisms between governments, NGO’s and private actors in national and international settings.

Last month I wrote them a letter and asked them to consider to support the last year of my research, running from September 2006 to September 2007. In order to profile myself and my work I proposed some research questions that were not included in the NWO outline. You can read them in this posting. 

Unfortunally, the NWO contact person insisted their pot of gold was empty; if I’d have a Dutch supervisor I could give it another try elsewhere. Continue reading “Shifts in governance”

Campaign idea: Publish your PR


Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.


Lingering in the back of my head is this campaign idea along the line of the Publish What you Pay initiative:

Publish your PR, (not the best name because of the restricted meaning or connotation of the term PR, but anyway.) Maybe better call it  ‘Open your agenda’ or ‘File your agenda’ or whatever.

The idea would be to set up a campaign that forces companies to publish who they hire, and what for – and vice versa force PR companies and consultancy firms to publish their client lists, including what they were hired for.

Meanwhile Publish what you Pay has started this extentive research, called ’Measuring transparency (of companies) in the Extractive Industry’. I’ve included the research outline in this posting.

I would like to investigate the possibilites of joining this campaign, this research, or hooking up with our own and propose an extention of the Publish What You Pay campaign, with any given coalition of groups, now or later. Continue reading “Campaign idea: Publish your PR”

Doing Business with Business, NGOs & the Corporate sector

Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.

Doing Business with Business, Development NGOs interacting with the Corporate sector, by Willem Elbers, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, December 2004.

Elbers’ research, is a first explorative study of NGO-business relationships departing from an NGO-perspective, published in the Netherlands recently (written in English). Elbers notices a change in NGO-thought: from business ‘as a part of the problem’ (e.g. exploitative capitalism), to business ‘as a part of the solution’ (using companies as a instrument for development and poverty reduction).

This study offers key insights into how NGOs make strategic and operational decisions about their relationships with business. Based on an extensive review of international literature, interviews with Non Governmental Development Organizations (NGDO’s) representatives in the Netherlands and a additional survey Elbers discusses three main types of NGDO- business relationships: relationships with the aim of getting corporate funding, with the aim of promoting responsible business behaviour and finally relationships aimed at contributing to development objectives. Continue reading “Doing Business with Business, NGOs & the Corporate sector”

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