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Global PR firm forfeits executives and clients over climate change

Signal of change / Global PR firm forfeits executives and clients over climate change

By Michael Zahn / 20 Jul 2015

Edelman, one of the world’s largest public relations firms, has lost four executives as well as two influential clients, partly due to its lacking willingness to take a clear stand on climate change. The Guardian reports the resignation of four executives, all of whom specialised in social purpose, since December 2014, with implications both for business and for Edelman’s reputation.

According to insiders, Nike declined to use the PR firm on a project related to climate change, and Unilever is reassessing its relationship after concerns have risen. Against this backdrop, Edelman had already faced difficulties regarding its fossil fuel sector clients, such as Shell and Chevron, in 2014. We Mean Business - a coalition of over 100 companies endorsing bold action on climate change – has withdrawn from a contract with the PR firm in consequence of its engagement with fossil fuel industry clients last year.

CEO Richard Edelman, son of the firm’s founder Daniel Edelman, is said to target revenues of $1 billion after generating worldwide revenues of $768m in 2014. 

Image caption: In contrast, Ben and Jerry's takes a firm stand with the slogan 'If it's melted, it's ruined' - but no logo. 

Image credit: TC Davis / Flickr

So what?

This string of losses could make Edelman a warning for the marketing sector and beyond. As divestment campaigns gain traction, will high-carbon partnerships soon be as much a no-no for PR companies as tobacco companies and gun manufacturers? (Edelman does have a policy to reject potential clients in these sectors.) 

The reputational risk of 'business as usual' is not to be ignored. In a recently published video message to the staff regarding the company’s new statement of purpose, Edelman’s global Chief Operating Officer Matt Harrington said: “We exist to be advocates for our clients.” The question is, which values will they advocate, and how will their clientele respond?


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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