Opinion: How to demonstrate the value of PR in the energy sector

Opinion: How to demonstrate the value of PR in the energy sector

Paddy Blewer, co-chair of the CIPR’s new Energy Leadership Platform, explores how the group will demonstrate the value of public relations during a period of near unprecedented change for the entire energy industry.

Paddy Blewer

We may have recently passed a major inflection point for the global energy industry. For many years, there was an acceptance of the standard corporate, operational and financial models. This is no longer the case.

One could argue that for much of the past fifty years, there was minimal difference between either international oil companies, or between large power generation and power/gas retail companies.

This is not to deny that they all had different histories, assets and geographical specialities. Perhaps the greatest difference was in their very different corporate cultures but, at the same time, investors analysing their organisational charts, portfolio structures and long term income drivers would see that they had far more in common than not. Then:

  • Our understanding of environmental issues and their importance to the future of the planet and human existence grew exponentially – certainly across my lifetime. There has been an acceptance across the global industrial community that there has to be real and lasting change. The Paris Agreement was, in some ways, a culmination of this decades long trend, but also the start of a new journey. There won’t be a fundamentally strategic reverse to the way things used to be.
  • Technology has advanced at an incredible rate across the energy vertical. From the ability to squeeze more hydrocarbons from the rocks upstream that had previously been presumed uneconomic, down to the non-subsidised profitable generation of power from truly renewable sources, we have entered a fundamentally new paradigm, both operationally and financially.
  • These trends have lead us to what is termed the “Energy Transition” – whereby major energy players have restructured their operations and the capital base that funds them to align themselves with these prevailing trends.

It is the same across the vertical. Refiners and retailers have new regulatory challenges that effect both their businesses directly and, just as importantly, those of their customers.

Gas, heat and power retailers have to take both regulatory and consumer perception into account in a way that was not the case when utilities were far more a commoditised product that we all had to have and we didn’t care where it came from.

The CIPR Energy Leadership Platform (ELP) has therefore emerged at an opportune time. We want to engage with the issues inherent in the energy transition to demonstrate the value of PR and the strategic communication function; both grasping strategic opportunities and managing existential non-engineering risks.

To make it clear, the ELP is a thinktank designed to contribute to the wide ranging international debates on energy issues. It is not (just) a community to share best practice and help train our junior colleagues.

Our combined experience gives us the ability to analyse issues such as geopolitics, capital requirements, regulatory challenges, access to energy and the interaction between organisations and the societies in which they operate – and how PR and strategic comms can be used in such imperative and vital dynamics.

The ELP is designed to further the CIPR’s work in demonstrating that PR is a strategic management function, and that we can add value at the highest levels of corporate and government decision making – “permission to advise” just as many energy organisations require “permission to operate”.

This means reaffirming the request I’ve heard from many fellow PRs (both in-house and consultancy): “Let us help you develop the strategy, not just rationalise what you have decided”.

The ELP Advisory Board has centuries of relevant industry (PR) and sectoral (energy) experience across the globe. The ELP is the first initiative of its kind in the world in terms of both membership organisations and industry at large.

We are not aware of a reputation-led thinktank that focuses on energy issues in such breadth. Whilst we are aware of the potential downside of being the first (there’s no one to learn from directly), we are confident that we can and will make a positive difference both for the national and international PR industry but, more importantly, for the energy industry worldwide.

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