More than 100 celebrities and influencers have signed a letter urging Edelman to stop working with fossil fuel clients, in the latest move against the world's biggest PR agency by the campaign group Clean Creatives.
Actor Sir Michael Cain, comedian Amy Schumer and author and social activist Naomi Klein are among those to have put their name to the missive. The open letter focuses on Edelman's work with ExxonMobil, Shell and "organisations that deny climate change and promote the agenda of the world’s worst polluters".
It says 'greenwashing' is "too mild a term" and accused Edelman of "actively contributing to fossil-fuel emissions through its marketing activities". This is despite the agency pledging in 2015 to stop working with clients that produce coal or deny climate change.
"Promoting ExxonMobil’s business model in 2021 means enabling untold human suffering and ecosystem destruction," the open letter says. "Representing fossil-fuel clients makes Edelman’s corporate commitment to operating within the goals of the Paris Agreement fraudulent.
"Several private conversations with Edelman to ask them to drop these clients have led nowhere. Given the stakes, we are now going public with our demand to Edelman: drop ExxonMobil and all other fossil-fuel clients. Ending advertising and PR for fossil-fuel companies is a crucial step toward climate justice."
Other signatories include writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, actor and comedian Amy Poehler and actor Milla Jovovich.
Clean Creatives, the environmental activist campaign led by nonprofit Fossil Free Media, has accused Edelman of working with ExxonMobil to undermine anti-climate change regulation work via the website Exxchange.com.
Since its creation in 2018, the site has been linked to Facebook ads against climate policies intended to increase taxes on corporations and opposing shutting down the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, calling on Americans to "defend energy jobs".
Edelman chief executive Richard Edelman told PRWeek in September that the agency had been working with ExxonMobil since 2020, and called Exxchange.com a "digital online advocacy community". He stressed: "I want to be very clear about this. We do not talk about any opposition to climate legislation and our work is to do with job creation, economic opportunity and land access."
Edelman was a target of an Extinction Rebellion protest on 20 October outside the PRWeek UK Awards in London, which cited research by Clean Creatives. WPP was also targeted – the holding company's agencies have worked with clients including BP (Ogilvy), Shell and ExxonMobil (Hill+Knowlton Strategies).
Clean Creatives has been stepping up its activities against PR and advertising agencies that it accuses of supporting companies that pollute the planet, especially in the run-up to and during the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, which runs until Friday (12 November).
Announcing its UK launch last month, the group said nine UK PR agencies had signed a pledge not to work with the fossil fuel industry, adding that 172 agencies and 600 creatives in total had signed the pledge at that point.
PRWeek has asked Edelman for a response.
Clean Creatives' letter in full
As experts in sustainability and advocates dedicated to climate justice, many of us are frequently asked by public relations and advertising agencies to participate in sustainability campaigns. Yet many of these same agencies are simultaneously working with fossil-fuel corporations to spread climate denial and misinformation.
Edelman is the world’s largest PR firm. They often invite people like us to join sustainability campaigns on behalf of their clients. However, even as they work with brands that are aligned with our values, they also work extensively with companies like ExxonMobil, the world’s largest public oil company, along with Shell, and organisations that deny climate change and promote the agenda of the world’s worst polluters.
In fact, Edelman does more work for fossil-fuel interests than any PR agency on earth. Advertising for fossil-fuel companies obstructs urgently needed government action on climate change and impedes climate justice solutions. 'Greenwashing' is too mild a term: Edelman is in fact actively contributing to fossil-fuel emissions through its marketing activities.
Our planet is at a tipping point. There is no grey area here. Promoting ExxonMobil’s business model in 2021 means enabling untold human suffering and ecosystem destruction. Representing fossil-fuel clients makes Edelman’s corporate commitment to operating within the goals of the Paris Agreement fraudulent.
Several private conversations with Edelman to ask them to drop these clients have led nowhere. Given the stakes, we are now going public with our demand to Edelman: drop ExxonMobil and all other fossil-fuel clients. Ending advertising and PR for fossil-fuel companies is a crucial step toward climate justice.
If you are a thought leader, advocate, activist, creative, influencer or social media manager, we encourage you to join us in using your platform to pressure the advertising and PR industry to drop fossil-fuel clients. Our voices and our platforms have power, and it is our responsibility to use it.