James Turner
Jan 2, 2024

In the wake of COP28, five burning questions for McCann's CEO

McCann is repitching for the Saudi oil and gas major Aramco; The Glimpse Collective's founder poses five burning questions for the agency's CEO.

Photo: James Turner, founder of The Glimpse Collective
Photo: James Turner, founder of The Glimpse Collective

One thing is evident as the dust settles on another tense and chaotic climate summit. While real progress was made, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries are doing everything possible to slow down the desperately needed phase-out of fossil fuels. This is no surprise; turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

More surprising are recent news reports that McCann is repitching for the Saudi Aramco account. The state-owned giant intends to raise crude production from 12 million barrels a day to 13 million barrels by 2027, one of the most significant expansions of oil and gas production of any company in the world. Instead of phasing down, they're ramping up. 

Of course, McCann can work with any client they choose. What they can't do is work with a company like Aramco and pretend to have any credible climate policy. And yet, as part of the IPG group, McCann is committed to "proactively reviewing the climate impacts of prospective clients that operate in the oil, energy and utility sectors before accepting new work."

This makes sense because (as we learned when Havas won Shell's media account) these clients are increasingly controversial. We commissioned a recent poll from YouGov, which shows over half of UK adults (53%) say climate factors should be considered when advertising agencies choose their clients. This rises to two-thirds (65%) for 18-24-year-olds.

So, how did Aramco sneak in the door?

McCann hasn't told us, but the IPG policy admits that "while some of the work that [our] agencies have contributed to in the past would not live up to our current standards, we are committed to aligning all future work on behalf of these clients to our company's sustainability values."

So, as long as it's a legacy client, those massive emissions don't matter? This clause sounds even less credible when the Aramco account is up for renewal, and the creative team are reportedly working on a new pitch.

The IPG policy also poses questions that its agencies must ask before committing to new clients. You can read them here. Most are pretty sensible, so it's even stranger that McCann has chosen to ignore them and go straight for the petrodollars.

So here are five simple questions for McCann's CEO Daryl Lee, which would help straighten things out for us all:

  • Can you confirm you're repitching for Aramco? You've been strangely quiet on the story, but you'll need to stand by your decision sooner or later. If there's a justification we're missing, then your teams would surely benefit from hearing it.
  • How do you square this with IPG's commitment to review the climate impacts of your prospective clients? Do you think Aramco would pass this test, or are you suggesting that repitching for the account somehow doesn't qualify?
  • You've worked with them for many years. They must be one of your biggest clients. If they have any story to tell on sustainability, why not feature them on your website?
  • How big is the contract? Is it worth the reputational damage you could be facing if it's a small amount? If it's a significant part of your business, how prepared are you for the coming carbon-constrained future?
  • How are your employees reacting to the Aramco pitch? Will you commit to an open discussion within the agency, with no risk of retribution for those who speak out?

I don't know if Daryl Lee will answer these questions, but I hope his employees can use them to start conversations with their managers and agency peers.

Over the past month, Glimpse has been working with Oli Frost and Utopia Bureau on a spoof agency called Atmospheric, proudly pitching for the Aramco account (in competition with McCann). We've launched a billboard campaign and an open pitch process.

Dark, petroleum-coloured cupcakes with a range of messages such as “Oil Forever!” “Go Team Oil!” “Good Luck with the Pitch” "McCann ♥️ Aramco!” were sent by Glimpse and Atmospheric to McCann's London office

Our satire imagines a world where agencies were honest about their work for the world's biggest polluters. Atmospheric's proud slogan reads: "The Climate Is Changing. Business shouldn't have to."

It's completely ridiculous but nowhere near as absurd as the actual situation. In reality, agencies like McCann are pretending to have a severe climate change policy while simultaneously working with the most significant fossil fuel company on earth. 

James Turner is the founder of The Glimpse Collective.

Campaign Asia

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