The role of emotion in public relations

February 13, 2012

And how to use it to change public opinion

Last week, I had the opportunity to stand before hundreds of oil and gas professionals and explain to them that while they have the facts and truth on their side, they are losing the battle for public opinion regarding American’s most important new energy source. The topic was one near and dear to my heart — the vast shale field that stretches from West Virginia to western New York state.

Using tried and true technologies, this group has been among the pioneers in engineering new ways to release this cleaner burning fuel, make it available to heat American hearths and homes, and help resuscitate America’s struggling economy.

All the facts are there. Marcellus Shale generates high-paying American jobs in places that have been economically deprived for generations. The fuel — natural gas — is by far the cleanest burning carbon-based fuel, capable of replacing coal-fired power plants and reducing all of our carbon footprints.

As a domestic energy source, shale gas takes American men and woman out of harm’s way by eliminating the need to protect oil supply lines that start in the Middle East. And shale gas provides for a more stable, peaceful world by stopping our massive payments to foreign countries, many of which are hostile to the United States, all for the love of oil.

And while there are admittedly environmental issues with any kind of economic activity, compared to other energy sources (foreign oil and nuclear), shale gas brings with it much lower environmental consequences.

Yet, as I shared with the audience, the public and the media see things vastly different from what the facts show. At the meeting, I shared with the group just-published public opinion research, which was produced by my company along with Nielsen.

The research clearly shows that contrary to common sense, we are losing the public opinion war over Marcellus Shale, and that’s a shame of epic proportions, considering that Marcellus Shale development is a rare bipartisan topic that President Obama voiced his support for in his 2012 State of the Union address.

So why, if the facts are on industry’s side, and our president stands among natural gas’ supporters, has the reputation of Marcellus Shale taken such a hit? The rationale I presented at the conference is that while facts are important, emotion is what wins the hearts and souls, and public opinion. I explained that while many in the room had philosophical differences with the ways in which so-called “fractivists” have dominated the story, there is still much to learn from their techniques.

At the meeting, I provided six out-of-the-box ideas for humanizing the face of the natural gas industry, along with the precise tactics, terminology, and language that needs to be used, alongside fact, to tilt public opinion in the favor of smart, respectful development that will tap an estimated 100-year supply of cleaner burning, domestically produced energy — one that requires no risk to human life to develop and one that can and is being produced with limited environmental impact.

Feeling bad that you missed it? Don’t fret. The response was so positive that we plan to sponsor a live webinar event bringing this and even more data to the industry. If you would like to sign up for the webinar, just hit this form and give us your contact information, and you will be the first to know.

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