Patrick CrowFor the past 2 years, U.S. oil industry leaders have grappled with the problem of how to reverse the public's dismal image of oil companies.
Lew Ward, the former Independent Petroleum Association of America chairman, pushed for an industry-wide public education program, but the American Petroleum Institute companies balked.
However, API continued to study the question and hired the pollster Wirthlin Worldwide Co. to help.
Now it has some answers, which API Pres. Red Cavaney outlined at a recent National Ocean Industries Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
No big public relations or advertising campaigns are planned; API merely will share the findings with companies wanting to communicate better.
ValuesCavaney said, "We have tended as an industry-as many have-to not make our point because of our inability to connect with our audience."
He said it is much more difficult to attempt to change a person's opinion than it is to sell him a product.
The key is to connect with core values that underlie a person's decision-making process. Examples are peace of mind, personal satisfaction, and personal security (including freedom of mobility).
Cavaney said minds can be changed only when you connect with people at those value levels.
For instance, he said that, if industry could show that it has the same values as its audience does, the public will be more receptive to the message.
"We are very, very good about arguing facts, but we are terrible about the emotional component. The interesting thing is that so often our opponents in the public policy arena do absolutely the reverse. They make their domain the emotional level, absolutely absent the facts.
"You need a rational component to get people to pay attention, but people don't make a change until they are motivated at the emotional level. You persuade by reason, but you motivate by emotion."
LessonsCavaney said polls show industry's credibility is better than supposed and is higher among opinion leaders than with the general public.
He said, "Two areas where we get pilloried in public are our environmental record and on (the issue of) ample supply.
"So we should not go out and lead any conversation in the public about the environment, or about the adequacy of supplies. Those are points where we can't relate comfortably with the public.
"The way you deal with those issues, is you talk about core values you share with the public, and then you bridge over and talk about the environment after you've got someone comfortable with you, and they can receive your message much more favorably. Obviously, you had better have the record that supports what you're trying to say."
Cavaney said, "Remember, we lead by reason and motivate by emotion. If we can tie these two together, we then have gained competitive advantage over those who are out there competing against us in the marketplace of ideas."
He said basically, industry must do better at competing "for the same emotional ground that our critics are trying to claim.
"It's like Basketball 101. You have to get to the spot before your opponent does."
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