COAL RESEARCH GROUP turns hand to advertising in bid to make Australians ‘feel proud’ about rock

The sort of organisations and people that the truth is up against …

-is it akin to those who worked for (and some still are) Big Tobacco?

-is it about creative methods of PR and image and to hell with the truth?

-are the same sort of people engaged in this also found working in the background for developers?

Coal research group turns hand to advertising in bid to make Australians ‘feel proud’ about rock

By Stephen Long

Updated about 10 hours ago

A reclaimer places coal in stockpiles at the coal port in Newcastle, Australia

PHOTO: COAL21 says it wants to enhance “the public standing and reputation of Australia’s coal industry”. (Reuters: Daniel Munoz)

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An organisation set up to research low-emission coal technologies is funding a multi-million-dollar media campaign aimed at making Australians feel “proud about coal”, according to advertising industry insiders.

Key points:

  • A research organisation established to develop low-carbon emission coal is spending millions in a pro-coal advertising blitz
  • COAL21 is closely linked to the Minerals Council of Australia ,which in turn is largely funded by mining companies
  • BHP has endured a testy relationship with the Minerals Council over its advocacy of coal-fired power, with the big miner preferring to promote “decarbonising the economy”

COAL21 — established 15 years ago to research carbon capture and storage (CCS) — intends to roll out the campaign across media platforms including television, digital, print, radio and social media next month.

It is planning a $4 million to $5 million media spend, say people familiar with the issue.

COAL21 denies the advertising blitz is part of a back-door lobbying effort to swing public sentiment in favour of continued use of coal-fired power and expanded coal use, which would put it at odds with BHP, one of COAL21’s major funders.

“We are not sure exactly what the focus of it is to be,” COAL21’s chief executive officer Mark McCallum told the ABC.

“[But it will be] CCS sort of technologies.

“What [the public] want more information about is what the industry is doing to lower its emissions.”

Yet carbon capture and storage does not rate a mention in a document sent to creative agencies and media production companies outlining the brief.

‘Soft converters’ targeted

Instead, it describes the campaign effort as “part of maintaining and enhancing the public standing and reputation of Australia’s coal industry and Australian mining more generally” as well as “rebutting false campaigns by activist groups and optimising opportunities”.

The “referral for proposal” sent to agencies, and obtained by the ABC, says the campaign “is targeted at men aged 18 to 39 and women aged 40 and over — ‘soft converters’ identified by previous research as having limited information about the Australian coal industry and open to being convinced of its future role”.

It includes a link to a current TV commercial featuring mining engineer “Raelene”, which advocates that new-generation coal-power plants with higher efficiency and lower emissions be built in Australia.

While it was issued under the banner of COAL21, the PDF sent to agencies was actually created by an executive assistant to the chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the main lobby group for the Australian coal industry, the document’s properties show.DOCUMENT PAGES TEXT Zoom

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Close ties

The two organisations have close ties.

COAL21’s Mr McCallum is also employed as the general manager of climate and energy at the Minerals Council.

The link between the powerful coal lobby group and a foundation which ostensibly exists to research ways to cut carbon emissions is drawing fire from critics.

“COAL21 is now essentially the MCA’s advertising department,” said Dan Gocher, director of climate and environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, a pressure group which campaigns for corporations to address environmental and climate concerns.

“There is no effective separation between the two organisations, and the MCA’s fingerprints are all over this pro-coal advertising campaign.”

COAL21 attracted controversy after money that detractors say was intended for research on “clean coal” technology was channelled into a multi-million-dollar lobbying and pre-election advertising campaign under the banner “Coal. It’s an amazing thing”.

A change to COAL21’s mandate allowed it to use funds originally meant for researching low-emission coal technology to fund “coal promotion”.

A carbon capture and storage plant

PHOTO: COAL21 was originally established to fund research into “clean” coal technology, such as carbon capture and storage. (Supplied: COAL21)

‘Simple emotional campaign’

Its latest campaign follows on the heels of BHP’s major strategy announcement on “decarbonising” aimed at addressing greenhouse gas emissions within and beyond its operations through a $400 million program.

BHP — which part funds COAL21 through a levy on coal producers — has had serious rifts with the Minerals Council over its advocacy of coal-fired power in recent years.

A company spokesman said BHP was comfortable about COAL21’s multi-million-dollar media blitz after being assured it would be a public information campaign about carbon capture and storage.

But the ABC been told that, although carbon capture and storage and low emissions technology were touched upon, they were not the focus when media and creative agencies were briefed on COAL21’s requirements.

“They wanted a simple emotional campaign to make people feel good about continued use of coal [for generating electricity],” one industry insider said.

A staffer at one creative agency staffer made notes during a meeting which record that COAL21 sought a campaign that would “invoke national pride” about Australian coal.YOUTUBE: Coal21 video

Representatives from both COAL21 and the Minerals Council of Australia attended meetings to outline what was needed from the campaign, the ABC has been told.

BHP support questioned

Mr Gocher said BHP should withdraw its support for COAL21’s advertising.

“While BHP positions itself as a climate champion, it continues to fund coal propaganda campaigns through COAL21,” he said.

“COAL21’s latest multi-million-dollar effort to improve public sentiment towards the coal industry is at odds with BHP’s oft-repeated expectation that its industry associations’ advocacy be ‘technology neutral’, not to mention its CEO’s public acknowledgement that we are approaching a climate crisis.”

COAL21 appears to be relying on feedback from market research to frame the campaign.

It has contracted market research firm JWS to “have input into the themes and direction of creative executions” and “test any creative concepts and executions through qualitative research”, the document sent to agencies says.

PWC partner Russel Howcroft — a veteran advertising expert who rose to public prominence as a panellist on the ABC TV program The Gruen Transfer — has been hired as a “creative consultant” by COAL21.

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-07/coal-lobby-hopes-to-make-australians-proud-about-coal/11388830

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