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We turn down EDF and Shell for silly freebie requests


Ewan MacLeod

Here at Greenbang we are seriously impressed with the videos that Shell has been publishing recently. I came across one the other day — and I was so impressed, I even rated the video and posted a comment on it.

If you haven’t seen them, here’s the overview: Shell has given a camera to selected recent graduates and asked them to record a diary of their experiences across their first year. I’d imagine that if I was looking to join Shell as a graduate, these Youtube-friendly inclusive, welcoming and ‘raw’ videos would certainly help form a positive viewpoint of the company in my mind.

So 10/10 Shell, for getting the first bit correct. We’ll leave you to hunt for the Shell videos directly on Youtube rather than linking.

That’s because we’re seriously, seriously unimpressed at how Shell’s marketing and public relations team have conducted themselves in regard to this issue.

Shell has produced these videos. Obviously they want coverage of them. Hence the email we received this morning from Burston Marseteller (Shell’s PR company of choice) asking if we’d be interested in a) providing feedback on the videos) and b) posting the videos here on Greenbang.

Our Editor Dan wrote back explaining that for any analysis of company activities, we charge for our time. He also explained that we’d be delighted to publish the videos in our ad-funded section.

Of course the team at Burston Marseteller couldn’t help. Shell has provided no budget to them for this purpose.

Which raises a serious conundrum that we face daily at Greenbang.

When a billion dollar company pays what must have been tens of thousands of pounds per video — along with at least 10-30k/month to a PR company of BM’s status — why, when they want to reach the Greenbang audience with their precise messaging, does the budget suddenly disappear?

We think Shell needs to understand that if they’ve just discovered the secret of manufacturing electricity from dead leaves, that we’ll be all over it. That Greenbang will use its editorial budget to SEND one of us to their offices to cover the story. If it’s relevant, we do our absolute best to cover it. If the company in question is aiming to push a particular message continually … well, obviously, that’s when you talk to our advertising team.

But when Shell wants to do a lot of back-slapping about how good it’s recent HR outreach is? Well, that’s when it’s time to discuss how they can help support Greenbang — and the rest of the publications on which the green/energy and innovation business relies upon.

You can imagine the outrage from Burston Marsteller, typed through the virtual equivalent of pursed lips:

“Thanks for getting back to me. I don’t think Shell would let go of the budget for this.”

I guess that shows what Shell really thinks of us…and what love Burson Marsteller has for what we do.

The PR Dan dealt with later added: “Listen, thanks for your help – you have requirements which Shell cannot meet. They have requirements you cannot meet. I apologise for that, as we work with bloggers a lot in this agency and understand that.”

We’d have happily worked with them. We’d even have posted a thank-you to Shell for their generous support. You, the reader, would have understood this — and, we’re confident that you’d have also gone on to browse the videos and read the posts too.

Startup companies pay for us to analyse their technology and ideas. Other companies pay for their ads on the site. So why should we give these free to Shell – of all companies?

Alas it’s going to be some time before billion dollar companies such as Shell, stuck in their one-to-many ‘broadcast’ setting, will understand this and react accordingly.

But you can’t blame just Shell for this. Other energy firms have also been trying to get  freebies from us.

Just the other day, Lexus PR, the communications firm for energy giant EDF emailed, saying:

We (EDF Energy) are working with the Dummies Guide to produce ‘Energy Buying for Dummies’ and ‘Carbon Management Strategies for Dummies’. We think this could work really well as a downloadable PDF on as a editorial opportunity. Its really to give people a simple way of understanding how these areas work.

Did they want to pay the same report hosting fees as other advertisers have? You bet they didn’t. They wanted it ‘free’.

We’ve heard for years that ‘green business is good business’. So we have a policy here that other than the news we put out, we don’t do free – we charge and we make money because we’re a publication and a business too. If you don’t respect that, you might be better off placing your free ad and time requests elsewhere.

Now watch this…


  • Jen
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    a bit late to the party i know but the PR agency should have ensured that they had budget available from the client before contacting any sites or made it perfectly clear in the initial communication that no budget was available.

    it’s the agencie’s responsibility to make sure the clients know the risks of being cheap… if they were ever asked to sign the money off that is

  • matt h
    Posted October 16, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    So, so, so spot on!

    i think with the internet/ new media – people had gotten used to the idea of future earnings – doing things for free now for a promise of great revenue flow later.

    This had lead some unscrupulous types with a bit more power to think “well why should we pay for it? – we can get it for free.”
    New media companies not paying runners the legal national minimum wage or a companies like shell trying to get free ads – they’re all at it because they’ve gotten used to it.

    But people in these tricky times have suddenly woken up to the reality that there is no “later” – things move too fast – if your business model doesn’t provide a revenue stream now, today,
    what makes you think it will in 3 years time, when technology has changed AGAIN, and previously profitable
    business models have kicked the bucket?

    We all know how little we value what we get for free.
    If you provide a good product or service, charge for it – once they get over the shock, they come back.

  • Sharmee
    Posted October 16, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Don’t blame the PR agencies – as much as PR people advise clients on what to do, they often don’t listen!

  • Rob Skinner
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Noooooo! When will the PR industry start taking itself seriously and stop letting itself down? We are here to advise clients so that these things dont happen, its the first rule.

  • Spencer
    Posted October 9, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Bang on. Let those halfwit PR moron’s dangle. Proper green reporting is what we want, not some greenwashed corporate nonsense.

  • Ciaran
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Agreed. This is clearly advertorial. Taking advantage of specialist blogs is a little rich, especially for a massive multinational company like Shell. If they want a platform to access a highly targetted audience, they should should work with the publishers.

    Hiring a PR firm to peddle advertising masquerading as “faux” news content is a little disingenuous and insulting to readers of highly influential blogs like Greenbang.

  • Steve O'Donnell
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Let them try that game with Google or ITV. What are they smoking?


  • Cyril Khan
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Kudos. You’re doing it right. We’re not.
    We will get it right eventually.

Comments are closed.

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