Monday, July 13, 2009

Lessons Learned: Hunting with a Shotgun

By Paul Hart, APR

The July issue of Public Relations Tactics has an article on the simmering lawsuit between the nation of Ecuador and Chevron Corp. This has been a big issue in the energy trade press but has had scant coverage in the general media.

The case involves allegations by Ecuador that Texaco Corp., which Chevron acquired in 2001, did environmental damage to Ecuador’s pristine jungle while developing an oil field. Chevron points out the work was done under a permit issued by Ecuador’s government and it met, or exceeded, all environmental stipulations set by the nation.

The stakes are huge.

Ecuador seeks $27 billion in damages, equal to half of that nation’s annual gross domestic product. The suit could end up as the ultimate ambulance-chasing, tort-lawyer shakedown of a wealthy defendant, or a landmark environmental judgment that could alter worldwide environmental standards.

One of the first mentions of the case in the general press came in May when CBS aired a 60 Minutes piece. In response to what it feared would be a negative story, Chevron produced a video on the issue and posted it on YouTube. That sounds innovative – using social media to counter the general media. But consider the differing results:

• The 60 Minutes episode had an estimated audience of 12 million viewers.
• The YouTube video has drawn 5,916 views, as of this writing.

Which medium had the bigger impact? You be the judge: The YouTube video has had 0.049percent of the audience the CBS News program garnered. I have no idea how much time and money Chevron spent producing the video. But one has to question its effectiveness in swaying public opinion.

The point here is its best to consider the potential audience a medium reaches when deciding where to place a client’s message. True, the traditional ink-on-paper and over-the-air broadcast media have been losing readers-listeners-viewers for years. But their audiences are still huge. And they won’t go away soon.

It may be best to couple social media placements with the general media when you want to reach an audience. In other words, use a shotgun, not a rifle. That way you have a better chance of hitting your desired target.