Solving the communication problem of the Oil and Gas Industry
A group of distinguished panelists gathered at the Energy Disruptor conference to discuss the communication challenges facing the Canadian Energy Sector and specifically the Alberta Oil and Gas industry. The lively conversation covered issues ranging from conflict negotiation to restructuring the C-Suite to overcoming the fear of bad press.The panelists include:Deborah Yedlin– Chancellor University of Calgary & panel facilitatorMark Szabo– Associate Director Market Research at Critical MassSheenah Rogers-Pfeiffer– CEO and Chief Strategist at AnsticeAlexandria Shrake– Co-Founder Energy MinuteWithout further delay, here's a summary of their conversation.Deborah: What is conflict negotiation?Mark. The big thing to know is that it’s a conflict of values (emotions), not interests (facts). It’s especially true when you think of groups. The energy sector has been trying to solve a complex problem with facts and data without connecting to emotions and values.Deborah: Sheenah as a recent transplant to BC, do you have a new perspective on the value proposition of our industry?Sheenah: I grew up in rural Alberta. Since moving to BC, I’ve unplugged from Alberta culture and it’s interesting that I find it easier to understand someone else’s perspective. The Alberta values are really strong and meaningful but haven’t been properly communicated. People in Vancouver aren’t against Oil and Gas, but they have different expectations about how we need to connect with them.Deborah: Alexandria, what the wins for your organization (Energy Minute)?Alexandria: Engineers and scientists love to use stats and data. Unfortunately, they are not effective as a communication tool. The Energy Minute uses stats and data as information to tell stories that give people a different perspective. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and use comedy where possible. Also, our form of distribution (decentralized media) resonates with students and community. In terms of success, we take a qualitative approach to measuring success rather than quantitative likes and shares. Here's an example of their video called "Oil: What does the future look like?".Deborah: We (the industry) say we’re doing things well, but are we?Mark: In really complex situations, it’s a game of nudges instead of a game of wins. You don’t have to swing for the fences every time. It’s winning on a micro-level, person to person, starting new conversations. Focusing on these patterns of interactions will yield more success.Sheenah: The industry is measured on performance and perception. On performance, you’re doing well. However, I think the perception has been overlooked and the industry is suffering for it. Perception is reality. The company brands may be ok, but the public is second guessing the industry which ultimately limits the potential of each brand. People may not love oil & gas, but they should understand how important it is in their daily lives. If the industry would talk more, people would be more understanding of your plan.Q. How do we change the narrative from "but" to "and"?Mark: I’ve got a story that relates. The other day, our power was shut off. Enmax gave us warning that it would happen so we knew it would be disruptive. But it was taking longer than we thought and it was really frustrating. Then Steve knocked on our door. He worked for Enmax and explained what was happening, why there was a delay and diffused the whole situation. This approach works because it’s the individuals who are involved and who are the ones communicating. The Oil and Gas industry could use the same approach.Sheenah: Part of the solution is rethinking how our stories are communicated. Edelman recently published aTrust Barometer Global Report. Government and the Media are the two least trusted sources of information. And yet, we use these platforms to share our stories. This puts the communication in a tough position to start with. We should think about how to ‘own’ our own stories. For example, the plastics industry is facing similar challenges and rather than waiting for government regulations or public outcry, they’re trying to lead the conversation with a coalition of producers and suppliers.Deborah: We haven’t been able to get that far. So, where do we start?Alexandria: In my time in public policy, I ate a lot of humble pie. I grew up in Alberta and thought that Hydro-Electric was either neutral to negative. Later in my life, I learned there is a strong positive identity tied to hydroelectricity in Quebec. I went into that environment with a lot of bias, but with an open mind grew to understand the positive impact of it. I think it starts with a mindset.Sheenah: I think the industry would benefit from bringing in outsiders to help inform new ideas, strategy and approach. If the energy sector wants change, they have to start with a comms person in the C-Suite. The structure of the organization has to support both the hard skills (math, engineering, geo-physics) and soft skills (communications, government and public relations).Deborah: If you invite outsiders, you invite conflict. How do we manage it?Mark: There are three keys to that. First, is to reminder us that conflicts are about values, not interests. Second, solutions have to be managed individually, not in mass. Third, group dynamics are hard to change because they’re irrational. So the strategy and plans for the individuals need to be monitored regularly in so that your approach can pivot along with the changes.Sheenah: I loved what Sheryl Sandberg said in a recent podcast. When talking about conflict, it matters less that you agree. It’s the process by which you make decisions that you need to agree on because there will never be 100% agreement on all decisions.Deborah: The premiere of the province has opened a ‘war room’. Will that be helpful?Mark: If the intention is to understand the dynamic nature of the conversation then yes. The worst thing anyone can do is build a strategy once, then assume it’s done. Hopefully, they’re going to war with the dynamic nature of the conversation so that they can better understand it.Alexandria: There’s nothing wrong with a war room, though it should be called a strategy room. How we feel about Alberta Oil and Gas is almost irrelevant, our measure of success needs to be impactful with the influence we have outside of Alberta.Deborah: How is it that energy touches everything that we all do every day, but it’s still not valued?Alexandria: My belief is that the energy sector aligns itself to the conservative party which has the effect of linking opinions about the conservatives to the Oil and Gas industry. My thought is that we should be more thoughtful about how who we align ourselves politically.Sheenah. I have an example with Direct Energy to share. Direct Energy had an issue with their reputation score and wanted to improve that. After a lot of research, our company discovered there were 4 to 5 value pillars that resonated with Albertans. We used this information to reposition their brand and connect with their customers along those values. Within 6 months from the start of our campaign, their reputation scores dramatically improved.Alexandria: Reading about energy facts isn’t that compelling. It takes a level of emotional intelligence to find a way to package information in a way that’s interesting and connects with people.Mark: No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.Audience Q. How do you overcome the fear of bad press?Sheenah: You have to face it head on. Press is just a piece of content. It’s no different than a piece of content that you own. You can use the conversation to respond on your own terms.
"Don’t bring a calculator to a gun fight." - Great line by a member of the audience
Audience Q. Technically, my company doesn’t operate in the oil sands, but I can appreciate that we’re all perceived to be in the oil sands. How can the industry position themselves better?Sheenah: The industry has to decide on the right terms to use then use them collectively. For example, ‘clean energy’ insinuates that there’s dirty energy.Audience Q. We have to unify as an industry. We’re part of both the problem and solution. Who’s best positioned to pull that off?Deborah. I don’t have a clear answer. There is a reluctance to come together on one message because there are so many distinct points of view and goals