The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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August 6, 2012

Gas industry advertising shifts toward issues



Energy companies have become more savvy in pointing out the benefits of their operations to communities and the national economy, said Brian Bronaugh, president of the Mullen agency, which has no gas producers as clients.

Also, "drilling for natural gas is a big, expensive job" and companies have to address problems when things go wrong. Total spent for a major, multifaceted ad campaign can run from $8 million to $12 million, he said.

Drillers combine advertising with public relations, community outreach through meetings and other efforts to "stay on the good side of the consumer," said Audrey Guskey, associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University.

The industry not only is shaping its public image, but ads often are meant to minimize political oversight, said Virginia Gerde, associate professor of management and ethics at Duquesne. Think of the alcohol industry's "drink responsibly" ads or McDonald's highlight on healthy foods, she said.

Ads that stress drilling can be done without long-lasting effects to water supplies or the terrain seem to prompt a wait-and-see reaction here, Gerde said. "What I am hearing from people is, 'Show me in five years that it can be done safely,'" she said.

The campaigns signal the companies make enough in profits to put millions of dollars into advertising, "which also makes people think twice," Gerde said.

Consumers should look at the drilling industry's more-frequent ads with a skeptical eye, as they should with any commercial message, said Jeanne Clark of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, a Harrisburg-based environmental advocacy organization.

"Read the news and look at the science," she said. "We know that having drilling in your community isn't all good. It's a major industrial operation." About 70 percent of residents who took part in the recent Pittsburgh Regional Quality of Life Survey by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research and the Pittsburgh Today research organization said Marcellus drilling was at least a moderate economic opportunity. Fewer respondents, 55 percent, said it poses at least some environmental threat.

Pitzarella said that survey and ones with similar results are a sign that consumers are learning more about the industry, and that time is showing the drilling and fracking process poses few long-term effects. It doesn't mean ads are swaying opinions.

"People would reject a campaign that tried to boil down health and environmental safety into sound bites," he said.



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