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The role of public relations firms in climate change politics


  • Robert J. Brulle

    (Brown University)

  • Carter Werthman

    (Brown University)


Climate change policy has long been subject to influence by a wide variety of organizations. Despite their importance, the key role of public relations (PR) firms has long been overlooked in the climate political space. This paper provides an exploratory overview of the extent and nature of involvement of PR firms in climate political action by organizations in five sectors: Coal/Steel/Rail, Oil & Gas, Utilities, Renewable Energy, and the Environmental Movement. The analysis shows that the engagement of public relations firms by organizations in all of these sectors is widespread. In absolute terms, the Utility and Gas & Oil sectors engage the most PR firms, and the Environmental Movement engages the fewest. Organizations in the Utilities Sector show a statistically significant higher use of PR firms than the other sectors. Within each sector, engagement of PR firms is concentrated in a few firms, and the major oil companies and electrical-supply manufactures are the heaviest employers of such firms. PR firms generally specialize in representing specific sectors, and a few larger PR firms are widely engaged in climate and energy political activity. PR firms developed campaigns that frequently relied on third-party groups to engage with the public, criticize opponents, and serve as the face of an advertising campaign. Our analysis shows that PR firms are a key organizational actor in climate politics.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Brulle & Carter Werthman, 2021. "The role of public relations firms in climate change politics," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 169(1), pages 1-21, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:169:y:2021:i:1:d:10.1007_s10584-021-03244-4
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-021-03244-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Aronczyk, Melissa, 2018. "Public Relations, Issue Management, and the Transformation of American Environmentalism, 1948–1992," Enterprise & Society, Cambridge University Press, vol. 19(4), pages 836-863, December.
    2. Charles Cho & Dennis Patten & Robin Roberts, 2006. "Corporate Political Strategy: An Examination of the Relation between Political Expenditures, Environmental Performance, and Environmental Disclosure," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 67(2), pages 139-154, August.
    3. Matthew H. Goldberg & Abel Gustafson & Seth A. Rosenthal & Anthony Leiserowitz, 2021. "Shifting Republican views on climate change through targeted advertising," Nature Climate Change, Nature, vol. 11(7), pages 573-577, July.
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    1. Faye Holder & Sanober Mirza & Namson-Ngo-Lee & Jake Carbone & Ruth E. McKie, 2023. "Climate obstruction and Facebook advertising: how a sample of climate obstruction organizations use social media to disseminate discourses of delay," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 176(2), pages 1-21, February.

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