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The Art of Not-War

  February 2018 / Vol 8 Issue 1

The Art of Not-War
By: Shayla Owens, Orion Strategies

 

When any company in the energy industry decides to enter into a community and take up operations, there needs to be a strategy of community outreach and strategic communication established alongside plans to operate. There also needs to be a change in mindsets on all sides. In many cases, both the local community and the environmental community are skeptical of big, outsider companies’ intentions and promises to be stewards of the land and its people. However, the locals and environmental groups are not the only ones stereotyping and maintaining this divide.

How does a company in the oil and natural gas industry combat tension on all sides? Better yet, how do oil and gas companies avoid combat altogether?

The word strategy has multiple definitions, and is most commonly thought of as a game plan—the “how” behind getting from the current Point A to the desired Point B. However, the word is also strongly affiliated with military approach, and can sometimes be used synonymously with the phrase, “the art of war.”

If you were to ask ancient Chinese military strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu, for an enlightening strategy for modern day energy companies to consider, he would say something like a wise warrior avoids battle at all costs. In the energy industry, this is an immensely smart strategy to employ. From a public relations perspective, if you do it right from day one, you do not have to go to war with anyone. The trick, however, is knowing how to do it right.

So, what is the right way to go about declaring not-war?

The main thing an energy company needs to do is implement a well-executed strategy of community outreach and communication, resulting in the waging of unintentional war if done incorrectly.

It is important to reach out to those in the local communities who may be in opposition of company operations as soon as possible, but it is also equally important for energy companies to truly become active stewards of the communities and environments where operations take place. Sure, there are ways of getting around this crucial much-needed step for operating in local communities, but just because something can be done does not mean that it should be. And, avoiding or slacking in any of these areas does little to prevent an always unwanted, expensive, and messy war from surfacing.

But, if energy companies are ever going to succeed in their attempts at not-war, they are going to have to adopt a new mindset. It is important to understand that not everyone that opposes aspects of the oil and natural gas industry should be deemed a stark enemy or a means to an end. Instead, they need to be reconsidered and respected as a potential ally.

Many times, energy companies are met with hesitance, skepticism, and even hostility by some opposing community stakeholders and environmentalist groups before operations begin. Part of the not-war strategy, then, for an energy company is to truly rid itself of any image resembling a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and become neither more like the sheep nor the wolf, but simply be more transparent, more thoughtful, more human, and less of the stereotypical big business energy company that parts of society have come to fear and mistrust.

The important thing to remember here is that energy companies need to be proactive and preventative in their strategizing, and they need to avoid the tendency to simply react to conflict when it arises. You can have the most brilliant team of employees in the field, but if no one knows how to succeed at communicating with stakeholders, then problems are sure to arise. That is why it is important to invest in a professional communication staff and/or outside council early in the game, so that operations can proceed and plans can unfold smoothly.

It seems that only in a utopian setting could such different entities such as oil and gas companies and environmentalist groups work together and strive for the same goal, but with the right communication staff managing the proper implementation of community outreach and public relations strategies, these two groups can thrive together. It is all about putting those awful stereotypes out of the picture and reintroducing themselves as people with common goals.

With all differences aside, at the end of the day, every gas company, every local community, and every environmental group is made up of people. And laid out for all of these perhaps once-opposing groups is unsurpassed common ground to be shared and explored. There has always been much opportunity for collaboration and understanding to be experienced between all sides, but someone has to make that initial effort to cross those battle lines that were drawn way too long ago, by applying the not-war strategy. And, they also have to know how to cross those lines with a message that is not going to get the messenger shot before white flags can fly.

Next Issue: When “Not-War” is no longer an option.

 

Shayla Owens is a public relations specialist with Orion Strategies, a strategic communications and public relations firm. She can be reached at sowens@orionstrategies.com

 

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