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Wartime Consigliere

  April 2018 / Vol 8 Issue 2

Wartime Consigliere
By: Shayla Owens, Orion Strategies


There is a small percentage of the population who has top-of-mind awareness supporting energy issues – and by far, these are individuals who are directly tied to the industry or have family in it. Then, there is a massive percentage of people who just want to live their lives and not think about how their homes are heated, how their lights turn on, or how the products in their lives are made.

And that leaves the opponents. Some opponents can be dealt with peacefully – having legitimate issues that can be addressed. Yet, there are those whose mission it is to derail energy projects, who believe that they are always right and that natural gas and oil must stay in the ground. It is fair to say this last group is an extreme minority, and that not everyone who raises a question about the industry shares their agenda. But when these organizations and individuals emerge, they must be dealt with swiftly.

It is important to employ the right “consigliere” with experience in extinguishing fires and who is in a position to handle the unthinkable. For those who are not familiar with this term, a simple definition of a consigliere is a trusted and experienced advisor. This term was made famous in The Godfather, and is best displayed when longtime family lawyer, Tom Hagen, is passed over at one point because he is not a “wartime consigliere.”

Tom’s confusion with the news of his replacement is understandable. He had been loyal to the Corleone family, but his strengths and capabilities ended there. He did not have what it took to be Michael Corleone’s wartime advisor, mostly because of his background. He was not Sicilian, so this put him at a disadvantage when trying to outmaneuver the “five families” because he was unable to understand their culture and ways.

Even before war or an emergency situation arises, energy companies should have already recruited a communication firm that can serve as a wartime consigliere. The right communication consigliere is a public relations firm who has extensive experience in developing messaging strategies for critical situations and will be an expert in the field. That is the consigliere every energy company needs.

Opposition Research

The old adage, “know thine enemy” is essential to practice. When faced with opposition, it is not wise to assume that it is a haphazard organization of volunteers with oak tag signs. Opposition research into the organization, leaders, staff, funders and networks is necessary. The right strategic communications firm will be able to provide in-depth information about who and what the client is up against and whether the person asking questions at a township meeting was an inquisitive citizen just looking for answers or a plant sent to begin a much larger disruption down the road, like the first ant at a picnic.

Many opposition groups are extremely well funded. And their money often comes from sources funneled through various other groups to hide their patronage. These funds then become difficult to track even through IRS Form 990 research, because instead of identifying direct donations, they often “share” employees, legal expertise, office space and many other resources. Further, spin-off groups are created on a micro-local level to create the appearance of genuine grassroots efforts, only to find that they are front groups for much larger organizations. Good opposition research can uncover this.

It is also important to not automatically assume that the opposition will be leftleaning or environmental in nature. They can also represent the interests of competing industries and energy sources – masquerading as citizen groups and victims. Having the ability to research these organizations is essential to know who the opposition is and how to respond.

Disqualifying and Disarming

With opposition research in hand, motive becomes more apparent. That information can then be provided to local elected officials, stakeholders and the media to unveil the wizard(s) behind the curtain – dispelling the mythic appearance and show the real agendas and organizations behind the scenes. When motive, association and funding are realized, they each become part of the narrative – which undercuts the very arguments attempting to be made.

There are many ways to disqualify and disarm the opposition. Well placed news stories, social media campaigns and sometimes full-page newspaper ads can all be used. But there are other times when it is advantageous to not have the client’s fingerprints on the efforts. This course of action takes experience in working to bring all of the information to light for third-party accusations without creating backlash.


When the time comes, if it comes, decisions must be made quickly. A thorough response plan with budget must be established that entails realistic end goals and objectives. To reach those objectives, tactics should be determined based upon the following criteria in addition to the objectives: audience, geography, pressure points, message and vehicles.

What needs to be said and to whom does it need said? Those two questions will dictate answers to the above criteria. Once established, the communications firm will then look at a variety of options from forming third-party grassroots coalitions to a frontal assault of social media, newspaper ads, direct mail, television campaigns and other paid media.

Crisis Communication

Not every wound is created by the opposition. Some are unfortunately self-inflicted. This is why every energy company needs a crisis communication plan and experienced communication staff to help with the successful navigation of responding to a crisis or urgent situation. Just like hiring an emergency response company to train employees for on-the-job emergencies, energy companies should have communication experts to handle the response of any issue that may become a critical public relations situation.

The way a company responds to an emergency or conflict can outlast or greatly surpass the severity of the situation itself. And because of that, even the smallest moves can define a company and establish an unwanted reputation that outweighs years of operational success.

Choosing a Consigliere

The right communication firm will have the experience and expertise needed to adhere to a company’s public relations needs in times of emergency or war and will know how to avoid mistakes that can be detrimental to a company’s reputation for many years to come. The firm should be knowledgeable of the industry, and it should also understand the culture of the local communities, the nature of the opposition groups, and the pinch-points that can affect operations.

It is important to understand that not every situation is a battle. Knowing the difference is what makes a “wartime consigliere” an important asset. The right firm will pay close attention to the big picture while not overlooking the small details that affect a client’s reputation – and by doing so, help keep a client’s central needs in focus toward success.

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