Risk_Communication_A

Following 4Corners report Adani’s PR strategy continues to fail them

August 24 2017

Hugo Hodge

Consultant

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By Hugo Hodge

Following an unfavourable Four Corners report, Adani Group has launched a Twitter offensive with positive sponsored posts about the mining company appearing on social media feeds on Monday night.

The tweets, along with a fiery letter sent to Four Corners, reveal the mining company’s unwillingness to take any responsibility for the allegations despite strong evidence.

A disregard for community, financial and environmental stewardship in Adani Group’s past and current operations were documented in the report, aired on the ABC.

The Adani Group claimed the report was “unfair and unethical” in a response extolling its credentials as an “absolute and religiously Law abiding organisation.”

The allegations against Adani have been stacking up and it was only a matter of time before the mining giant received a rigorous media inspection, particularly when accusations of any wrong-doing continued to be vehemently denied.

In an attempt to prove innocence and defeat the critics, Adani’s written response has focused heavily on the details of its triumphant legal battles and has failed to address the huge list of concerns the Four Corners program is likely to raise.

It is this kind of traditional public relations strategy which has forced Adani into the “vortex of public outrage”, says Futureye’s Managing Director Katherine Teh-White.

“The traditional way of approaching communications when there are people that disagree is to defeat the opponents, embrace the supporters, and convince the straddlers through demonstrating the benefits of the project and industry,” she said.

“But this isn’t how it works when outrage is involved. If you’re not properly responding to the opponents and addressing their concerns, you’re actually giving them strength and attracting more people to the argument.”

The Four Corners report will likely strengthen the public push against the mega-mine as recent opinion polling has revealed strong opposition to the project in Liberal heartlands.

The Australia Institute poll found 51 – 71 percent of respondents opposed the idea of the government giving Adani a one billion dollar tax payer subsidised loan for its connecting rail line while 17 – 28 percent approved it. In all Liberal electorates, more people supported a moratorium on new coal mines than opposed.

There is growing pressure on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to rule a taxpayer-funded $1 billion concessional loan to Adani which could breach its Investment Mandate, despite ex-Minster for Resources Matt Canavan strongly supporting the proposal.

Yet Adani has been watering down the claims of funding problems. Recently a spokesperson questioned if the critics were so certain the project was not financially viable, why were they spending so much time and money trying to attack it?

The simple answer: because attacking the mine has made it financially unviable.

“Adani has run a very traditional public affairs strategy but given the level of concerns people have about climate change and the sophistication of activists, particularly against new coal, political patronage and community relations alone is insufficient to earn a social licence these days for a major project,” says Katherine Teh-White.

“Adani has fallen into significant reputational challenge where the financers and government are being challenged for supporting the mine,” she says.

The anti-Adani campaign has been strong and unrelenting. Greenpeace have unleashed a sustained public attack on Commonwealth Bank and the StopAdani Alliance’s three year campaign targeting Westpac saw the bank distance itself from Adani, the group claim.

Adani and the government have fought back too, stirring activists with provocative statements and calls to arms which only fuel the activists and justify their mandate.

It’s the third stage of an escalating risk controversy where companies resort to attacking and impugning opponents which only draws previously uninvolved people into the vortex.

The best approach focusses on the ‘highly involved’ stakeholders – those who are, or are likely to be, the most affected, passionate, and/or influential.

Understanding their concerns using a risk communications lens and responding to those concerns the right way can prevent their outrage from growing, and build a more solid base of support.

Rather than focusing on beating them with louder support, addressing their concerns early on limits the need to fight.

In the past, we’ve seen how a damning Four Corners report can halt an industry’s operations but in this case it may be a little black-throated finch, with a fresh legal case looming over the endangered bird which might just be the canary that signals the end for this coal mine.

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