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PR in time of war: How energy communications became part of the Ukrainian war effort

by | May 5, 2022 | Public Relations

Since July 2021, international agencies The PR Office, based in London, and KARV Communications, headquartered in New York, have been working hand-in-hand with the Ukrainian Federation of Employees in the Oil & Gas Industry (UFEOGI), offering strategic communications in their time of need.

Nearly a year ago, we started our work with UFEOGI, including the state-owned oil and gas entity, Naftogaz, having been initially hired to work on the important strategic communications efforts in the UK, US and EU against the controversial Nord Stream 2 (NS2) gas pipeline. This pipeline would change the current route of gas flow, bypassing Ukraine, and causing significant loss of revenue to the country, not to mention energy security issues for Europe—something the organization was determined to stop, and something our communications work could help to achieve. We never imagined that our strategy plan would need to undergo a fundamental change in such a short space of time, and that our main focus would become to support Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

In those first weeks of our work with UFEOGI, we devised a strategy to raise awareness of NS2, targeting prominent national publications and broadcasters. As PR companies, we had a strong network of editors and journalists in the UK to help us share what this meant for the British public.

KARV’s connections with top D.C lobbying firms also meant we had strong links to key American government officials and their knowledge of potential sanctions in the States. Together, we used our new and existing relationships to push the importance of these sanctions and a united effort to change the West’s approach to NS2 into the British media. Proudly, we secured national coverage, with CEO of Naftogaz, Yuriy Vitrenko, featured in The Daily Telegraph, from the CEO of Naftogaz Yuriy Vitrenko, where he was named “Ukraine’s Gas King”. The strategy was working as planned.

In a development in September 2021, the US House of Representatives passed an amendment demanding the reimposition of sanctions, and together, we prepared our strategy for what would be a close Senate vote. But although momentum was gathering on The Hill in favour of the UFEOGI’s position, the senate narrowly voted against sanctions. As a result, we continued to sound the alarm against Nord Stream 2, as Naftogaz and the UFEOGI prepared to take legal action against Nord Stream 2 if it was illegally certified. We, of course, all had the imposing threat of war in the back of our minds too, and contingency plans were being formed, in case our worst nightmare would come true.

When Russian troops began their invasion of Ukraine, everything changed—the country was in turmoil. Within days Nord Stream 2 AG was facing insolvency, and suddenly our fight was no longer with the pipeline. Instead, we began to take each day at a time, ready to support our client as they needed. Had we received the same news two weeks earlier, we would have been celebrating with champagne, but instead were rapidly fine tuning our new messaging and calling for sanctions on Russian oil and gas supplies, in an effort to de-escalate the war.

As the fighting commenced, despite the risks, Naftogaz remained operational and active. Many employees, including Vitrenko, remained in Kyiv and other danger zones to continue their duties to the company and the country. Vitrenko told journalists that Naftogaz employees were “the real heroes,” fixing local pipelines under heavy fire and locking themselves inside heating plants for multiple days to ensure communities have heating.

As the war continues, the nature of our work also continues, this time focusing on the importance of harsher sanctions and efforts to stop the war. With increasingly stringent sanctions being imposed each day, it shows the importance of our work. As two agencies continue to keep ending the war at the top of the agenda, we are thankful news outlets BBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, Reuters, The Economist, Telegraph, and others. They are providing an excellent opportunity and platform for Naftogaz to share their message.

It goes without saying—we are incredibly proud of our client and agency’s efforts to help Ukraine politically, economically and on a humanitarian level, and hope to see these efforts result in the end of this horrific war. We will continue to support our client in every way we can and continue to share our call for the toughest sanctions against Russia and imports of Russian oil and gas with the UK media and beyond.

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Marc Cohen
Marc Cohen is co-managing director at The PR Office.

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