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Shell has resources and personnel. Shell to Sea have integrity and truth.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 - By Laura Noonan

In June 2005, five Mayo men were jailed for their opposition to Shell’s plans to bring gas onshore from a find off the Mayo coast. The Rossport Five’s incarceration catapulted the story of the Corrib gas field onto the national agenda - yet neither side was prepared for the media frenzy.
Shell, a multinational oil company, had just two staff in its Irish media office, and delegated inquiries to Financial Dynamics, its external PR consultants. Shell to Sea, the local campaign that supported the jailed men, had no media office at all. Shell swiftly installed a new team comprising John Egan, Susan Shannon and Louise McMahon, while Shell to Sea appointed two media liaisons - chairman Mark Garavan and spokeswoman Maura Harrington.
Shell’s new media team decided to counter the campaigners’ instant popularity by being pro-active and by broadening the debate beyond the narrow confines of the Mayo dispute. ‘‘When I arrived, there was a lack of information about the project," said Shannon, ‘‘so we put together packs to explain its benefits and importance to Ireland and to put it in the context of other offshore operations."
In February, Shell beefed up its local profile by appointing veteran journalist Christy Loftus as its Mayo-based media adviser, and followed that by bringing on board London PR consultant Rory Godson.
Shell to Sea’s media approach was considerably less concerted. ‘‘It was all very ad hoc - at no point did we sit down and organise it," said Garavan. ‘‘We never had any PR advice. Our power is our roughness and ordinariness - we don’t want to become slick."
Shell to Sea’s hands-off approach to news management was countered by the Shell team’s determination to perfect the art. No sooner was a report on the dispute published than Shell couriered it to journalists, highlighting ‘‘interesting’’ passages, suggesting angles and stories.
Two weeks ago, Peter Cassells, the dispute’s mediator, dealt a fresh blow to the Rossport Five by declaring that ‘‘the majority of people in Rossport, the wider Erris area and Mayo are in favour of the project’’. Energy minister Noel Dempsey agreed. The Rossport Five, he said, ‘‘don’t reflect the overall views of the community’’.
Despite the setbacks, however, the Shell to Sea campaign continues. ‘‘Shell has resources and personnel. We have integrity and truth," said Garavan.
‘‘They are better at placing stories - we genuinely believe what we’re saying."

Posted Date: 
23 August 2006 - 8:06pm