A worldwide NGO campaign threatened World Bank approval of a $4.2 billion oilfield and pipeline development project in Chad and Cameroon. Led by Friends of the Earth and Environmental Defense, an 81-member confederation of NGOs attacked the project on environmental and human rights grounds, generating broad international concern. Amidst intense political pressure from both member governments and NGOs, the World Bank failed to approve the project's Environmental Assessment in 1998. The oil development consortium, led by an ExxonMobil affiliate, put the project on hold and demobilized in-country personnel.
The consortium's highest priority was to revive the project. For that, World Bank approval would be needed. ExxonMobil and its consortium partners, Petronas and ChevronTexaco, asked Winner & Associates (W&A) to develop and execute a strategic communications program that would help gain approval of the project by the Bank's Board of Directors.
W&A developed a three-part strategy designed to meet the consortium's business objective.
Persuade World Bank staff and member nations the project would greatly help the World Bank fulfill its mission of poverty relief in Chad.
Emphasize the consortium's commitment to build and operate the project in accordance with stringent international standards.
Recruit credible third parties to deliver the project's messages in the most compelling manner.
Confronting the opposition disinformation campaign head-on in public debate would have served to amplify their voices. Instead, W&A adopted the tactic of providing briefings to influential policymakers in the top-voting World Bank nations, the European Parliament and in Chad and Cameroon.
To help gain access to the right people and recruit third parties, W&A assembled a network of local public affairs experts in six European countries. These local facilitators scheduled meetings, distributed materials and helped establish the credibility of the project's messages and spokespersons.
Consortium representatives, supported by credible third parties, led key briefings as a way to put a human face on the project and give personal assurances that the project would keep its commitments.
W&A wrote the 250-page executive summary to the 20-volume environmental documentation set, taking it out of engineering language and making it accessible to lay policymakers.
To give policymakers a personal sense of two countries they likely would never visit, W&A created briefing videos so they could see with their own eyes the level of poverty and the public policy justifications for proceeding with the project.
All communications were fact-based and featured compelling data in concise, digestible forms. In addition to videos, other communications tools included fact sheets, briefing papers and a website (www.essochad.com).
The World Bank directors voted unanimously to approve the project in June 2000. The project has now been built, and first oil was achieved in 2003.
The project continues to rely on Winner & Associates. The firm produces the project's required quarterly transparency reports, provides ongoing strategic advice and regularly develops fresh communications tools.