Outreach Strategies, an American public relations firm is being paid US$250,000 ($50M) for four months to promote the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) inclusive of endorsements by “celebrities” within Guyana and external stakeholders of international standing.
The contract was signed between the Office of Climate Change and the Washington D.C.-based firm on March 20. It runs until July 15. It is not clear how much work the firm, which has said that it would “create a drumbeat of news and information,” has done so far and questions are being raised about the work that the company is doing. The money is coming from funds earned under Guyana’s forestry partnership with Norway through which Guyana can garner up to US$250 million by 2015 in performance based payments for avoided deforestation. The Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende first reported on the details of the contract last week.
The Bergens Tidende report, citing the contract, said that Outreach Strategies will use celebrities and prestigious media to convey success stories to an international audience, while refuting negative coverage of the major initiatives that are being paid for by Norwegian tax dollars. According to the report, the hourly rates among the employees of Outreach Strategies who will work with the campaign varies with director Tad Segal as the best salaried with an hourly wage of US$300.
Stabroek News was also able to gain a copy of the contract as well as Outreach Strategies’ proposal and, among other things, it says that “as with almost all public campaigns, a critical element will be endorsements by “celebrities” within the country and external stakeholders who enjoy both name recognition and international standing with regard to LCDS and REDD+ issues to take a position on the affairs of the country.” It said that examples of these types of individuals include star Guyanese cricket players, international political figures like former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, or cultural icons.
Stabroek News was told that Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman has responsibility for climate change related matters under the David Granger administration but efforts to get in touch with him over the past week were futile. Bergens Tidende reported that several organizations and politicians – also in Guyana – have been critical of various aspects of the Norwegian rainforest initiative in the country.
Conservation International (CI) manages the overall LCDS outreach project and when contacted, head of CI-Guyana Dr David Singh confirmed that the money being paid to the American firm is coming from funds earned under the Guyana-Norway forests partnership which ends this year. He related that CI had met with the OCC last week and there was a commitment to put on hold any more work on the outreach project until they receive further guidance. He said that his expectation is that this would have been communicated to Outreach Strategies to put its work on hold as well. “Our (CI) responsibility is to oversee the effective execution of the project in keeping with the project document,” he said.
Local advertising firm Guyenterprise has been awarded the contract to promote the LCDS in Guyana. Outreach Strategies reports to the OCC and Singh said that he has not seen any output from the firm as yet.
According to the Terms of Reference for the Outreach Strategies contract, “the Communication Firm will support the effective execution of the communication strategy by preparing a set of communications materials and using various tools to communicate the targeted international audiences on the importance and benefits of the LCDS. The assignment will also support dissemination of factual information, including collaboration with international media, by providing assistance in packaging information and developing evidence-based responses to address any prevalent misinformation within the public domain on LCDS and Guyana-Norway Partnership.”
Among other things, the firm is supposed to highlight news around LCDS projects of high international interest, such as the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project, biodiversity centre, etc. It is also supposed to publish a revised LCDS strategy document.
“The goal is to develop a package of materials that clearly describes the globally relevant accomplishments and goals of the partnership. This package will be used to help enlist the support of key policy makers, academics and other players to become climate “ambassadors” for Guyana, who can then serve to increase awareness about Guyana’s model and its importance to the larger REDD+ and climate change agenda,” the TOR says.
Outreach Strategies in its proposal noted that it has worked closely with the Government of Guyana first in helping to announce and release information about a major payment from Norway.
Later, the firm helped develop a strategy around the release of a report from Rainforest Alliance that was critical of the implementation of the Guyana-Norway partnership. In addition, the firm has worked with the Government to provide strategy and counsel around the Amaila Falls Hydropower project. The company has also worked closely with the Government of Norway.
The company said that it has observed through its past work with Guyana that the country has achieved some remarkable accomplishments through its LCDS but at the same time, the “real story” of Guyana’s exemplary work on LCDS is failing to be told via the traditional news media, social media, external stakeholders and even within the Government itself.
It said that reasons for this largely stem from a general lack of communications capacity around the LCDS in terms of people, knowledge, information, and tactics – the suite of communications tools that could assist in this situation. “This has resulted in mischaracterization or at times, outright misinformation, being spread about the program generally—both within Guyana and to key stakeholders externally. This problem is compounded by a national and international media that are interested in sensational and/or controversial content,” the proposal said.
According to Outreach Strategies, from its unique vantage point working directly with global companies, NGOs, governments and organizations of multi-national corporations, it believes that Guyana should be enjoying significantly higher visibility and better reputational recognition for the good work it is doing around the LCDS.
“Our strategy for international engagement is to leverage the discussion around REDD+ initiatives as a primary imperative to solving the climate challenge. We will then position Guyana as the sine qua non for REDD+ “done right” – particularly avoided deforestation. We will further elevate the visibility of Guyana’s LCDS program by accurately positioning it as both a REDD+ story and a development story, since the natural outcomes of one reinforce the other,” the company said.
It asserted that “by branding Guyana as the place where REDD+ is having the greatest impact, we will also be able to showcase the country’s LCDS and foreign pay-for-performance investment as a model that can and should be replicated across numerous forested nations with the support from the developed world. This allows us to engage in both storytelling about Guyana while simultaneously engaging in the broader policy debate that will be central focus leading up to Paris” climate change talks later this year.
According to Outreach Strategies, there are various pro-REDD+ supporters globally who have credibility and can speak to the successes of the LCDS “model” and its potential replicability in other international environments. There are also multiple beneficiaries of the REDD+ program in Guyana whose stories will be critical to demonstrating the program’s success, it said.
“OS will leverage our own relationships within the global environmental community to enlist respected experts and liaise with in-country allies and supporters for commentary on the program. These third-party validators will be asked to issue positive statements in support of Guyana’s REDD+ LCDS commitments and also to directly rebut criticisms leveled against the program,” the proposal said.
Among other things the company proposed media partnerships to raise Guyana’s profile and reach the target audiences in a meaningful and impactful manner. “We believe organizations such as National Geographic, one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world, and UK-based international multimedia platform The Guardian could be ideal potential partners for Guyana,” it said.
“In addition, it will be imperative to monitor news media coverage of the LCDS in real time and to immediately respond to factually incorrect reports or commentary. This sort of fact checking and rapid response to misinformation will help ensure that the facts get out and that misinformation is not allowed to dominate the discussions,” the company said.
In terms of social media, the company said that it would monitor and engage the main digital platforms include Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, along with other localized or narrow web-based platforms that serve specific communities. “High authority bloggers (defined as those with a large and/or influential following who are also cited by the news media) will be targeted in the same way we are targeting news media outlets. The content will be based on our core message narrative and supported by facts and data that is packaged specifically for web-based distribution,” it said.