PEBBLE MINE PROJECT: TAKING A CLOSER
LOOK AT PR OPPORTUNITIES
by Kathryn G. Arlen
Here in Alaska the granddaddy of mining public relations battles rests squarely within the
immensity of the projected gold/copper Pebble Mine. Even as I am writing articles appear on the
front pages of Alaska's larger newspapers summarizing the latest EPA report analyzing Pebble's
possible effects on nearby renowned salmon fisheries. The challenge: one of shared land use, can
open pit mining on a gargantuan scale successfully coexist with world class fishing headwaters?
No better example exists for the dueling natures of the "either/or" versus "both/and" philosophies.
In this case, the decades-old argument seems both deceivingly simple yet alarmingly
complex. Suggestive words like "could," "possible," and "if/then" implying doomsday scenarios
of collapsing dams and tidal wave floods, destroying the estimated 46% supply of our world's
sockeye salmon, circulate frequently in these articles—an expected tactic from the opposition.
And, perhaps, if those suggested scenarios played out as presented, that possibility may become
a reality. But, and this is a huge "but," that possibility could only ripen into reality if many other
factors co-existed and if many other precautions and advanced technologies were not
Today's news items still report only part of and not "the rest of the story." Let's
take a closer look at how that mining project itself handles these scare tactics and suggest more
specific strategies any mining endeavor can use to enhance its public image.
One of the issues previously discussed was the importance of first impressions and the
difficulty of changing negative ones. This was Pebble's initial PR problem: one the current
owners (Pebble Limited Partnership) have struggled to overcome since assuming the exploration
process in 2002. This is a difficult, but not an impossible job—one that consistency, visibility,
transparency, availability, and continued exposure to the public can overcome.
This is Pebble's
mantra, as Mike Heatwole, Vice President of Public Affairs, reiterated, "…one of our key
focuses is really around education and engagement." And making sure they are available for
questions and comments, encouraging dialogue.
With the proactive approach constantly in mind, here are some of the methods and tools
which the Pebble Partnership has used as it has been "telling the story":
--postal newsletters (always a strong, dependable medium)
--fact booklet/portfolio (postal mail)
--follow-up phone call
--ongoing email newsletters
--websites, constantly updated and providing feedback opportunities (they have two:
www.pebbleresearch.com and www.pebblepartnership.com)
--mine site tours ("…to get past those 30 second soundbites."—Heatwole)
--TV ads (often emphasizing how critical copper is for maintaining our daily lifestyles)
All these efforts in some way narrate the importance of mineral production dependence while
encouraging public involvement and feedback. Another important consideration is helping the
public find the facts themselves, providing contact information for whatever agency can best
directly answer any question and to not just take someone else's word as fact. But public
engagement is also made easier these days since there "seems to be an ongoing interest in all
things Pebble." (Heatwole)
Pebble Partnership's CEO John Shively also plays a huge role in the project's successful
engagement with the public, sharing his own story and background and further emphasizing the "both/and" ideology that the Pebble Mine Project maintains. In recent letters included in the
portfolio packet and also sent under separate cover, Shively made these comments:
"Our goal is clear: to create a modern mine that will coexist with the fisheries and
environment, while enhancing Alaska's economy both in the region and statewide."
-May 8, 2012 (note use of "will/while")
"Economically, we are both a natural resource extraction state and a fishing state."
-April 12, 2012 (use of "both/and")
"…to use real, verifiable data…to determine how, with careful mitigation, we can develop a
modern mine using today's technologies that enhances the economy of the region and the state,
while protecting fisheries., the environment…"
-April 12, 2012. (use of "can/while")
And all through these efforts, be they on a small or larger scale, human nature basics need to
be acknowledged and served: for example, the need to be "user friendly," to help facilitate your
shareholders needs/questions. Also: to understand the nature of change. As Heatwole often
pointed out, "Most people, when reacting to any type of change,[for them] is emotive. You have
to recognize that's where people start, like when there is corporate reorganizing, most people
first worry about losing their job. You have to work your way through varying levels of
information, various degrees of change that people have to go through." This (change) is always
a process, involving (among other things) understanding, acceptance, and willingness to take
action. Facilitating change while maintaining timely shareholder dialogue: two critical goals for
today's mining public relations professionals.
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Kathryn G. Arlen is a freelance writer, communication consultant and scientist in Fairbanks, AK
and can be reached at email@example.com