Havas Wins Shell Media Account Following Review—and Climate Protests

Extinction Rebellion and Clean Creatives called on agencies to opt out of the review

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Shell has a new media agency in Havas, the holding company confirmed to Adweek today.

Havas Media will take over the oil company’s global B2C strategic media buying starting January 2024, Shell confirmed. Shell spent roughly $240 million on measured media in 2022, according to COMvergence.

The news comes following a roughly three-month-long review of its media business, a process which gained notoriety after climate activists from groups like Extinction Rebellion and Clean Creatives protested virtually and in-person at the offices of agencies reported to be pitching for the oil giant. Havas takes over the media business from WPP’s GroupM.

It highlights a central tension within the ad and PR industries on climate issues. Even as agencies release sustainability reports and net zero commitments, their work for polluting clients is some of the most impactful—and most lucrative—parts of their business. And while young talent might balk at lending their creativity to climate-harming industries, most major holding companies can’t seem to quit Big Oil.

Pitching on the D.L.

When Adweek reported on the news of Shell’s review in June, only IPG Mediabrands and Media.Monks confirmed that they were not involved in the review. Sources also confirmed Dentsu Media and Stagwell were not pitching. Notably, IPG Mediabrands agency UM already services Shell competitor ExxonMobil. Other holding companies would not reveal to Adweek whether they were pitching for the Shell account.

“At Havas, we are invested in supporting companies through their growth and transformation journeys,” Havas said in a statement. “We are pleased to have been appointed Shell’s global strategic media buying agency and look forward to working with the Shell team to ensure consumers are better informed about the range of energy solutions it is providing today and investing in for the future.”

Two Havas offices—New York and London—are registered B Corporations. It took two years for the New York office to earn the title. The B Lab Assessment requires agencies reveal if they work for sensitive industries, like fossil fuels.

Last month, B Corp certified Good Agency and Clean Creatives sent a letter to B Lab, backed by a group of 19 other B Corp agencies, asking B Lab to deny certification to agencies that work for fossil fuel clients. Discussions are ongoing.

Dirty creatives

The announcement coincides with the release of Clean Creatives’ third annual F-List report, a document that tracks relationships between ad and PR agencies and major polluters like Shell, Exxon, Saudi Aramco, Chevron and BP. Nearly 300 agencies, including five that are part of the Havas network, were listed in the 2023 report.

Despite a pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which Shell announced in 2020, the oil company has repeatedly backtracked throughout 2023. CEO Wael Sawan has said that cutting fossil fuel production would be “dangerous,” alarming environmental groups during a year that’s served up climate-fueled catastrophes including deadly heatwaves around the world, unprecedented wildfires in Maui and flooding in California and Vermont.

“By accepting Shell’s largest advertising contract, Havas has wrecked its hard earned reputation as an agency leader on climate and ESG issues,” Duncan Meisel, executive director for Clean Creatives, told Adweek. “Shell has declared to investors that they do not plan to pursue Net Zero and that they will increase oil and gas production instead. This decision will have significant impact on Havas’ reputation, CSR certifications and recruitment.”

Shell declined to share details on what tipped the scales in Havas Media’s favor.

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