Theo Priestley

Theo Priestley

Chief Marketing Officer

WFS Technologies

Theo is an experienced senior executive in the technology, video games and enterprise software industries and is a sought after international keynote and TEDx speaker on emerging technology trends.

He has held a variety of commercial and executive roles focused on product management and marketing, offering an interdisciplinary view across organisations.

Theo has served as a start-up mentor to technology accelerators, written technology thought leadership articles for numerous publications, has provided strategic foresight consulting for organisations and continues to provide lectures at Columbia University School of Professional Studies on marketing and evangelism.

Interview With

Theo Priestley

What you will be bringing to SMOE20?

I’ll be speaking to the conference ontechnology evangelism and storytelling in the energy industry. My particular hat at this conference is on the marketing side.

Is evangelism and marketing now a key area for the gas and oil industry?

Definitely – more than ever.The shift in focus on climate change and climate activism is having a major impact on the oil and gas and oil companies, and they now need to start taking account of that and consider how they present a different message, especially to a younger crowd who are concerned about the state of the world.

Do you think younger activists will ever be willing to enter into such a dialogue?

You will only know by actually trying.Obviously some are going to shut down to that because they’ve got their views of the world of oil and gas and energy in general.Similarly, oil and gas will be defensive about their own world as well, because they’ve got people and profits to protect so. But until we start having those conversations nothing is going to change.

Is there a case for trying to engage with those people who aren’t protesting and writing off the hardcore climate activists?

It’s a bit of both. I think if you ignore the activists you’re making a mistake. I think what you have to do is actually tackle it in two ways, and that is the level of authenticity in the messaging and the way you engage with these people. You can’t engage with the climate activists at arm’s length.

So how do the energy companies engage with young people?

I think the energy companies should start allowing the younger people in the organisation who are working on the renewables side to represent the company.They should be the ones who are engaging withthe climate activists and starting the conversation. Social media is obviously a key area in this and naturally the younger people in the energy companies are better placed to speak to younger people outside.

How do the energy companies reclaim the narrative against the kind of resistance often shown towards them?

It’s down to public perception, and if all the public see from your marketing is – we’ve launched another petrol pump or use our new loyalty card – then they’re obviously going to associate that with just being concerned withBig Oil’s profits. They need to see you are doing somethingactively and authentically like investing in renewables.

To some extent the energy companies have already started that process. How do they get that message out to people is it just is it just a sort of natural development as more people buy electric cars, for example?

Firstly, be proud of these sort of acquisitions that move a very traditional, old energy company into new territories. Then evangelize the positive aspects and show that you’re supporting people’s transition from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles. The communications have to start somewhere and not everyone can afford an electric car because there’s still a price point that is not acceptable for many families or people with low to medium income brackets – they’re always going to pick up a cheap car that’s still going to be petrol driven or diesel driven. But the conversation has to start and they’re making these changes, which is great. And I think they just have to start communicating those changes as well, rather than just leaving it to a small press release. They need to start engaging with the market through targeted social media and the marketing cycle.

Is there almost a sense that Big Oil and Gas need a cheerleader like Greta Thunberg to engage with activists and to promote their own message?

I don’t see why not, and not just for the oil and gas message but I think the transitional message that they should be championing.They have to be people who believe that there is a future for these companies in the world.

So, how do the companies make put forward their message more robustly?

If you look at a few years back one of the best campaigns that really sticks in my mind is IBM’sSmarter Planet. They absolutely poured millions into that and it actually generated millions in revenue in terms of new lead generation and things like that. A completely different business model, but the fact is thatthey spent a lot of time and money crafting messages, talking about the future openly, where IBM fits in that future.

What would your final message be to the people responsible for engagement in the energy industry?

I think storytelling and evangelism aren’t just something that’s to be treated as just a marketing tick box exercise or just engage with on social media and have a Facebook page and chat to people about.It’s much more than that. It’s a very public engagement. In terms of the story, youneed to actually sit down and think about how that story is practiced. Who is the audiencethat you want to target with it? It’s not a once and done exercise – it needs to be sustainable.

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