June 7, 2021

115: Fossil Fuel Propaganda

115: Fossil Fuel Propaganda

In Episode 115, Quinn & Brian discuss: How to stop fossil fuel advertising.

Our guests are JaRel Clay and Jamie Henn.

JaRel Clay is the Digital Director of Hip Hop Caucus, a national nonprofit focused on ending the climate crisis, having some fun, and tackling racial justice along the way. No big deal.

Jamie is a climate activist, strategist, and communicator. He’s the Director of Fossil Free Media, a nonprofit communications lab to boost groups taking on the fossil fuel industry. 

Together, they’re members of Clean Creatives, a group of strategists, creatives, and industry leaders looking to take on the fossil industry where it hurts: their mouth holes. If it kind of sounds like the introduction to the Justice League or something, you’re not far off -- the work these guys are doing is saving the planet.

Yes, we have a democrat in the White House, Ford’s got a new electric truck that’s sure to make waves, and solar just keeps getting better. But let’s not forget: Exxon mobile is not f***ing around. We have to move at this thing from all angles -- and with the same level of fervor. To really do that, we have to take control of the messaging. We can’t compete dollar to dollar, so we have to get creative.

Along the way, we may end up starting the Clean Creatives Family Band.

Have feedback or questions? Tweet us, or send a message to questions@importantnotimportant.com

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Important, Not Important is produced by Crate Media

Transcript

Quinn:

Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian:

And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn:

Hello! He's back!

Brian:

So happy to be back.

Quinn:

He's back. They let you out, huh?

Brian:

Yeah. Well, for a couple weeks, and then I've got to go back.

Quinn:

Right, right, right. The guy's still outside the door? Perfect. Folks, this is science for people like you who give a shit. We give you the tools you need to fight for a better future for yourself, for everyone. The context, straight from the smartest people on Earth. That's not us, to be clear.

Brian:

Not us, to be very clear.

Quinn:

And the action steps, specific, data-driven, measurable stuff you can take to feel better and to support them.

Brian:

That is right. Our guests are scientists, doctors, nurses, journalists, engineers, farmers, politicians, activists, educators, business leaders, astronauts. We had a reverend. I could go on.

Quinn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). They're great people, and we're so thankful they spend their time with us every single week. Folks, before we get to it, this is your friendly reminder. A few things, you can send questions, thoughts, feedback, love notes to us on Twitter @ImportantNotImp, all out of characters there, or you can email us at questions@importantnotimportant.com. You can also keep up with the weekly science news, analysis and action steps with tens of thousands other amazing people at our free weekly newsletter that's right at Importantnotimportant.com.

Brian:

Well said.

Quinn:

You're welcome.

Brian:

This week's episode, explaining why we can crush fossil fuel advertising, and what you can do to help.

Quinn:

That's right.

Brian:

It's a big one.

Quinn:

It's super fun to just respond to the American Petroleum Institute on Twitter all the time with memes. That's, I would say, half my job description at this point. It's a delight. Thank you, Mary Heglar. But there's also formal things you can do that are fantastic, and we learned so much today from two gentlemen, JaRel Clay and Jamie Henn. They are among the many awesome humans fighting this fight from the inside out, and helping to stop greenwashing where it stands.

Brian:

It was a really great conversation. I was a huge fan of both of them.

Quinn:

Yeah. If we could take two things from this conversation, I would say everyone has a role to play, and folks, if you have a suggestion for an instrument that Brian can pick up quickly, we would really appreciate it, and you will understand why.

Brian:

Something like the harmonica.

Quinn:

He needs it. We need it. Well, the harmonica is pretty tough.

Brian:

Or the instrument that you play without touching?

Quinn:

Okay. We're just going to get to the conversation.

Brian:

Let's listen to the episode.

Quinn:

But please, send us some feedback. We'd appreciate it. That's it. Let's get into it.

Brian:

Here we go.

Quinn:

All right.

Quinn:

Our guests today are JaRel Clay and Jamie Henn, and together, we're going to help folks understand how to stop fossil fuel advertising, because we can't just focus on the supply side. We can't just focus on the demand side. As with all things we talk about here, it is the kitchen sink method, and advertising and marketing is a huge part of that, kind of like it was with cigarettes. JaRel and Jamie, welcome to the show.

JaRel Clay:

Thanks for having us.

Jamie Henn:

Great to be here.

Quinn:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Brian:

Yes! All right. Gentlemen, how's about a quick intro of each of you, just real quick, who you are and what you do.

JaRel Clay:

Sure. I'm JaRel Clay. Daytime job, digital director at Hip Hop Caucus. Hip Hop Caucus is a national nonprofit focused on fighting the climate crisis, while also having a little fun doing it, tackling racial justice along the way as well. By night, you can catch me at either a jazz club, as the world opens up, playing the alto sax, or taking my son somewhere to run around and burn through energy before 8:00 when he goes to sleep. That's a little bit about me.

Quinn:

Sounds about right.

Brian:

That's wonderful.

Quinn:

Wait, do those two things ever coincide? Does he ever come to the jazz club and pick up a tenor sax, or anything?

JaRel Clay:

I would save a lot of money on daycare and babysitting if that was the case. But no. I wish.

Quinn:

One day, man. Family band. We'll get there. We'll get there.

JaRel Clay:

I hope so.

Quinn:

Jamie, you're up.

Jamie Henn:

Yeah, there you go. My name is Jamie Henn. I am the director of Fossil-Free Media, which is a nonprofit communications lab that supports groups who are taking on the fossil fuel industry. That means we provide PR support, we help design websites, we help do videos, and we help run some of our own campaigns that are focused on trying to disrupt the fossil fuel industry's ability to dominate our media and communications and political landscape, which is why we've been running this campaign, Clean Creatives, which is going after the PR and ad firms that work with the fossil fuel industry to spread climate misinformation. And at night, you can find me...

Quinn:

Please say the same thing.

Jamie Henn:

Trying to play...

Brian:

Yeah.

Jamie Henn:

Trying to play a ukulele to my two-month-old when she won't go to bed.

Brian:

Yes!

Jamie Henn:

So, JaRel, if you ever need a backing ukulele, you know where to hit me up, man. I'm ready.

Quinn:

This is exciting. Where, on the spectrum of 1-10, are your ukulele skills? Are we like, is it enough for a two-month-old, or is it not appreciated in its time?

Jamie Henn:

You know, I'll say my two-month-old can't talk back, but she seems to appreciate it. My wife can talk back, and seems not to appreciate it. So, that might...

Quinn:

Okay, that clarifies things. JaRel, I assume the fact that you're let into jazz clubs mean that your skills are above that, just when it comes to alto sax.

JaRel Clay:

Just, quite a bit, but I am enjoying this Clean Creatives band that we're forming here. We have to see what Duncan can contribute to it.

Brian:

Yes!

Jamie Henn:

There you go.

Quinn:

This is fantastic. I played percussion for like, 20 years, but among the things that you're not allowed to do anymore when you have three children sleeping in the house is percussion. Brian, do you bring anything to the table?

Brian:

I was just going to say, the listening audience must be wondering, what does Quinn play for his children before they go to bed?

Quinn:

The answer is melatonin. But other than that...

Brian:

Melatonin, yes, yes, yes. I don't, I have no answer. I have no children, I have no music to play for anybody. That sounds sadder than it is.

Quinn:

Well, is it? Perfect. Great. Well, we'll work on that. Any ideas, folks, if you have ideas for things Brian can pick up easily to contribute to the Clean Creatives family band, it would be great.

Brian:

Oh god, here we go.

Quinn:

Going on tour.

Brian:

Moving along.

Quinn:

The world's opening back up. JaRel and Jamie, we like to start with one important question. Instead of what is your life story, as fascinating as those may be, we'd like to ask, and if each of you could answer, if you could be bold and honest: why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Jamie Henn:

Wow. I can take this one first. I mean, I think the answer is probably, I'm not, in part because I just was able to take a month off work doing climate to be with that two-month-old I mentioned, and the world seemed to keep on spinning when I was just staring into a baby's eyes. But if I had to think about my contribution, I would say it might be my sort of undying rage at the fossil fuel industry. When others might be kind of tempted to take a step back and say, "Hey, maybe the problem's solved. Maybe Biden's got this," or "Those solar panels seem pretty cool. That E150 is going to save the day," I'm there to remind you that Exxon Mobil and all those other guys are not fucking around, and they're still there, and they're still going to fight as hard as they can to maintain their stranglehold over our economy. And I will be there just as angry at them, and wanting to take them down until the bitter, bitter end.

Quinn:

Beautiful.

Brian:

That seems pretty vital.

Quinn:

Yeah, that works. JaRel, are you also the Hulk, basically?

JaRel Clay:

I am not the Hulk. I would be what you would consider maybe an encouraging engine in pretty much everything that I do. So, folks, I won't compare myself to Olivia Pope, but they do hire me to come in and fix things a lot. When it comes to making sure that we have campaigns that are successful, how they're run, technically, usually folks will come to me to make that happen. In terms of why I'm vital to the survival of the species, I would say again, sort of referencing my son, he's very much interested in the solar system. The more that I expand my knowledge on that, the more I realize how insignificant we all are as humans. However, I will say that in being that encouraging engine, the reason why encouraging is behind engine is because I'm also known to be sort of that shoulder you can lean on. And so, I get a lot of the, I'm that person in the office that everyone vents to and wants it to be discreet, in terms of who knowing what. And so, you can say that I know pretty much everything about every client that I've ever had, and it's kind of, I'm a whisperer in that sense, where you can come to me, and I can keep the train moving, and you know that everything is okay.

Quinn:

I like that. That is a valuable skill.

Brian:

Yes.

Quinn:

Yeah.

JaRel Clay:

It's a skill I didn't realize I had until maybe a couple of years ago, when someone was like, "You know this is your role in this organization now, right?" I'm like, "Oh, okay. Cool. That seems familiar, actually."

Quinn:

I guess, though, and I'm thinking back to Olivia Pope and Michael Clayton, at what point did the secrets become too much, JaRel? When do you just... When is it dangerous?

JaRel Clay:

There's nothing whiskey can't fix.

Quinn:

That applies...

Brian:

I have that tattooed on my back.

Quinn:

Pretty much, yeah. That's 100%. That's literally Brian's job. Awesome. Well, I appreciate you guys sharing all that. So, here's why I wanted to have this conversation today, and kind of where I hope we'll go with it. An increasing over the past couple of years, but fundamental premise of our mission here is that these problems and the opportunities we're facing are, on the whole, systemic, and designed to be that way, and they are so entrenched, an unequally entrenched, into our economies and our society. So, to understand and then disassemble them, and then to build new stuff requires this table stakes assumption that we have to attack them from every angle, right? And that's what you two are doing, again, separately and together at times.

Quinn:

Because this isn't just about, and we saw this this week, in courtrooms and in boardrooms, it's not just about the number of electric cars, or buildings, or gas lines in new buildings, or closing the oil wells next to LA schools, or the controlled burns we're not doing, or educating girls, right? All the draw down stuff, right? You guys are going right after their microphone, and I've worked in ads. For better or worse, I understand how powerful they can be. But it's also not just ads, right? It's communications on all levels, and that's why I try to make this point to folks. I'm so glad to see what you guys are doing, and I think people are going to really get a lot from this conversation.

Quinn:

If you work in PR or marketing, or you're a copywriter, you have a part to play here, right? To muzzle the bad, to lift up the good. And so, my goal is to really understand what you guys have learned, and how you're applying your specific backgrounds and skills to this unique but fundamental part of the problem, how our community can learn from you, and also, again, specifically further enable your work.

Quinn:

So, let's get to this main question, which is how do we cut fossil fuel communications advertising off at the knees? It's a full stack operation, fossil fuel free media, from everything I've gathered. You guys have research, and polling, and talking points, and artist networks, and journalists, and advocacy, and you produce media. Where are you guys most effective? What parts of the organization are most effective? And also, how do you have time to do all that, because I'm just genuinely confused as to how that works.

Jamie Henn:

Well, maybe I can kick things off, and then JaRel can take it from there. Maybe a little bit of background of where I was coming from will help kind of tell the story on sort of why we're going after it in this way.

Quinn:

Please, please.

Jamie Henn:

I got started-

Quinn:

Who hurt you?

Jamie Henn:

Yeah, exactly. In the beginning. I got involved in climate activism back in college, and then got pulled into what I thought was just going to be a summer-long gig causing trouble, and then I'd go get a real job, and here I am 15 years later. But as one of the co-founders of 350.org, which was an international climate campaign that ran a lot of different protest movements, and days of action, and campaigns against the Keystone XL pipeline, or fossil fuel divestment, or big mobilizations like the People's Climate March.

Jamie Henn:

And what we were finding was that every single time we started a new campaign, trying to raise awareness about climate change, or promote climate legislation, or talk about the need to divest from fossil fuels, along came this multimillion-dollar PR effort to basically push us back, and push us back into a box. Every time we tried to make progress, you would see these incredibly well-funded air wars get launched in our direction, and beat back the progress that we were trying to make.

Jamie Henn:

And so, at the beginning of 2020, I left my full-time role at 350 and started Fossil Free Media, with the eye towards how do we get better on our end, of doing more effective communications? How do we learn from people like JaRel, who have worked in that space, from you all, from artists, from creatives, to bring a kind of more sophisticated sense of what communications could look like for the environment movement, and for climate justice movement? But also, how do we throw a wrench in the gears of the other side's ability to keep putting out this propaganda?

Jamie Henn:

The fossil fuel industry is one of the wealthiest industries in the history of the planet. We are not going to be able to fight them dollar for dollar, if it comes down to buying ads at the Super Bowl. I mean, they're going to be the ones buying the ads. And so, the only way for us to truly compete is to do all of the good grassroots organizing that we're doing, but also find ways to actually inhibit their ability to put this propaganda out.

Jamie Henn:

And so, that's where the kind of piece of Clean Creatives came about, to say, let's try and strengthen all the good work that we do, but let's also, as you guys were saying, think systematically about how do we disrupt the industry's own ability to work with PR people and creative people to put this misinformation out into the ecosystem.

Quinn:

So, what did you guys lead with, I guess, when this whole thing first started, your way into it, sort of building fossil fuel-free media? Where do you start, with producing your own stuff, getting other folks on board, supplying materials? Where did you find the biggest traction, off the bat?

Jamie Henn:

I think we started by really partnering with other organizations who were doing good work, and seeing how we could amplify that. And that especially applies to kind of more frontline, grassroots groups on the ground. I think some of the best work in the climate movement is happening at the grassroots. It is the Indigenous leaders who are fighting the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. It's the crew in Memphis who's fighting the Byhalia pipeline that's going through there. But oftentimes, those groups don't have the budget to produce a video, or build a website, or don't have the connections to a New York Times reporter who's never heard of them, and is obsessed with what's happening in the Beltway, and isn't paying attention to northern Minnesota.

Jamie Henn:

So, that's where we sort of find our role, which is trying to be that support system, and also help people out. But honestly, we're a small creative shop in some ways, and so none of that work is possible without actually teaming up with folks like JaRel and Hip Hop Caucus, who are actually out there campaigning, organizing people, putting out media. Which is why, when this Clean Creatives thing was getting started, we were like, a couple of guys with laptops sitting in their basement isn't going to make this happen. We actually have to partner with organizations who have experience and have a base, and are able to get messages out there. So, it was awesome early on, making that connection and saying, "Hey, maybe this is a problem we can tackle together," and find a way to put together a coalition of groups who are willing to kind of take this challenge of fossil fuel PR and advertising on.

Quinn:

JaRel, I'm not sure how long you've been with Hip Hop Caucus. It feels like Reverend Yearwood has been saying climate justice is racial justice for ever. How did you find your way into this, and what are your, again, besides Michael Clayton and Olivia Pope being the office secret person, which also, side conversation, how does that work in the world of Zoom? Different conversation. How did you find your way in, and where are you finding yourself most effective in sort of this particular campaign?

JaRel Clay:

I've probably... I have a dark past, in terms of how I got into the climate movement.

Quinn:

Please.

JaRel Clay:

I moved to DC in about 2010, and I was a graduate student at Georgetown. While I was there, someone who worked for Edelman was one of my professors, and they mentioned that I would be really good in their public affairs practice. And I was thinking about it, and I said, "Okay, that sounds good." So, I started there, working in their public affairs office as an intern. They had a growing energy and transportation team. You can imagine the clients that were a part of that team. But they said they had a need for someone to staff a multicultural issue they had with one of their automotive plants, and it was a full-time job, and I was like, "Okay, that sounds great. Let's do that." I then learned that that also came with the responsibility to manage accounts for some trade associations in energy and oil, as well as some big oil clients that Edelman has on their Rolodex, which we can get to a little bit later.

JaRel Clay:

But yeah, as an intern, I had a pretty good grasp on Edelman's markets and energy practices, and what they deemed critical. Those markets were pretty similar to where I grew up, the Youngstown area on Ohio, Allegheny County area in Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh. And we kept pushing messages about economic stability, and jobs, jobs, jobs, which it seemed like... And also, some messages that seemed like a nod to energy efficiency at the time.

JaRel Clay:

So, I initially thought, and I think what Jamie picked up on as we were creating this campaign, is that there are a ton of creatives in that space that feel like with the sustainability work that they're actually doing good, but they don't really talk about the other side of the work, which is a trained skill, and it's our job as communicators to tell that story that serves the interest of the clients. What we don't say is the greenwashing, which we'll also get into later, that the fossil fuel industry is notorious for, given that their highest priority is not saving the planet. Their highest priority is profit, right?

JaRel Clay:

Our team was pretty good at Edelman for getting in front of the national story, and kind of ignoring or dispelling narratives that Jamie and team were putting out in 2011 and 2012. And not repeating the oppressors' talking points, right? We were able to serve these narratives to communities that wanted a sense of hope, and wanted a sense of economic prosperity.

JaRel Clay:

After a while, once I had fully realized exactly what I was doing in that moment, as a 22, 23-year old PR practitioner, I immediately got out and did some soul-searching. It took me a while to get to Hip Hop Caucus, but a few years before Hip Hop Caucus, I opened a brand agency which represented all types of progressive nonprofits, and ended up landing a partnership with a platform called Action Network, which I became one of their preferred partners. Hip Hop Caucus was one of the accounts that Action Network had reached out to me to do a web design, which I was interested about. I worked there, or worked with them, I should say, for about two years before they opened up a position for a digital director, which I then started there September last year.

JaRel Clay:

I was introduced to Jamie, I think, a month later, maybe three weeks into the job, and they talked about this campaign, and I was like, "Hmm, I think I might be the person you're trying to reach, and I know about some of the other people that you might want to talk to." So, that's essentially full circle how I went from essentially being the oil tycoon's mouthpiece, to now trying to shut it down.

Quinn:

But that's why it works, right? I mean, we've had so many conversations. I mean, we've had conversations with... I'm like an atheist monster, but I was a religion major, and so we've had on reverends and folks who work with Buddhists and Hindus, talking about monsoons in India, whatever it might be. And when we get to action steps, a lot of the time they're like, "Get out of the way and let us do our jobs. Support us, whether it's contributions or whatever it be, because the messenger matters," right? And for the messenger to be a part of that community, and that is the best way to build something that is empathetic and is effective, is to immediately, like you said. You're like, "That's me. I'm that guy. The people you're trying to reach to tell, 'Stop doing this thing,' that's me," and I imagine that has gone a long way to being... I don't want to put it all on your shoulders, JaRel, but I imagine it's been a huge part of how do we really position this thing to reach these people, convince them to stop ruining everything, effectively.

JaRel Clay:

Absolutely, absolutely. I think back to one of the op-eds I wrote while I was at Edelman, and it was, just to give you a sense of how maniacal this system is, it came out around Black Friday, and Call of Duty, back when it was very popular back in 2012-ish. There was a scenario in Call of Duty where a code war was brewing between China and the United States, and it started by a ban on Chinese exports of rare earth minerals, right? It took a scenario that was from a popular game during Black Friday, a time when everybody was searching for Call of Duty, a scenario where the United States needed to invest in this minerals mining from a sense of energy independence. Think about the elections happening that year, because it's 2012. They're trying to get President Obama out of the White House. And what happened was, you can probably imagine who the client was that paid for said op-ed about mining and minerals.

JaRel Clay:

That op-ed did three things, right? It ignored all catastrophic consequences that come from what NMA and its members have on earth. It also, intentionally, it omitted the fact that all of these solutions that they have for economic prosperity and being energy independent ignored all of the consequences that would come to the Black, Brown and Indigenous communities as a result of their said innovation, right? But it also used, the third thing that it did was, it used elements of pop culture to convince folks that this was something that we are supposed to do, and they're essentially inundating it in children, like, "Oh, look this Call of Duty game speaks to what we should be doing as a nation."

JaRel Clay:

It was probably one of my most successful op-eds, but it was also something that... I should say, let me rephrase, it was one of my most successful op-eds at Edelman, but it was also something that gives you an example of, without even referencing any of Jamie's campaigns, they were able to get this in the Wall Street Journal, that pushed this narrative that continues to sort of wreak havoc with folks like me who felt excited about being able to bridge the gap between pop culture and what we were working on, without even realizing how much damage that narrative did and still does to the work that we all do to try to stop the climate crisis.

Quinn:

Wow, that's wild. That's wild. Wow. Wow. Thank you for sharing all that. I mean, we've all done work for big corporations, and this and that, and everyone, they're all in the process of, or at least at some point now they're aware that they're going to have to start doing things like measuring their footprint, and that is, holy hell is it complicated. I mean, Clean Creatives, you're essentially going to these folks like yourself, or even folks that are a few degrees further, right? They're not writing op-eds for Edelman, or whoever it might be. And you're saying, "Look, you wouldn't work on tobacco, right? It's 2021. Why would you do this? Fossil fuel is that, but worse." It is, like you said, it is this greenwashing, which is so prevalent, and just such a huge part of our society.

Quinn:

And I love this quote on your website, which is, "The biggest part of any creative company's carbon footprint is the work you do with your clients," right? And it's just like, Bloomberg had the recent article saying that a bank's biggest carbon footprint is the loans they make, right?

Jamie Henn:

Oh, yeah.

Quinn:

It's not these enormous buildings they're in that we need to electrify. It's something like they're 70 times as impactful, these loans that they're making. It's not just about solar on the roof of some data center, right? That's your scope. That's the easy shit for these companies to do. When you're like, Apple is 100% renewable, it's like, great. That's a bunch of data centers and shops and stuff. I'm sure that was expensive, but it's nothing compared to Apple or Ikea looking at their scope 3 emissions and going, "Holy shit, what are we going to do about this?"

Quinn:

But they've also got to sell it, right? They've got to find a way to keep selling these things that they're building, even if it's stuff we love, Apple devices, or Ikea Billy bookshelves, or whatever it might be, or much worse, right? And that comes down to people, and like you said, you're like this 22, 23-year-old kid trying to make your way and build your way up, and you're like, "I've got the skills. I can talk." It's very easy, without a campaign like this, for those of us to ignore in a way what we're doing, to just get paid and try to make it, especially folks of your age, JaRel, who came up after 2008, 2009 exploded. I mean, the fact that you can get a job in 2012 is amazing, because a lot of people couldn't, right? And now, the same generation's been through the same stuff. You can't buy a house, can't have kids, yadda, yadda. So, it' understandable, to an extent.

Quinn:

Do you guys... What does the pushback look like from folks that are out there of your age, or folks that are Boomers that have been doing this forever, and that are partners with some of these firms? What does the pushback look like, and how do you work to overcome some of those things? Because I imagine some of these accounts are still huge.

Jamie Henn:

Yeah, I think that's exactly right. I mean, it's interesting, because for many years, the fossil fuel industry really was funding climate denial. I mean, their strategy was very much to say, "This problem isn't real. The science isn't in. It's getting colder. There's going to be another ice age." And to be clear, folks like Edelman did some of that work for clients like the American Petroleum Institute.

Jamie Henn:

But I think over the last decade, things have shifted, and it's become even more insidious, and in some ways even more dangerous, which is there are very few energy companies right now that are actually denying that climate change is real. In fact, when you go to Shell's website, or Exxon's website, they say, "We believe climate change is real, and we're dedicated to solving the problem. We're committed to net zero."

Jamie Henn:

And so, in many ways, that greenwashing that JaRel was talking about has become an even greater threat than climate denial was. Climate denial is easy to pick out. You say, "You need to stop lying about the problem." But telling someone, "Hey, actually, your company really isn't doing what they say they're doing, or maybe isn't as committed as you make it out to," is a little bit more nuanced, and I think that there are actually people still within the advertising industry that think, "Hey, we're doing a good thing." Like, when I redesign BP's name and logo from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum, and I make it look like a green sunflower, that's helping BP become a clean energy company. Lo and behold, 99% of BP's investments are still going into oil and gas development.

Quinn:

Sure. When they guys in the boardroom are like...

Brian:

Nailed it.

Jamie Henn:

We're killing it, and 99% of our advertising is saying we build solar panels and wind turbines. And so, I think what people who are there need to understand is that their intentions might be in the right place. They truly might care about transforming these companies, but if you're engaged in greenwashing one of these companies, what you're in effect doing is allowing them to continue to operate business as usual, and hold back the type of government regulation and public pressure that would actually force them to change.

Jamie Henn:

Right now, the fossil fuel industry is just trying to buy itself time. They know the transition's coming, but they're trying to get as much coal, oil and gas out of the ground before they get shut down as they can. And so, all of these campaigns are kind of designed to be a stalling tactic, or a tactic to try and get things like gas into clean energy packages by pretending that it's some green fuel, and ignoring all of the methane emissions and everything else.

Jamie Henn:

And so, I think it's important. One of the reasons we called it Clean Creatives versus like Ban Fossil Fuel Ads, was to try and appeal to people, to say like, "Hey, look, you probably want to do the right thing. You might just have this job and get pulled in. You're not really our target. We actually want to recruit you, to help you transform the industry that you're a part of. We know that you're not making the decision to go take the American Petroleum Institute to count. That's Richard Edelman. That's the CEO. But if you work at that company, you actually have an incredible platform to try and transform that company, and transform our industry, to get them on the right side of this fight." Because we need people like JaRel. We need people who have these talents to come in.

Quinn:

Who have been there.

Jamie Henn:

Like activists. I hate to say it. Yeah, activists aren't always the best ad people. We just say things. We tend to talk at length, as you can hear me doing right now. We just rant and rave, hold our signs that say a million things on it. We need people that know how to make slogans, and make ads, and be catchy, or we're just not going to win this fight.

Quinn:

Yeah, no, I mean, I think back to the folks, and I have a number of friends who really tried hard to stick it out for the first couple of years of the Trump administration, going like, "I understand why you want me to quit, and I totally understand why a lot of people are quitting. I think I can do the best work from the inside to try to change things," however ineffective that may have been in the long run, right? And it's the same thing. And now it's getting more complicated, when you look at what happened in those boardrooms, because divestment is so popular, whether it's on your individual level. I mean, we had a whole conversation with Boris Khentov over at Betterment, and this incredibly detailed and thoughtful divestment plan that they've built for their climate portfolio, and him talking about how hard that really is to define.

Quinn:

But at the same time, you've got groups that actively go, "I am still a shareholder, I know what the problem is, and I think I can make a difference from the inside," and then you see shit like this go, this weekend. That is not the game changer. It's not going to change everything. Exxon's not building solar panels in your backyard tomorrow. But that's way more progress than we've had, and so it's really interesting.

Quinn:

But I think, of course, advertising is more complicated, because again, you, JaRel, did not take this account. Like you said, Edelman takes this account, and your job is to do an excellent job of telling this message for this account. I've been there. I get it. But it's a little more complicated there, like you said, where we need to convert these folks.

Quinn:

But the point remains, like you said. Climate denialism is so easy, but we're past that fight now, and greenwashing is so much more complicated than it really ever has been, right? Because now we're getting into misinformation and disinformation.

Brian:

Yeah. Let's talk about that a little bit, actually. I remember seeing, the first time that I saw that commercial, and it was beautiful images of earth and nature, and how much we've got to take care of the planet, and then the fucking BP logo came up after that. I was like, "What the fuck?" That was crazy. But, yeah, obviously misinformation, disinformation have been around forever, but they've never had the scaling abilities that they do now, right? And the tech companies in control of these platforms seem, at best, reluctant or just unable to manage the flood of really dangerously untrue information. So, what role do you guys have in fighting on that front? How would you, and how do you specifically support legislation to reign these companies in?

Jamie Henn:

It's a good question, because it's a big problem. I'll take a stab, and then I'll hand it over to JaRel. Look, there's a number of ways to try and go after this problem. First is trying to, obviously, disrupt the ability of the industry to make all of this advertising, and to run it in highly effective ways, and that means cutting them off from the talented folks at places like BBDO, or Edelman, or GSD&M, these other firms.

Jamie Henn:

Second, I think, is really actually going to the platforms where all of this advertising is moving, and trying to push for changes there. Facebook, Twitter, all these places say they're very committed to climate action. They even have a climate information page on Facebook. But at the same time, they're allowing all of this misinformation and propaganda to flow across their platform, to the point where actually, during the election, Facebook put a ban on political advertising, which included all the different NGOs and organization working on climate change, so the Hip Hop Caucus or 350.org couldn't put up a Facebook ad. But they allowed all the corporations to keep putting ads. So, for six months, you had the fossil fuel industry running advertising that was very much political in nature, of course, but you didn't allow the environmental groups to do the same thing.

Jamie Henn:

That's just one example, I think, of how these platforms have tilted themselves in favor of big corporations, and we're actually really pushing hard, Twitter and others, to say, just ban fossil fuel advertising. Just like you wouldn't advertise something that's dangerous, like guns or tobacco, on your website, where they do have policies, you should include oil, gas and coal. More people are dying from air pollution from fossil fuels than from cigarettes right now, but you still allow these people to kind of push their product, as if it's green.

Jamie Henn:

And then, the third piece you mentioned is actual legislation and regulation. The US is far behind on this. Over in the UK, an organization called Client Earth actually brought a lawsuit to the kind of UK equivalent of the FTC, their regulatory body that looks at advertising, and they were able to get that agency to stop BP from running ads that pretended like BP was a renewable energy company, because they said, "Look, your investments don't line up with your advertising. This is false advertising." So, there was a couple of interesting cases that were moving at the FTC level, and at the state level, to try and challenge the industry on the same front.

Jamie Henn:

Finally, we want Congress to take action on this. The fossil fuel industry and these PR campaigns is perhaps the greatest barrier to climate progress and passing climate legislation, so that's exactly the type of thing that the House Oversight Committee that senators should be looking into, and we think that they shouldn't just be pulling CEOs of Exxon Mobil and Shell to come testify. Call up the CEOs of these ad companies, because guess what? If a senator calls up the CEO of an ad industry, those ad guys will suddenly realize, hey, wait, this is bad PR. I don't like being pulled before Congress to defend my ties to the big, bad oil industry. Better for me to go work with Ford on their clean cars.

Jamie Henn:

So, I think we're at this tipping point, actually, where if we can apply a little bit of pressure, because of the way the economy's moving, you're going to see a lot of people peel off and just look at the facts and say, "Look, the future is in clean energy. I don't want to be doing the advertising and PR for these fossil fuel giants of the past."

Quinn:

JaRel, I'm curious. I mean, all of us know, again, especially if you've worked in advertising and marketing, it's like, stories are what get the job done. Statistics just don't move people as much as they should. And yet, we have so much information, and literally more every day. It's like, how much I can put in the newsletter every week about what air pollution does to people, to Black kids in LA who have oil wells next to their houses and their schools and their bedrooms, so it doesn't cool down, and they have asthma rates twice the national average, right? Twice white kids. Or how 70% of Black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant. Or look at Cancer Alley, and all the... Because [inaudible 00:38:11]'s like, we'll electrify cars, it's fine, they'll just do plastic, and they'll make it in these refineries, and continue to kill people.

Quinn:

But we've also got stuff like, I mean, these... Look, I'm 45 minutes from Richmond, one of the most redline communities in America historically, where there's just parts of the city with no trees. And that's not necessarily on the fossil fuel companies, but part of that is because we've built highways to cut the city in half, and we build highways for cars, which is oil companies. I mean, you read the history of Los Angeles, and you're just like, oh my god. It was full of trains at one point.

Quinn:

Where does... We have all of these statistics, and so many of them are about the marginalized communities that have suffered, and continue to suffer, and especially suffer more now as it's getting hotter. Do these statistics work when Hip Hop Caucus is taking on these issues, like urban heat island, or is it about storytelling? Where does someone with your skillet, that's clearly valued by a lot of people, where are you most effective?

JaRel Clay:

I would say, it really just depends on the audience. And I know that's a very typical answer, I think, coming from someone in communications.

Quinn:

But that's where the skillset is, is knowing that in the first place, right?

JaRel Clay:

Right. I mean, in all instances, storytelling is going to be the most effective way to attack the issue, but I would think about it in this sense. As Jamie mentioned earlier, with the work that we're doing in Memphis, around the Byhalia pipeline. We have a former NBA player, a community activist and a DJ coming together for a community event that brings together the community, but it also, in a tagline that Hip Hop Caucus says a lot, we're good in the streets and the suites. We have to bring the streets together with the folks who write legislation, to say, this is the problem, and we're going to present it to you in a way that makes you listen to folks who are most effected by it, so we can create a solution that not only brings... that improves the health and wealth of their communities from an economic and environmental perspective, but also making sure that across the board, we are meeting the scientific goals set forth, in terms of emissions and carbon and so forth.

JaRel Clay:

And the way that we do that is by having, we have to have someone in the loop who knows the science. I think that that would be a misstep to not include that person. But we also know that that isn't what is the most impactful story. Having that person, though, allows the folks that we want to pay attention, I.e. the media, I.e. the folks in Congress and in the administration, say that this is the problem we have identified, we mean business, and this is how we solved it.

JaRel Clay:

The storytelling comes in when you take some of that data-driven work, and put someone in front who's experienced that day-to-day. One of the, I would say, and this is kind of out of the climate realm, but we do have the Tulsa centennial coming up on Monday, and as you can probably notice, the main thing every media outlet is highlighting is Viola Fletcher, who is one of the last living survivors of the Tulsa Massacre. Why are we highlighting Viola, as opposed to highlighting the Watchmen, or Lovecraft Country, or all of these other pop culture references to Tulsa? It's because she has a story that she wants to tell, and she's still fighting. She's had to relive this massacre every day of her life since 100 years ago. Who better to be a spokesperson for how you create change, not only in Tulsa, but every community that looks like Tulsa across the country?

JaRel Clay:

I think if the climate movement does a lot more of that storytelling, we will be a lot more successful, sooner than we think, in terms of not only solving the climate crisis, but preventing the fossil fuel industry from creating another crisis using any other substance that they can find. I think someone mentioned plastics earlier, in terms of moving to something that we know is just as detrimental.

Quinn:

That makes sense. That makes sense. And of course, Americans... She, again, it's incredible to still have a survivor like that around. But America does a really good job of moving on from things very quickly, clearly, and like, we look around and there are so few World War II survivors left, and people whose gut instinct... It's the Buzz Aldrin thing, right? Always punch a Nazi. It's like, that was a mindset for a long time, and now you see how many countries are just electing autocrats left and right, because we forget very easily, and we all know we're obviously terrible about paying our debts. So, I hope that she is able to tell her story, and that that is effective, because Tulsa doesn't happen every day, but we've been doing it in a variation for 400 years now.

Quinn:

What are the biggest obstacles you guys are running into? Are you having more success with small shops? With these big shops that are more exposed to the PR issues that Jamie mentioned? I'm just curious, as again, we're trying to focus people on, hey, where can you most make a difference? Is it in the little six-person shop that's doing boutique work? Where are you guys having the most success and the most trouble?

Jamie Henn:

I think we're definitely having the most success with smaller shops coming on board, and really mid-range ones as well, and that's hugely important. So, if folks are listening to this and you have a creative agency, or you know someone who works in one, there's a pledge on CleanCreatives.org that basically just says, we're not going to work with fossil fuel companies or their trade associations or front groups, and that will get you involved in the campaign. And then, we'd love to really, actually work with people. We want to make this a creative campaign to change the industry.

Jamie Henn:

We also have a pledge for individual creatives, so even if someone isn't working in an agency, or you're like, "I'll sign on, but my boss won't sign on," we still, we actually want you even more, because I think that that sort of employee organizing inside of those companies is super important.

Jamie Henn:

And finally, we have a pledge for clients as well. We're signing up a lot of clients to say, if I'm Rivian and making electric cars, why would I want to hire a PR agency that's also working for Exxon Mobil? Those things are across purposes.

Jamie Henn:

And again, it's worth remembering that if we can get someone like Unilever, say, who has a client commitment, Unilever does $8 billion, with a B, of advertising every year. That's far more than the fossil fuel industry does. So, if someone like Unilever, if you're listening, call up WPP, their agency, and said, "Yo, you're going to lose our business if you keep promoting climate denial," that would really help flip the switch.

Jamie Henn:

I think the challenge we're running into is just what we've been talking about, that there's still this mindset in sort of an older class of admittedly mostly white men who run these agencies, that they somehow need to keep working with the American Petroleum Institute. They're stuck in this old mindset of what the economy looks like, and these are the prestigious clients, it's like winning Exxon Mobil's bid. Clearly, that's shifting. We just saw that at the shareholder meeting, where people basically gave the middle finger to Exxon's board.

Jamie Henn:

This economy is changing, and I think that that's the case we're trying to make, to even those kind of dinosaur CEOs, is like, hey, look, if you want to be a modern agency that can attract talent, and get people excited, and get brands excited about hiring you, you need to actually make the shift. So, we're hoping that this year, we're able to pick off a couple of big ones, because the advertising industry, just like a lot of industries, is so consolidated now, that if we can get someone like Edelman or WPP to switch, it will pull the entire industry with it. And again, I guess our appeal to those people is, they have a huge role to play, and if they make that commitment, they'll be on the right side of history here, and be part of telling the story of the greatest transformation that humanity has arguably ever gone through. They should be the ones to help make that happen, not sort of defend the status quo, which is pulling our planet off the entire fucking cliff.

Quinn:

Sure, sure. To put it lightly.

Brian:

But we don't want to do that. Okay, got it, got it, got it. Hey, I know we've kept you guys for a little bit here. I want to make sure that we can get into action steps, because that's like our whole jam, before anybody has to go. So, when people find your organizations and your campaigns, what are most people coming to you for, and where would you encourage people to start? And I don't just mean this is a call for account managers or copywriters, but anyone who is in any position to require research and talking points about climate. What can they do? How can they help?

Jamie Henn:

I'll jump in first. JaRel, we're both like, go! So, I would just say, on the resources side, if people are looking for... If you have a creative talent to bring, we would love to help pair you with grassroots groups on the ground who really could benefit from thus. And so, either at Fossil Free Media, which is really the larger work we're doing to support the movement, or at Clean Creatives, working on the ad campaign in particular, we would love to plug you in. And we actually have a really great community of creatives who are helping advise, how do we reach out to the industry? What should our ads look like? What should our graphics look like? How do we do social media outreach? So, we want to put your skills to work. We need it. We need way better climate songs. We were talking about music. I'm writing stuff on my ukulele. It's not cutting it. We need the musicians to come and join us.

Quinn:

JaRel on the alto sax.

Jamie Henn:

JaRel owes us a climate song. That's the takeaway.

Quinn:

Just an instrumental album of climate songs, I am so here for.

JaRel Clay:

I do. I do.

Quinn:

JaRel, what about folks that haven't been converted yet, that you can still see the good in them? What's your attack point to get these folks on board?

JaRel Clay:

Yeah, I would say, and I'm going to send this episode to many of the folks I'm going to call out, and so I hope you're listening. But the folks who have told me that they're super committed to it, but just can't say it publicly, I need you to say it publicly. I know that you have everything that it takes to commit to what we are putting forth at Clean Creatives. I know that the work that you are doing within your organizations and within your firms has shifted, and it's going to continue to shift, regardless of the decision-makers within your firms, and I think now is the time to be bold about it. We find ourselves very much so making sure that we're saying the right things at the right times to the right people, so that we don't have our own sort of internal or individual PR failures. I think having the know withal to know when you're on the right side of history is going to be important and critical in 2021, as we move forward and move away from all of the work that we do within the agencies.

JaRel Clay:

One of the highest, I would say, highest priorities for any creative right now is to make sure that morally, you are doing what you can to save the world around you, especially if you are contributing to the future generation by either adopting or having children, by teaching the next generation about any actions that you can put forth, and if you know anyone that I don't know, outside of our orbit, recruit them, too. The website is CleanCreatives.org, and we want everyone who is committed to this work to be a part of it.

Brian:

That is so awesome.

Quinn:

I love that. There are so many people out there that say they want to do this thing, and it's time. We can't keep hiding. Thank you guys, I really appreciate that. We're going to put it all in the show notes, of course. Last few questions we ask everybody, and also side note, and I'll email you both about this in the follow up, if you have any other recommendations for awesome, world-changing folks that you feel like we should have on the show, we love recommendations, and that's where we get some of our best ones.

Quinn:

Last few questions for you both. First time in your life when you realized you have the power of change, or the power to do something meaningful?

Jamie Henn:

Oh, man. Well, the first one that came to mind was, we were trying, in college, fighting a paper mill that was going to burn tires for power, which was this terribly polluting thing. And I remember, we had a smoke machine from a college party that we'd thrown, so we dragged the smoke machine in front of one of the companies that was buying the paper mill, and we just emitted all of this smoke. Like, they had to call the fire department. It was kind of a disaster, but they stopped the contract with the paper mill, and the paper mill decided not to burn tires. So, another example of you might have some party equipment or something...

Brian:

You never know.

Jamie Henn:

[crosstalk 00:51:27] And make a change.

Quinn:

I like that JaRel spent so long explaining the dark part of his life story, and you're like, "Listen, we threw a rager once, and we rented a smoke machine, and it turned out..." Hell yeah, man.

JaRel Clay:

Awesome.

Quinn:

JaRel, what about you, my friend?

JaRel Clay:

Yeah, I would say, and this isn't anything that I did personally. My father, unfortunately, was a victim of police brutality some time ago. Ended up getting beaten in our front yard, dragged to the police station, and had to walk home about a mile and a half naked after being held in the cell for like 36 hours. This was like in 2002. We didn't have cell phones at the time, so we had no idea where he was. But as a result of all that, maybe 18 months later, we won a settlement against the city for about $18 million, and then worked with the legislators in the city to create changes to the police department to make sure that that doesn't happen to any other person. This was before... This was between Rodney King and Trayvon Martin, so there wasn't a lot of media attention on it, but it was a time that the local media was pretty much at our house every day. We had PR people coming to our house every day, lawyers trying to win the business, and all of that.

JaRel Clay:

And I think, throughout seeing all of that, I realized that the only way... You kind of need this type of machine to actually make an effective... To be effective, I should say, in any sort of campaign for justice. And so, seeing that, and I was about 13 or 14 at the time, I think seeing that at that moment kind of shifted pretty much how I looked at everything in life. It was like, either we're going toward liberation, or we're going toward our death. And so, that's kind of how I frame everything I work on.

Brian:

That's wild.

Quinn:

That's incredible. Thank you for sharing that. Who is someone who... Needs to get me more coffee... Positively impacted your work in the past six months?

JaRel Clay:

Absolutely, hands down, Reverend Yearwood.

Jamie Henn:

Yeah, I mean, Rev's always a good answer to that question. And I'll shout out Amy Westervelt, whose podcast, the Mad Men of Climate Denial, was like the informative doc. You have to listen to it. It's incredible.

Quinn:

Amy and Mary are coming on the show next week.

Jamie Henn:

Yes! Well, it is like, listen to that episode, because that investigation was basically why we launched this campaign, and has informed so much of what we do, and they are just incredible, and you should subscribe to their email, their podcast, anything they do. So, they've been amazing.

Quinn:

That's awesome. It is truly, it's easy to joke about, like Mary's shitposting, which just everyone has joined in on, but it matters, you know? It's effective to stand up to these people, even then, because if we're going to have these viral and targeted capabilities, then we have to turn them on them. And she's incredible, and what Amy's built over there is just mindboggling. It's awesome. That's great. Brian, take us home, here. We'll get them out of here.

Brian:

Of course. Guys, we always love this question. It's such a good, important one, I think, especially when you're dealing with and handling all the stuff you guys handle. What is your self-care? What do you do when it's time for you to take care of you?

Quinn:

Jamie's just laughing. Do you not have any? Is that what a two-month-old is?

Jamie Henn:

I was like, wait, [crosstalk 00:54:55]?

Quinn:

Are you just asking progressively darker questions in your head, like what is self-care?

Jamie Henn:

I know the ukulele isn't really the instrument to let out the tension.

Brian:

How hard can you go on the ukulele? Not that hard, right?

Jamie Henn:

Yeah. You can go pretty hard. I love getting outside. Getting out in the woods, going for a trail run, getting away from all of the stuff, and social media, and everything. I think we have to clear our minds and give ourselves the space to be creative. And so, that recharging the battery is really important for me.

Quinn:

Awesome. JaRel?

JaRel Clay:

Yeah, that space for me exists in the studio. In addition to alto sax, I have a trombone up there, and I also have a keyboard, like an 88 keyboard upstairs, that I spend way too much time in, in my free time. But that is kind of where I zone out and create, and continue to center myself.

Quinn:

I love that. That's awesome. Last one, Brian, then they're out of there.

Brian:

And then we'll let you go, for real. We have a really great list of books that we've put together, recommendations from all of our podcast guests that we'd love to add your recommendations to. What's a book that you've read, this year, maybe, that has maybe opened up your mind to a topic that you haven't considered before, or changed your thinking in some way? Something that was really effective.

Jamie Henn:

I'm going to list two. I'm cheating.

Quinn:

Please, if that feels right for you.

Jamie Henn:

Yeah, you know. A novel, the Cold Millions, by Jess Walter, I think, but it's about sort of labor struggles in Spokane, Washington, back at the turn of the century. And it's a good novel, but also organizing read. And second, I always revisit the Bully Pulpit, because I think it tells the story of how journalists with government to actually take down big oil. They busted up Standard Oil, and shut them down. And so, I think we have that ability today, and that's always good to kind of go back and think about how that got done.

Quinn:

Awesome. JaRel? You can say sheet music, if you want. It's fine, we know.

JaRel Clay:

I'm going to mention one book, and one book because it's the only book I read this year, which it's called All Boys Aren't Blue, George Johnson, and it's essentially exploring masculinity in the 21st century, and how we've navigated that from being raised by Boomers, to now being raised in the society in which we live now. It's a pretty interesting read.

Quinn:

Awesome.

Brian:

Yeah, that sounds awesome.

Quinn:

I'll definitely get into that. Guys, this is fantastic. Where can our listeners follow the campaign and you guys online?

Jamie Henn:

CleanCreatives.org is where you can catch it out, and that's the same for all the social media, and then I'm over at JamieClimate, just shouting invective and propaganda.

Quinn:

Just shouting into the void at 3:00 in the morning? Perfect.

Jamie Henn:

Shouting into the void.

Quinn:

Perfect. JaRel, Twitter handles, stage dates?

JaRel Clay:

Yeah. I'll also, I'll shout out Hip Hop Caucus. You can follow Hip Hop Caucus everywhere. HipHopCaucus, just spelled out, just like that. Personal handles I'll leave personal, because I don't use them for work purposes. But if you want to follow all of the music and the kids and all of that, you can reach me at JaRel Clay. It's J-A-R-E-L Clay, pretty much everywhere, except for Twitter. That, I go by Jay, which I do not go by Jay. It's a college joke that has just lingered for the past 12...

Brian:

Very confusing, JaRel.

Quinn:

Perfect. Awesome. That's great. Well, if you want to follow Brian, you can't, because every three months, he changes the actual letters in his handle, instead of the name, so it breaks everything on our website.

Brian:

That's true. You might be able to tell that it's very frustrating for Quinn.

Quinn:

It's very helpful. Gentlemen, I can't thank you enough for your time today, and everything you're doing on this very specific, very impact fight, fights. You guys are doing so much. So, thank you for your time today. Thank you for all of that, and yeah, we'll connect again soon. Let's keep kicking some ass.

JaRel Clay:

Sounds good.

Quinn:

Thanks to our incredible guests today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at ImportantNotImprtant.com. It has all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:

And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @ImportantNotImp, which is so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram at ImportantNotImportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So, check us out, follow us, share us, like us. You know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this, and if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple podcasts. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn:

Please.

Brian:

And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player, and at our website, ImportantNotImportant.com.

Quinn:

Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:

Thanks, guys.