Shifting the source-press relationship: facing a government inquiry, Petrobras opens communication via a blog--and changes the flow of information.

Author:Maldonado, Gilberto Puig
Position::Special report: latin america & the caribbean
 
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Petrobras is Latin America's largest publicly traded company, and the world's eighth-largest company in market value. It leads Brazil's oil sector and does business in 27 countries. In 2009, following the discovery of one of the world's largest oil and gas reserves in Brazil's pre-salt layer, Petrobras announced plans to expand its operations to be among the five largest integrated energy companies in the world by 2020.

But on 15 May 2009, a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (or CPI) was initiated by the Brazilian Senate to investigate charges of fraud, corruption, tax evasion and over-invoicing by Petrobras. The Inquiry Commission presented a significant challenge for the state-run company, and one that required new communication tools.

In the interest of offering transparency on the company's positioning, Petrobras launched its Facts & Data blog, an interactive online tool hosted in a Web environment outside the Petrobras portal. Through the blog--the brainchild of company CEO Jose Sergio Gabrielli--Petrobras sought to demonstrate that it was willing to act with total transparency throughout the parliamentary investigation. The blog first appeared on the company intranet, but within a few days it became publicly accessible on the Wordpress platform.

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The Facts & Data blog triggered widespread discussion throughout Brazil about the source-press relationship. It provided Brazilians access to two points of view about the proceedings: the company's versus the media's. Petrobras opened up the communication process by showing the points being questioned and the company's answers to them. Based on this exchange of information, the blog in some cases revealed that issues had been distorted and/or only partially reported by the media.

Reaching a range of interested parties Petrobras intended to use the Facts & Data blog to reach Brazilian society as a whole, but specifically the company's workforce, the press, investors, public power, suppliers and partners, and groups organized in social networks and virtual communities. Because it was meant for Brazilian audiences only, it was published only in Portuguese.

Specifically, the Petrobras communication team intended that the blog:

* Provide full access to all CPI-related information, thereby showing that the company had nothing to hide and opening a channel through which citizens could follow the inquiry.

* Allow Petrobras to be transparent about its communication with the press by posting all the questions and their corresponding answers, correcting information that was imprecisely or partially presented, and presenting stories as they were originally published, with the company's comments.

* Contribute to revitalizing the Petrobras brand.

In this context, the...

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