Public backs Woodside

WOODSIDE is winning the crucial public relations against suitor the Royal Dutch/Shell group, with concern about the offer price and national interest favouring the Perth-based energy company’s takeover defence.

A report commissioned for Business News by media monitors Rehame shows Woodside has won significantly favourable media coverage since Shell put is revised two-stage bid on the table.

In the three weeks to December 6, more than 270 mentions were made in the media on the issue.

The Rehame report showed that not one positive comment was made about the bid by financial commentators, though 74 per cent made neutral comments on the bid and 26 per cent were negative.

The news will buoy Woodside’s management, particularly managing director John Akehurst who has been on a marathon mission over East and chief financial officer Bob Carroll who has taken a team to the US to try to press the flesh of the large institutional investors.

A Woodside spokesman said a team of more than 60 people were working full time on fighting off the challenge and annual leave for many Woodside staff had been called off over Christmas.

Yet the burning of the midnight oil appears to be paying off for the oil and gas giant.

Only 7 per cent of total media mentions on the takeover were positive. Take Shell’s own spokespeople out of the equation and that figure dropped to 4 per cent.

Weighing-in in Woodside’s favour was WA Resources Minister Colin Barnett. He spoke eight times against the takeover bid. Even Prime Minister John Howard has been drawn into the issue on eight occasions but remained neutral.

Rehame state manager Nicholas Hayes said Mr Barnett was vocal in talking down the takeover as not good for the State or the country.

“Outside the neutral comments made in the electronic media, more than three in four spoke against the proposed takeover by Shell,” Mr Hayes said.

“The two major concerns that were expressed was the concern of foreign ownership and the belief that Shell had not put enough on the table.”

Mr Hayes said the early indications were that Woodside was defiantly on the front foot, though both parties were keeping very quiet in public.

He said the Internet was playing a big role in the PR stakes and, based on the figures, Woodside appeared to be winning on this fount as well.

Of the different media the Internet was the least favourable toward Shell’s bid. Almost 50 per cent of Internet mentions were against the bid compared with just 2 per cent in favour.

The Sydney Morning Herald Website was the most biased with 80 per cent of mentions negative, followed by News Limited’s website with 73 per cent reporting negatively about the bid.

A Shell spokesman did not return Business News calls.

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