CLIENT PROFILE: Sierra Club’s profile driven by volunteers - Any press release with the word ’Valdez’ in it is sure to grab the media’s attention, especially when juxtaposed with a Ford truck. That’s just one exampl

Thriving on controversy, activism and the tireless efforts of local members, the Sierra Club has established itself as one of the most visible environmental groups in the nation. For over a century, Sierra Club has battled toe-to-toe with industry leaders, grabbing headlines and driving change.

Thriving on controversy, activism and the tireless efforts of local members, the Sierra Club has established itself as one of the most visible environmental groups in the nation. For over a century, Sierra Club has battled toe-to-toe with industry leaders, grabbing headlines and driving change.

Thriving on controversy, activism and the tireless efforts of local

members, the Sierra Club has established itself as one of the most

visible environmental groups in the nation. For over a century, Sierra

Club has battled toe-to-toe with industry leaders, grabbing headlines

and driving change.



A recent campaign targeted Ford’s new Excursion model sport utility

vehicle for its above-average gas consumption (only 14 miles to the

gallon). The Sierra Club nicknamed the truck ’Ford Valdez.’ Taking its

concerns to the press, the organization pounced on the SUV model as an

example of the global warming and pollution problem. Daniel Becker,

director of Sierra Club’s global warming and energy program, appeared on

CNN Talkback Live, and most major media outlets picked up the story.



Just before Earth Day last month, the Sierra Club endorsed Toyota’s

Prius, a new model that runs on both a combustion engine and an electric

motor. Nearly 100 major media outlets picked up the story, including The

Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.



While the Ford campaign generated national media attention, Sierra

Club’s local events - festivals and clean-ups around the country -

normally garner the most media coverage. Why was Sierra Club so

successful in getting Earth Day coverage when most groups were

struggling to compete with the Elian Gonzalez affair? ’Their Earth Day

philosophy of building programs from a local level instead of going

after the national audience, like so many other organizations, gave them

an edge,’ says Rozanne Weissman, director of communications and

marketing for the Alliance to Save Energy.





Members drive agenda



If you examine the clippings Sierra Club generates each week, you won’t

see the same one or two names representing the organization time and

again.



Rather, hundreds of local members weave a solid network of support.

Indeed, the strength of Sierra Club’s PR lies in its 600,000 members,

who speak to the press and their communities as activists,

conservationists and environmentalists. ’The staff are here simply for

support. Members drive Sierra Club’s agenda, activities and actions,’

says press secretary Allen Mattison.



In fact, Sierra Club’s main initiatives are member-driven. Members

periodically vote on which environmental issues need to be addressed

nationally, and campaigns are then created around those concerns. Sierra

Club currently has four main campaigns, each with a coordinator located

in its Washington, DC office: clean water; stop sprawl; protect

wildlands; and end commercial logging in national forests.



Although one could argue that every Sierra Club member does PR, its

official PR operations are handled by a fulltime staff of eight

scattered across the country, headed by Daniel Silverman, director of

media relations in the San Francisco office. ’Dan has a strong

grass-roots background which gives him a great creative perspective,’

says Weissman. In Sierra Club’s Washington, DC office, which focuses on

lobbying as well as national campaigns, Mattison coordinates the

organization’s PR efforts.



Sierra Club has earned kudos for aligning its focus with the changing

times. ’The environmental movement has been developing from a primarily

wealthy, Anglo-based movement into a grass-roots, issue-based

movement.



Sierra Club has realized this sooner than some other groups - they’ve

adapted to a changing public mind-set,’ says Hal Dash, president of

Cerrell Associates, a public affairs and environmental PR agency in San

Francisco.



Mattison continues: ’Our PR process is web-shaped. Ideas can be

developed at the group level, the regional level, by individual members

or by our media team.’ When he and others have an idea, they seek out a

volunteer member, an expert on the field in question, to help develop a

plan of action. Not all volunteers have the time to devote toward media

relations and PR strategies, so Sierra Club staff may be asked to step

in. Sierra Club has 17 regional offices, nearly 65 chapters within those

regions and over 400 local groups, which all add to the overall

effort.



Meanwhile, Sierra Club lobbyists in Congress keep a watchful eye on

lawmakers and develop education and media relations programs for each

area. The organization intends to invest five to 10 years in programs to

achieve long-term goals of public awareness and legislative change.

’Sierra Club is a voice that’s not only heard but counted in the realm

of public affairs,’ says Dash. In recent years, Sierra has worked toward

employing at least one lobbyist in each state legislature.



But once again, the key is to act locally while not losing sight of the

big picture. Group members tend to focus on issues in their immediate

communities, extending the four primary campaigns to their own

backyards, while also confronting issues of conservation, clean-up and

sundry local environmental concerns. Snowmobile use may be an issue in

Massachusetts; saving the Redwood trees in California. ’People’s

neighbors are members of Sierra Club. When they raise issues, editors

understand that these ideas come from the community,’ says Mattison.



The recently launched Environmental Voter Education Campaign, an dollars

8 million project of which nearly half will go toward PR and grass-roots

efforts, is a perfect example of the Sierra Club’s various PR cylinders

firing in concert.’We have three goals: educate the public on the

environmental record of their elected officials, get the environmental

issues into local campaigns and lobbying elected officials for change,’

says Dan Weiss, the Sierra Club’s political director. National coverage

is only part of the picture since the main thrust of the campaign is on

local issues.





Targeting political races



Rallies, door-to-door outreach, flyers and voter charts and guides have

been planned for most regions. Sierra Club has targeted close political

races, where ’the most difference can be made,’ Weiss explains. In New

York, senior representative Susan Holmes coordinates information on the

Senate race between Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Hillary Clinton.

Giuliani’s failure to protect NY drinking water in accord with a 1997

EPA agreement has been revealed in press releases, ads and outreach to

the NY community, Holmes claims.



The wildlands campaign, meanwhile, focuses on saving forests, marshes,

deserts and mountains in danger of development and deforestation. Public

awareness will be fostered through a large grass-roots effort to get

comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The statement,

produced by the Forest Service, will suggest guidelines for managing

wild forests and comments could impact the measures recommended. Sierra

Club members not only organize local outreach, they also urge community

members to write letters to the editor, call their congressional

representatives and publicly support the cause. With every new voice,

Sierra Club gains greater visibility for the issues it champions.



Of course, with so much focus on the local level, the group’s PR success

is limited by the size of its membership. ’There is more work than there

are volunteers,’ says Peter Muto, chair for the John Muir Chapter of the

Sierra Club. With environmental concerns often getting short shrift from

today’s Internet-crazed media, the Sierra Club needs to keep its

membership rolls full and motivated if it hopes to keep its voice

heard.





SIERRA CLUB



PR chief: Daniel Silverman, media relations director (based in San

Francisco)



PR staff: Allen Mattison, press secretary; six other full-time PR

employees scattered around 16 regional offices. Regional office

directors also handle PR responsibilities.



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