To engage media, information still requires news value, although some journalists are becoming more relaxed about where their stories come from: ‘Environmental stories don't have to be written by a specialist,' admits John Vidal, environment editor of The Guardian. ‘We're past that hurdle. Just show me something that has general interest and I'll be there to look at it.'
That is the promise, so how can PROs achieve cut-through? Following its report on the effectiveness of environmental comms (see Environmental Report: Climate of chaos), the Institute of Public Policy Research says PROs should be more shrewd in their targeting. It recommends positioning climate-friendly behaviour as the kind of thing that ‘people like us' do. It cites the spirit of Live Aid, and Live8, as evidence that collective involvement in good causes is part of British culture.
‘You could spend all your time trying to explain the climate problem, but that just adds to the noise around the issue,' says Simon Retallack, head of IPPR's climate change team. ‘If you want to motivate people to adopt solutions, you should not just focus on the scale of the problem, but on the scale of the solution to match it.'
In other words, telling people that not overfilling their kettle will reverse the effects of climate change simply creates a credibility gap. So it is crucial that PROs choose their words carefully. ‘Using language that does not give the impression that it's too late is essential,' says Retallack. ‘In comms terms the task will be to treat people like adults and scale up the solutions.'
The IPPR claims few organisations have changed their attitude to comms, but Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign (see below) shows how the right approach inspires the public.
TWO POOR APPROACHES TO CLIMATE COMMS
According to the IPPR, this is the most common PR approach in climate campaigns. The theory is that there are ten or 20 small things that everyone can do to save the planet.
Perhaps the best-known campaign of this type is the Energy Savings Trust's ‘save your 20 per cent'. Launched in October 2005, it promotes the fact that the average UK household could use 20 per cent less energy by turning off lights, TVs and DVD players, and by lowering the thermostat.
But the IPPR's Retallack says such references to kettles, cars, light switches and ovens create a sense ofeffortlessness among the public - ultimately failing to change behaviour.
Not surprisingly, Energy Savings Trust disagrees. Ellie Springett, EST head of corporate and public affairs, insists: ‘Small measures leading on to larger measures are the way forward.'
Although Springett says the IPPR report has helped inform the trust's comms policy, the EST approach is obviously at odds with the institute's comms recommendations.
David and Goliath
This approach is characterised by such claims as Greenpeace's ‘a small number of individuals can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing [sic] that ever has'. But the IPPR's Retallack says this is ‘aggressive, oppositional campaigning' with a dash of ‘radical heroism' thrown in.
Despite conveying the impression of action, this comms approach allows itself to be too easily dismissed by opponents as the ranting of ‘do-gooders'.
‘Direct action only goes so far,' says Forum for the Future's Henry Hicks. ‘We're seeing a more consensual approach from NGOs, businesses and government.' Forum for the Future, co-founded by ex-Friends of the Earth director Jonathon Porritt, for instance, has joined forces with BP (see The day BP tackled CO2), Tesco and airport operator BAA.
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
The Big Ask campaign The charity is pressuring the Government to take a lead on climate change by introducing a law to cut CO2 emissions by three per cent each year.
Objectives To create popular support beyond traditional activists in order to persuade MPs that people support the Climate Change Bill.
Strategy and Plan Launched in May 2005, the approach was to mobilise the ‘eco-worriers' who don't know how to take action. By taking the message to cinemas, music festivals, bars, the streets and online at thebigask.com, it championed environmental issues in a way that was relevant to eco-worriers. The Big Ask Live included a London benefit gig by Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood in May this year.
Measurement and Evaluation The campaign launch with Yorke generated coverage on 13 TV stations, 19 radio stations, 40 websites and 69 newspapers and magazines. Nearly 90,000 people sent emails, postcards or letters to MPs.
Results In all, 380 MPs (59 per cent of Parliament) signed a motion in support of the Climate Change Bill.