Al Gore may not have invented the Internet, but with the popularity of An Inconvenient Truth, he may be able to take some of the credit for the public and media's suddenly robust interest in environmental issues.
"This year has been a watershed in terms of mainstream media attention to the environment" notes William Brent, Weber Shandwick VP and head of the agency's Cleantech unit. "It's an issue that now has a much higher profile from consumer and top-tier business press."
Suzanne Henry, president of Four Leaf Public Relations, says green issues have been helped by the involvement of such celebrities as George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio. But Henry notes that the biggest shift can been seen in corporate America. "Big names are now taking advantage of the 'green market' and making a lot of money in the process," she says.
The shift of environmental stories to the business pages has also made the PR practitioner's job a bit easier. "If we're representing a utility or mining company, there's often less of a learning curve because most business journalists are already up to speed on these industries," says Peter Webb, who has an agency in Denver. "That means we can quickly segue into the environmental angle."
Timothy Wheeler, a Baltimore Sun growth and development reporter and current president of the Society for Environmental Journalists (SEJ), has seen these spikes in media interest before and suggests one of the challenges facing reporters going forward may be separating the hype from the reality amid all these companies proclaiming, "Green is good."
"They've even created the term 'green washing' to describe businesses who buff their images by putting out advertising and embracing sustainability," he says. "But there's a real question of how real some of that is."
Wheeler advises PR pros to be objective and to make sure there's something different in what their client is doing. "You also need to be flexible, and if one reporter at an organization doesn't buy your pitch, try selling it to other beats or even the generalists," he adds.
Environmental journalism can encompass many topics, but right now, Houston Chronicle environmental writer and SEJ secretary Dina Cappiello says, global warming is probably the "story of the century."
But that still doesn't make it easy to pitch. "What works are environmental stories that are pegged to the consumer or that include popular or celebrity culture," she adds. "Part of the reason An Inconvenient Truth got so much play was because it was a movie."
PITCHING... environmental issues
There aren't many dedicated environmental reporters, so pitch green-themed stories to other sections, including health, real estate, metro, and business
The public is pushing government and business to be more environmentally aware, so focus on consumer-driven angles
Get your own scientific experts to help with any environmental pitch, but also provide reporters with real people to give a human face to illustrate often-complex solutions