Hundreds of private and public companies, media outlets, governments, nonprofits, research organizations, and unions will meet in Copenhagen early next week for the United Nation's climate change conference.
Media attention has focused on companies that plan to attend like General Electric, Dow Chemical, and Coca-Cola, as well as promises to reduce carbon emissions from countries like the US, India, and China.
Organizations that attend have the opportunity to engage influencers in the green and energy industries. The companies and agencies that choose to engage in this global climate change dialogue with thoughtful messages to the right audiences will be recognized as thought leaders, both in the US and abroad, at a crucial time in the debate.
“Since a better part of a year ago, we've been saying that [clients] ought to be looking for opportunities and being engaged in the discussion because the discussion will affect everybody,” says Michael Kehs, GM of the Washington office for Hill & Knowlton, the media sponsor of the conference.
“The big difference between then and now is there was no corporate presence whatsoever,” says Mark Grundy, VP of CSR at Edelman. “I think the reason for that is that the general public and other stakeholders did not see the corporate world as having a responsibility for the issue.”
Deutsche Bank has sought to position its executives as thought leaders in the climate change space leading up to the launch of a carbon counter in New York in June and the conference in Copenhagen, says Ted Meyer, head of communications in the Americas.
“We are looking to influence the policy debate in order to create an environment that's conducive to investment,” adds Meyer. “We've been using the carbon counter as a calling card to attract public attention to the issues.”
In addition, Kevin Parker, global head of Deutsche's asset management division, will be blogging from Copenhagen for Politico, while the bank's climate change strategist, Mark Fulton, will attend a number of events, including one hosted by Deutsche.
For agencies like Edelman, the summit is viewed as an opportunity to illustrate the role communications can play for current, and potential, clients in the climate change debate, notes Grundy, who is also attending COP15.
“We're very active in thought leadership, because we believe this is a new marketplace,” he says. “It's only going to get bigger and bigger.”
But in the onslaught of news leading up to the conference, concerns about how companies are communicating and what audiences they are trying to reach have arisen. Not only do companies need to communicate with the media, they also need to reach out to employees, government officials, shareholders, and the public, says Kehs.
“My assumption is that lot of companies think they are doing a lot,” says Ben Finzel, SVP of public affairs for Widmeyer Communications. “I just don't know if the communications they're putting out there related to climate change is necessarily going to all of their stakeholders and is really telling the whole story.”
But, as the US prepares for the possibility of federal climate change legislation, executives that have sought to position their companies and secure their messaging in the global debate will be prepared for the congressional battles in the US.
“It's a precursor to the next round of communications on the energy and climate bills that will be in the Senate in the US,” says Kehs. “You can expect that groups, pro and con, will be lining up to communicate to Congress and to the country on their point of view.”