In an extensive analysis ahead of the conference of political leaders and business chiefs on how the comms of climate change have shifted in recent years, PRWeek UK heard there was increased optimism around the topic, but also that walking the tightrope of language between misery and complacency was vital to tackling the issue.
The attacks on Paris last month have caused a slight change of tone to proceedings, some attendees report, as world leaders and corporates gathered in the French capital - some businesses have decided to stay away or reduce their presence, while social activities have been more muted than might have been expected.
Nonetheless, PR and public affairs agencies are involved both on the ground and remotely. Here are eight examples.
MSLGroup has its global HQ in Paris, and its parent company Publicis Groupe was grieving last month after the loss of staff in the atrocities. A spokesman for the firm said it had "more than 25 staff" members from around the world including Dubai, the UK and the US in attendance.
On Saturday, the agency hosted an event at renowned university Sciences Po that "put the spotlight on millennial change-makers who will inherit much of the responsibility for transforming how the world consumes, works and innovates". The event, which was livestreamed via the agency's website, included the screening of the MSLGroup-sponsored #MakeItWork film, which MSLGroup said was the culmination of the longer Make it Work worldwide project.
Cohn & Wolfe
Andrew Escott, the head of Cohn & Wolfe's global corporate practice, was in Paris last week. He told PRWeek he was "advising clients participating in a series of events at both the core programme at Le Bourget and the more business-oriented programme at the Grand Palais".
Escott said: "The overall mood is business as usual, there is huge pressure to get through a heavy schedule while managing the significant expectations. Security is highly visible but the main thing of note outside the ring of steel was the quieter than normal Parisian traffic – a result of free public transport on Sunday and Monday."
In September, Headland helped launch the Global Apollo Program, an international coalition of business leaders, scientists and environmental experts asking leading nations to commit to renewable energy investment.
From the start this enjoyed the support of much-loved UK broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, and on 30 November Headland director Mike Sergeant accompanied Attenborough and Global Apollo co-founder Lord Layard to Paris for a series of interviews with outlets including the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera and Bloomberg.
"He’s far too modest to say anything like it. But after a lifetime of observing his planet, Attenborough may have played a significant role in helping to save it," wrote a somewhat starstruck Sargeant in a blog on the Headland website recounting the trip.
Seán Galvin, London-based managing director for energy and environment, said some staff from the firm’s Paris office were present at events. However, he said the whole conference had taken on a slightly different tone following events last month: "Business is continuing but a lot of the social activity has been scaled back, quite rightly, and that means it is a lot more focused on the summit itself and keeping it to people who really need to be there, which is a good thing in the circumstances."
He also said the conference period itself was in some ways less of a focus for PR firms and their clients. He said: "We're leaving the negotiating to the negotiators but a lot of our work has been done before the event, and a lot of it will be done after - working out what it means and making sure the industry has a voice once an agreement, if there is an agreement, is reached."
FTI has launched its own conference website with contributions from its own team plus businesses, NGOs and academics. "We're trying to provide some fresh new insights on the issues," he said.
Nick Turton, who leads the London agency’s energy and environmental practice, said that while his firm was not present in Paris, the firm had been using contacts in Paris for "monitoring and intelligence". He said his team had been supporting clients in two ways; gaining publicity for clients in relation to the talks and their outcomes, and updating clients on how talks progress. "It’s a very complex negotiation. We have clients in Europe and North America and we are helping them day to day," Turton said.
He said questions about the science of climate change had "pretty much gone away" in recent years, adding: "There’s a lot more optimism around Paris than around Copenhagen."
Bell Pottinger launched a sustainability practice in September, and said one of its activities was a drinks reception in London to be held after the conference to discuss the event's implications for business.
Madeleine Knowles, associate partner at the firm, said: "Sustainability is climbing up the business agenda and the UN Climate Change conference marks a critical moment for the world to come together and commit to make binding commitments. Businesses recognise the importance of these talks – but not everyone is able to travel to Paris."
Suzy Greenwood, senior account director in Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ UK energy and industrials division, provided PRWeek with the following commentary on the event so far: "France’s decision to invite the heads of state to the beginning of the conference paid off, opening COP21 with a sense of optimism. It also created a media frenzy, with widespread broadly positive international coverage. The leaders’ speeches contained more politics than expected, and by Monday evening negotiators were getting down to business.
"This week, as the ministers take over, expect tensions over finance in particular – consensus here could be the difference between a weak agreement and an enduring regime that accelerates climate action into the mainstream."
UK creative agency Workbrands was appointed by UK-based non-profit organisation the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance to create a video on the benefits of carbon offsetting.
The resulting effort, where nine businesses are represented, was screened at an event titled Scaling Climate Neutrality to Millions of Companies on 2 December within the official conference area, at which speakers included United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change chief of staff Daniele Violetti.