The environmental impact of your PR stunt can harm the brand

Throughout 2018 plastic waste embedded itself deeply in the public consciousness, thanks to efforts of environmental campaigners and programmes such as the BBC's Blue Planet II.

Is your PR stunt's environmental impact harming the very brand you're trying to promote? asks Gillian Edwards
Is your PR stunt's environmental impact harming the very brand you're trying to promote? asks Gillian Edwards

For the PR industry this new focus on plastic waste presents both opportunities and risks.

Beyond the obvious opportunities for communicators to tell good news stories about plastic reduction efforts, there are also risks that the PR industry needs to be aware of; some of these have already been demonstrated over the past 12 months.

In the PR industry we as practitioners are generally quite sustainable – I’ve certainly found that paper has largely disappeared from offices, with everything taking place online or over the phone.

Our main resources are typically people.

However, in the current climate, we as an industry need to remain aware of the potential risks of high-profile events, product launches and stunts.

An environmentally damaging or wasteful event can result in an emotionally charged response and be incredibly harmful to the very brand you are trying to promote.

Over the last few years, a number of events and stunts received a backlash for being environmentally unfriendly.

Most recently, Poundland launched "the gift of nothing" in an attempt to grab headlines ahead of Valentine’s Day.

The product, essentially an empty plastic heart shaped package, was designed to be thrown away almost immediately.

While the company has stood by and defended the product saying it was nothing but a "bit of fun", the launch sparked widespread outrage on social media.

Another high-profile example was the negative reaction that Gary Barlow received following a concert at the Eden Project in Cornwall in 2018.

At the concert, a confetti-cannon was fired, showering the crowd in little pieces of single-use plastic.

In this instance, the fact that the event took place at the Eden Project whist it was simultaneously running a campaign to reduce single-use plastic magnified the issue, but this does illustrate how the unnecessary use of single-use plastics can quickly draw the ire of many individuals and organisations alike.

In late 2018, a similar controversy halted a world-record attempt by the Okada Manila luxury hotel in the Philippines.

The world-record effort, clearly an attempt to bring media and social media attention to the hotel, backfired spectacularly, as environmental campaigners and even the Philippines government became involved, criticising the hotel’s aim of releasing tens of thousands of balloons to mark the New Year’s celebrations.

For the PR industry these examples highlight the risk of failing to be environmentally aware when planning a stunt or event.

The waste created by these examples was negative both in terms of the damage done to the planet and the damage done to the brands’ reputations.

In 2019 whether you are planning a simple buffet lunch event, a new product launch or a high profile stunt it would be wise to consider sustainability as part of your basic housekeeping.

A short checklist that identifies potential risks for each stunt or event is of considerable use, and would help to prevent clients being accused of creating unnecessary waste.

Gillian Edwards is associate partner at Sermelo

Thumbnail image via @mum-whatsfortea on Twitter

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