Sustainability body comms lead: there's a 'gap in the market' for environment specialist agencies

The comms chief of the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) has told PRWeek she feels that there are not enough agencies combining deep environmental expertise with full-service capabilities.

Karen Van der Westhuizen: 'Environmental topics are not something that can be taught in a crash course'
Karen Van der Westhuizen: 'Environmental topics are not something that can be taught in a crash course'

Karen Van der Westhuizen, communications director for the membership body whose ‘tree and tick’ logo is familiar to consumers across the world, was talking to PRWeek as part of a wider piece on environmental comms issues, which is part of The Knowledge subscription package.

She said that while the membership body never struggles to find generalists with good media relations, social or web content skills, it can be “really hard to find agencies to deal with the more technical, scientific or academic audiences”.

"Like health and other fields, environmental topics are not something that can be taught in a crash course: they must be experienced, chewed on and tackled over many years to really gain an understanding of their complexities," Van der Westhuizen said.

But while healthcare and pharma is well-served by agencies offering a team led by a "person who has that insider knowledge of the subject matter and how the industry operates... supported by a pool of designers, writers, media specialists and so on working on the account", this kind of agency "is missing in the environmental communications world".

She went on to say: "The environmental comms agencies I know of are generally staffed by experienced communicators and experts. But in my experience, the 'full service' piece is missing from these agencies. So while the environmental agencies I know can help with high-level strategising, and are exceptional at reaching out to top-level journalists for a side discussion on sensitive topics, for example, they generally can’t produce an engaging infographic or hard-hitting social media campaign. There’s a definite gap in the market here."

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