Public Relations and Green

While reading through Joel Makower’s Strategies for the Green Economy tonight, I came upon an interesting chapter on PR that rang a “I feel you on that one” inside me. The topic was public relations in a growing green/sustainable marketplace.

I subscribe to quite a few green pr wires, news sites, and blogs through RSS and check them daily. In the last couple months though, I’ve noticed a marked increase in personal fatigue in going through them. For one, the number of stories has increased dramatically. Second, it’s getting harder to find the ‘meat’ of the story…the actual interesting substance going on that grabs me.

The major PR firms have all added or expanded divisions related to sustainability, as more companies are becoming eager and willing to tell their green stories. Joel brought up this important question:

Do the increased number of releases indicate New or Pre-Existing company initiatives?

That answer doesn’t imply that companies are necessarily pushing older news. Many efforts that were traditionally tucked away in annual reports as continuous operational/product improvements, are now being pushed out through PR as “Hey look at what we’re doing!” green stories. For big corporations, those extra stories can help improve the public image. Conversely for small to mid-size firms, these improvement or eco-initiative stories don’t add much value.

The risk that Joel sees (I do as well), is that with the increased number of releases there’s a growing number of me-too stories that just become boring and undifferentiated. For example, now you’ll often see announcements on LEED building certifications and energy reduction goals that by themselves at this point, are becoming yawn material since everybody’s doing them.

Here’s the challenge that Joel gives to PR pros: “Will you steer your clients beyond short-term media hits to create longer-term value by counseling them to aim high, to make bold, even audacious commitments in order to stand out from the crowd?”

In essence, what makes a story “good enough”?

To be fair, many smaller stories do have relevance for niche audiences. But we must question the effectiveness of the message’s crafting, its benefit to readers, and the channels its distributed. No company is perfect and small steps do deserve acknowledgment. But for messages to be sticky, it’s best if the company is portrayed as being a bit humble about their progress, but the improvements (product, process, other) are substantial. To go further we can also add the Made To Stick SUCCES attributes of: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories.

Allow me to stress Benefits and Credibility. Green by itself is really just an attribute. It’s the whole value proposition that needs to be sold. And any claims or initiatives you’re making need to be aligned with or better than industry benchmarks, higher than regulatory requirements, and will be third party certified.

What do YOU think?