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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Journalist’s View on Sustainability Communications

What does an environment journalist expect from communications and PR people, whether in-house or agency?  How can we make a journalist’s life easier?  What do they need that they aren’t getting?  What frustrates them about dealing with PR people?

Tackling these questions, ENDS Editor Francois Le Goff was guest speaker at this month’s Sustainability Communications Lunch on 29 October 2012 in Brussels.  Francois has been with ENDS for seven years and Editor for the last two.  He joined us to talk about sustainability communications from the environment journalist’s point of view. 

According to Francois (and we would agree), the following elements are key.

Firstly, communications must be timely.
Secondly, they must contain new content.
And last but not least, they should make a strong case.

Timely means putting out a press release on the same day as the announcement or news you are responding to, e.g. from the European Commission.  We always aim to be ready with press releases to go out as soon as the announcement is published.  But in some cases, Francois says, press releases can be sent days or even a week later.  If you can’t respond on the same day, it’s not really worth doing.  Media planning says you should have your press release ready to go so as soon as the other party’s press release appears, all you have to do is hit the send button.

Often organisations put out press releases which repeat messages and the same ‘news’ they have been pushing for the last few years.  A journalist needs new content.  It is frustrating for a journalist to have to go through new material to find that it doesn’t actually contain anything new.  Journalists love facts and figures but it’s often a rehashing of existing data.

Sustainability communications must be accurate and credible.  They must also make a strong case.  As a former environment journalist, I remember only too well how almost every industry press release was about the loss of jobs which would result from a particular policy.  These days, it’s all about jobs and carbon leakage.  If we want the media to cover our issues, we have to present convincing and credible arguments.  Let’s not be afraid to move away from the rhetoric and bring some creativity to the party.

The particular challenge of trade association communications was also touched on by Francois.  This is an issue we are all too familiar with.  The saying that ‘a camel is a horse designed by committee’ always springs to my mind when thinking about the challenges trade association communicators face.  Trade associations can lose out compared to NGOs who are often much more proactive in their communications.

Often, trade associations put out position papers without announcing it to the media.  As no-one can realistically expect journalists to be trawling trade association websites all day, every day, this is a topic close to our heart.  We would usually recommend putting out a press release to accompany the position paper but if this seems like a step too far, just emailing your key media contacts to let them know that a new position has been published would work.

Francois’ presentation was extremely well-received by a full house of communicators.  To find out more about the monthly Sustainability Communications Lunches, an informal gathering of sustainability communicators, contact hello@sustainabilityconsult.com.

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Blog by Kathryn Sheridan

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