Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Communicators Must Adapt Slowly or Perish Quickly

 I have just finished Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure by British author Tim Harford.

A well written and highly engaging book, Adapt questions why organisations and individuals fail to change as their circumstances shift. It debunks conventional wisdom that leaders with big visions and authorities and experts armed with data can chart a successful way forward for the rest of us.  

Life it seems is too complicated and inter-connected to rely on giant leaps forward to bring lasting solutions. We just need to look at the range of current world issues to see the truth in this - the Afghanistan War, Climate Change, the Global Financial Crisis, #Hackgate in the UK etc. There are no simple strategies for any of these issues and if ever there were silver bullets, we fired them off long ago.

Adapt suggests we learn from how species of life have evolved over millions of years.  Change has been gradual with slow and steady adaptation and continuous experimentation. Obviously we have not got the luxury of waiting that long but what we should do is take baby steps rather giant strides and learn from the failures which will invariably confront us. 

Although not specifically written for PR and marketing professionals, Adapt holds valuable insights for communicators.  Perhaps we can earn success by following the advice of early Communist-era engineer, Peter Palchinsky.  After studying in Russia and abroad, Palchinsky determined the best way to innovate and change is to:
  • Continually seek out new ideas and try new things.
  • Introduce scaled change so when new ideas fail - as they often will - our organisations will survive.
  • Learn from mistakes and continually and consciously adjust and improve.
It is difficult to change the communications patterns of large or well entrenched organisations. Often they are entrapped within their status quo.  When they try big changes and fall short,  those who fear innovation and draw comfort from the familiar are exonerated.  But not to change as the world turns, puts us on a pathway to perish.

The value of this book is to offer up a framework to try new things, progressively learn and build from our mistakes and settle for gradual, sustained improvement over spectacular advances that too often end in costly failure.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The PR of Climate Change

The threats posed to Earth by a changing climate are real and far reaching. 

So you would think it would be easy to tell people about the problems we face, what part they can play in helping the planet to adjust and then stand back and watch them take action.  If things were only that simple.

The recent Copenhagen Conference showed even governments armed with the latest, most compelling data cannot agree on what should be done. So what hope is there in convincing  Earth's six billion people to act for the common good.

Last month Columbia University's Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions released the Psychology of Climate Change Communications report. Meant for use by governments, scientists and environmental groups, it provides a framework to recognise the barriers to communicating climate change and recommends strategies and tools to convince people to act. These include:
  • Know your audience and appreciate their current level of knowledge about climate change. If there are misconceptions in their mental frameworks, replace these with facts and fresh information.
  • Get your audience's attention. Frame information in a manner that is comfortable for them and talk about the here and now rather than some abstract, imperilling future. People tend to discount environmental (and financial) consequences with every year they are delayed so add immediacy to the conversation and talk about the present.
  • Put the dire global situation into a local context and bring the message close to home.  Most often local leads because people show more concern with events in their neighbourhood than in far-off places. Tap into the desire people have of avoiding losing something and make them aware of the potential for current (as well as future) losses if  we fail to act.
  • Translate scientific data into concrete experiences, avoid using technical jargon and rely on simple language.  The goal for scientists should be to help their fellow citizens to quickly absorb information rather than spend time trying to decipher vocabulary.  Sure there is a place for charts, graphs and carefully worded text but these work far better when supported by vivid imagery, film, real world examples, personal case studies and simple analogies.
  • Avoid overusing emotional appeals.  Continually trying to scare people into action strains  our finite capacity to worry about things.  Our minds concentrate on what concerns us right now and too much long term fear can lead to emotional numbing.
  • Acknowledge the uncertainties surrounding climate change.  People will understand incomplete information better in a group where they have a chance to discuss it rather than as individuals trying to understand an issue alone.
  • Tap into social affiliations. Appeal to the various roles a person plays (parent, farmer etc).  Focus communications on the small group rather than the larger body and use local messengers who are more likely to be listened to than some distant authority.
  • Encourage participation because people are more likely to act if they have had a part in shaping an action.
  • Make it easy to take action.  Give people simple things they can do in the first place  that can build into a more extensive program.  Offer incentives and default options individuals can easily accept. 
The Pyschology of Climate Change Communications is a must read for those involved in environmental issues, community relations and critical social behavioural issues.  

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wanted - Visionaries Who Can Communicate: Apply Within

The world community faces tough challenges.

Issues like the global financial crisis, climate change and international terrorism are enormously complex. The threats in each are real and pressing. There are no easy answers and what is needed is a sustained, perhaps even a multi-generational approach to tackling these challenges which cut right across borders.

These problems impact us all , so it is good to remember the simplest way through complexity is clear vision and simple communications.

This past week two visionary communicators have been notable.

On Friday President Obama received the Noble Peace Prize. The award was probably more in recognition for his ability to inspire people and give them hope than for any one achievement this early in his Presidency. Obama is a communicator in his very own class and the power and persuasion of his words resonates beyond Americans to people around the world.

In this past week I came across leading Canadian environmentalist Harvey Locke who talks about the need to think and act on the grandest of scales to protect and strengthen the earth's fragile environment in the face of climate change.

Locke is currently in Australia talking about about his experiences in helping to establish the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation corridor in North America. At 3200km long Yellowstone to Yukon is the largest conservation undertaking of its kind in the world. It literally links landscapes in the western United States and Canada to preserve animals and vegetation. It is shifting conventional thinking beyond saving "small isolated islands" of threatened environments.

Locke speaks simply, persuasively and peppers his views with anecdotes and stories. In his efforts to encourage Canadians and Americans he underpins the conversation with basic but compelling messages:

  • Firstly the problems of climate change are so significant, no one person or organisation has the solution. Organisations should stop pretending they have a monopoly on the way ahead. They must paint the grand vision of what could be and allow the rest of us to define our own contribution on how this can be achieved.
  • Locke believes in personalising the story. Or in his case "animalising the story." He talks freely why large a North American conservation corridor is so important to the long term survival of buffalo, grizzly bears and other animals iconic to North America. He has chosen his case studies well to tug at the heartstrings of his listeners.
  • He stresses the need for simple conversations. You can't reasonably expect people to support what they don't understand so he cautions governments and scientists to stop over-complicating the information they provide to the rest of us.
Obama and Locke are people with vision and who communicate it simply and consistently. In their own ways they are powerful examples for the rest of us.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fundamentals For Communicating The Really Tough Issues

Recently I've been working on an environmental campaign.

It aims to inform Australians about the need to link landscapes (landscape connectivity) to preserve our vegetation and animal life in the face of climate change. The science behind this concept is complex and often difficult to explain, so the ongoing challenge is to gain public support by providing clear, simple and relevant explanations the layperson can understand and relate to.

So many of the issues our communities face are complex - the global financial crisis, why we are fighting in Afghanistan, improving the health of Indigenous communities etc. Yet if we don't find a compelling and continuing way to tell those stories, public interest - no matter how well intentioned - is likely to drift.

There has never been a better time to be a communicator because we have so many tools available to carry our information. Yet at the same time the communications challenges we manage have rarely been tougher.

I'm hoping that by sticking to four communications fundamentals we can guide our efforts in this current campaign to success:
  • The best way to communicate complexity is through simplicity.
  • The best way to communicate significant change is through stories of the people either affected by or involved in that change. Personalise the policy whenever you can.
  • It's unlikely a single communications channel will reach those you need to engage. Go for redundancy and use as many relevant media as practically possible.
  • And finally ... be persistent. In this age of instant gratification most of us want immediate results. However truly important issues only gain traction over time and it can take even longer for people to move from ingrained attitudes and behaviours.
What do you think the fundamentals are when communicating the really tough issues?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Watch Out For These Things In '09

Watch out for these three marketing issues in the coming year.
  • Act and communicate green. People automatically expect organisations to be environmentally conscious. It's now the entry level standard for successful community relationships.
  • Go high tech to hire staff and to engage people you need to reach. Social media is free, easy to use so why not get on board and begin to use it in 2009.
  • Times may be tough but think long term and resist the panic urge to slash your marketing budget. Hopefully your organisation will be around long after this financial meltdown so keep talking to your clients and your community.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Consulting Communities

Recently we have been helping out a client with community consultations in regional Australia on a major environmental issue. People were asked their views on future investment priorities.

We were both surprised and delighted with the response.
  • A six question survey was sent to around 1700 people. And over 520 were returned. A great result for a mail-out survey.
  • Consultation forums in six regional areas were all well attended.
  • Contributions at these forums were considered, articulate and positive.
The take-out: People are deeply interested in environmental issues and, when asked, only too willing to come forward with constructive ideas.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Governments and Social Media

Having previously blogged on climate change, we noted with interest the current TV advertising for the Australian Government's new Climate Change website.

No doubt the site will become an important destination for Australians looking for information on our changing global environment and what we can do about it.

The website is rich in content and offers detailed explanation of the environmental threats facing the country and options for action. What is disappointing is that it is disturbingly short on community interaction. Aside from attending public meetings in major cities or reaching decision makers through traditional email, postal or telephone channels, there is little opportunity for the public to seek information or contribute to the national discussion through the site.

Perhaps we should be making greater use of social media technologies to reach out and engage people. So it would be a leap forward if this site allowed people to share their thoughts, concerns and issues with others.

We acknowledge that you always need mediation when you allow on-line public commentary. That's to stop the slander, bad language, vilification and other inappropriate conversations degrading the discussion. But this gate keeping is easily achievable - without censoring comments either because they are unpopular or show ideological bias.

The Canadian Government recently commissioned a study into using social media in government communications. It is well worth a read. If the Canadian research is any guide, people are open to the idea of using social media to access government information and to having their say on public policy.

And a 2007 IBM report showed that blogging is increasingly being used in the US by Congress, state legislatures and city officials to reach out and engage citizens.

Climate change is important, so if we want to engage Australians, perhaps it's time we began using the complete range of communications tools to involve them and generate action.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Telling the Climate Change Story

The environmental alarm clock just went off and it's five minutes to midnight.

On Friday 4 July Professor Ross Garnaut released his 537 page report about global climate change and its impact on Australia. It pulls no punches. Early economic modeling shows that unless we take action now, by 2100:
  • Around 4.8 per cent will be wiped off Australia’s projected GDP.
  • Projected household consumption will drop by 5.4 per cent.
  • Real wages will decline by 7.8 per cent.
If we sit on our hands now the quality of life for our kids, grandkids and other Australians will be considerably worse than our current lifestyles.

The report poses special challenges for Australia's communicators. As the nation's story tellers, from this point onwards, more of us are likely to be called upon to use our communications skills to:
  • Help the man and woman in the street make sense of the claims and counter claims on what should be done in the next few years and beyond.
  • Help people understand their role in finding solutions. (This year's Earth Hour is a good example of telling people how they can become involved).
  • Explain simply the complexities of the tough measures Australia must take to mitigate against the effects of climate change.
  • Accurately communicate the impacts of these measures on whole industries, whole communities right down to individuals.
If the tobacco industry is an example, some in the PR community may be called upon by clients and others to fight rearguard actions to preserve sectional interests. They may be asked to sow doubt and confusion by communicating that change is unnecessary or the adjustment is too harsh. Mnay more may be tasked to green wash their organisations ie to promote token changes done more for good PR than sustainable posterity.

As a group I hope Australia's communicators put the global and national interest ahead of client and organisational self interest.