A Fifth Estate Special Report  

25 January 2012 – In November last year Green Capital pulled out all stops to find out why the  green and climate change agenda has failed to deliver the media and marketing wins that are now critically urgent. In a forum held in Sydney and Melbourne some of the best experts in the business distilled  key messages. It was a no holds barred look at what works and what doesn’t.

The Fifth Estate recorded the Sydney session and below brings you our edited excerpts. In the meantime Green Capital has also released videos and downloads related to the events. (See below) as well as 10 key messages compiled by Murray Hogarth, a Green Capital senior adviser.

Together this material makes for essential scrutiny by those who want to fast track change in sustainability and climate change action.

Keynote speakers were:

  • Tony Douglas, Essential Media Communications
  • Skye Laris, Communications and Campaigns Director, GetUp! (Sydney)
  • Blair Palese, CEO, 350.org Australia & Communications (Melbourne)
  • Andrew McNally, Commercial Director, NewsNet
  • Panel members were:

  • Matt Perry, Republic of Everyone (Sydney and Melbourne)
  • Bernard Carlon, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (Sydney)
  • John Collee, 350.org Australia (Sydney)
  • Nadya Krienke-Becker, Shaper Group (Melbourne)
  • Tony Wright, December Media (Melbourne)
  • Chairs were:

    • Simon Marnie, Presenter, ABC 702 (Sydney)
    • Tanya Ha, Environmentalist and Author (Melbourne)

    What they said: edited transcripts of the forum, from The Fifth Estate

    Andrew McNally:

    Nine major trends
    There are about nine trends that I’ve identified that are really important in terms of sustainability in marketing.  The first one is about the need for companies to have credibility, and that is led by social activism, awakening consumers’ recognition of this growing market.

    Social responsibility – companies are now more aware than ever that whilst they’re making profits they need to be contributing back and giving back to issues and causes.  Probably you might argue that sometimes it may look cynical but at other times it’s quite a commitment from the company, and it’s part of their DNA.

    Provenance – provenance in the area of food has become a very big issue in terms of food security.  Now, the idea behind this that I think is fundamentally important is knowing where that food has come from and what it’s been treated with, and the like.

    And that is becoming more and more an issue for consumers and it’s becoming an issue framed around coal-seam gas and everything that we’re seeing at the moment.  And that will continue.

    And often that trend is led by restaurants.  And if you look to the restaurants, what happens in a restaurant today will replicate itself within the supermarket within five years.  Six years ago it was organics within restaurants.  Today the top chefs across Sydney and the world are into foraging and looking for food and product that is sourced locally and can be found within the community.  So don’t be surprised if you see the likes of Mark Best [from Marques Restaurant] out there in your local park looking for fennel, or the like.

    The other thing from a media point of view is this idea of always on.  I’ve mentioned about the technology in terms of scanning and the like.  Consumers are always on.  We’re not tied to our newspaper, we’re not tied to our TV, and we’re not even tied to the internet at our desk.  It is about mobile phones and  vbb the impact that that has and how that can share information peer-to-peer as opposed to from many-to-one.  Sharing is really important, and the idea behind most campaigns today is how do we get animation and scale.

    We may have a budget of half a million, but we want to achieve impressions of over two million.  And so to do that you want to tell a story that is compelling.  And compelling stories are more important than ever, whether that’s from somebody’s firsthand experience, or creating something around the product.  I’m going to show you a fantastic from Häagen-Dazs in the States, that does this beautifully, and it sort of wraps all this thing up together.

    Because the other important thing is around the idea of authenticity.  There are more sceptics out there than you can poke a stick at, so you’re going to be tested on it, and you’re going to be found out if you’re telling half-truths and lies.

    And finally, what we’ve seen and what I’ve seen over at Cannes over the last few years in terms of worldwide campaigns, is sustainability is coming through more and more, in particular in the States and in particular in Europe. In the countries of South America and Asia, it’s still emerging from a marketing point of view, but it is very strong in those more established economies.

    Now, why do we buy into social responsibility?  Because consumers expect it today.  And more importantly, the propensity to buy from a company that has a clear social responsibility mandate and is visibly doing things actually increases.  And that was discovered in a recent survey from Reader’s Digest.

    Now, keeping that in mind, I want to share with you this next story from Häagen-Dazs.  Now, Häagen-Dazs is an ice cream brand in the States.  There’s a fundamental issue going on in North America at the moment in terms of the death of the honey bee.  And this campaign was a huge success from a sales point of view and really well celebrated in terms of what a campaign should look like.  And it wraps up those ideas I’ve just talked about.

    Video voiceover:

    We don’t know if it’s an advertising truth or not, but if your client has to appear before Congress, you either did something really good or really bad.  It turns out it was something really good.  The client in the hot seat, Häagen-Dazs, makes a super premium ice cream, a brand that in 2008 put its faith in the idea of walking away from conventional advertising and turned its marketing lens instead towards the unsung workforce responsible for creating their ice cream’s all-natural ingredients, a natural workforce that’s in grave danger.

    Honey bees are disappearing, and nobody knows why, an alarming fact that few people were even aware of.  Alarming, because without the bees to pollinate them, close to one third of all the natural foods we humans eat would disappear.  For Häagen-Dazs the writing on the wall was all too clear.  And so Häagen-Dazs launched a fully-integrated marketing effort to help bring the honey bees back.

    First, Häagen-Dazs launched a program, “HD loves HB”, by creating a new flavour, Vanilla Honey Bee.  All proceeds were donated to Penn State and University of California’s Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security to help fund honey bee research.  Incidentally, that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars, and counting.

    A print campaign for the new flavour let people know they could help the cause simply by enjoying their ice cream.  We ran a magazine insert made of seed paper.  Consumers could crumple it up, bury it in the ground and grow wild flowers for the honey bees to feed on.To dramatise the plight of the bees, we brought to life their symbiotic relationship with flowers in an epic television commercial.

    Helpthehoneybees.com gave visitors a space to learn about the problem, donate to the research program and help spread the word.  A series of dance videos brought the problem to the attention of millions of earth-conscious YouTubers, one of which was awarded [AP-WA’s  Best Bio 6:55] Video of the Year Award for 2008.

    And soon bee lovers of all ages were creating their own.

    Where are all the bees?

    Finally, samples of Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream and millions of wildflower seeds were handed out at farmers’ markets across the US.  Community groups and schools were encouraged to join in and help foster community gardens and farms.  Before long, our efforts reached a flashpoint.  Every major media channel in America picked up on the story and helped champion our cause.

    The American bee population has fallen by 30 per cent in the last year and no one knows why.  It may just be ice cream maker Häagen-Dazs which comes up with the answer.

    Just one week after launch, the campaign generated over 125 million PR impressions, our goal for the entire year.  Grocery retailer, Wholefoods, was so inspired by the campaign that one location removed every bee-dependent product from its shelves for a day.  And in June of 2008, Häagen-Dazs, together with a coalition of national bee keepers, testified on the bees’ behalf in front of Senator Hilary Clinton and the House Agricultural Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

    Häagen-Dazs has a major stake in the health of America’s honey bees.

    In the world of integrated marketing, what greater expression could there be of a brand’s passion for its suddenly threatened all-natural ingredient?

    Andrew McNally

    Andrew McNally:

    Now, there’s an absolute authenticity to that. It goes central to the core of the brand and what the brand stands for.  But it would’ve been pretty easy for the marketers in that room to take a safer course of action, because many of these corporations are driven by a short-term goal, and the short-term goal is what’s happening on the next quarterly profit; what is the share point.

    It takes brave marketers to take a longer-term view.  Because that campaign would have taken some time to initiate, whereas a coupon-based or promotional offer may have worked more effectively in the short term.  So I think that campaign has a lot of merit and has a lot going for it.

    And the simple fact is that, as consumers, we place a measure on our value, on the value of something, versus our values. And we still have a situation where often creating a product that is natural or sustainable costs more from a production point of view. Now, the thing is that people are prepared to pay more, but it’s just a question of how much more they’re prepared to pay.

    Paying more  for better products
    And in this study by E-marketer, similar studies come up with pretty much the same figure. There seems to be a range within consumer products of around 19 to 20 per cent within these developed countries. But within the likes of Singapore and these places it seems to be lower at about 8 per cent. But people are prepared to make that change.

    And if we look at this in a negative way, 78 per cent of Australian shoppers, by this survey in 2010, aren’t prepared to pay more. But that’s a big market, 22 per cent of Australian shoppers who are prepared to pay something more for a green product, and I think it’s worth focusing on the positive out of that.

    Innovation is the key, and innovation comes from many sources. But.. there are not a lot of companies that can truly say they’re committed to innovation. Often innovation comes from your competitors or cottage industries.

    Social activism builds awareness for consumers about a campaign which creates an audience or an opportunity. As small players identify that opportunity, the market expands. But the market really scales up once we get a bigger corporation recognising this fact and animating it through their distribution chain.

    Natural baby food turned Heinz on its head
    Now a good example of this, and how it works, is with clients. For 25 years we served babies the same food full of additives, thickeners, and the like. Along came this guy, a restaurateur, Adrian Pike, and he started this product in 2007 called Rafferty’s. It’s all natural, it has no fillers, no additives, no thickeners and locally sourced produce.  And it was a game changer.

    And this one small guy with a bit of venture capital sat Heinz on its head.  Heinz had to redefine the recipe within that product, and then to compete they brought out a range of this product.  All the time that has grown the base of people looking for a more natural and less harmful product on the community and the environment per se.

    Similarly, Green Works, Clorox – and Clorox are in a space of cleaning chemicals and cleaning agents – they produced a product in 2009 that was all based on natural products.  Now, that came into a market where the other competing brands were holding 1 per cent and 3 per cent of the market respectively, and they grew that market exponentially in terms of the share they took for this product when they launched it.

    And to that point, they don’t have any certification around this product because there’s no standard, and there probably is an issue around labelling and what should be put on it.

    They’ve defined it as, is 99 per cent natural, it’s not made from petroleum-based products, but organic products.  It has grown the market.  The campaign they used … was an environmental piece around a technique of reverse graffiti and it was hugely successful.

    [A recent study has found that in four years the number of green products in the US has grown by 73 per cent)

    Similarly, we had a groundswell of support when we gave away free energy-saving globes with Bunnings.  And that allowed Bunnings to leverage the campaign and showcase how they are helping the planet and the environment in a fairly significant way.

    Ownerless products
    There’s a bunch of other ideas out there that are innovations, I guess, that I think will emerge and become mainstream over time.  The idea of ownerless products – BrightFarms in the States, their model is based on funding market gardens on the rooftops of supermarkets, and they’re building the first one by 2012, fully funded.  The product then walks downstairs, it’s on sale in that supermarket.  They’ve got 10 chains in the US signed to this.  Now it’s not big in terms of the range of that store, but it’s a start.  And it moves us away from this model in terms of how we currently grow and transport, and everything.

    Bicycles, the return of the dynamo, which used to power your light on your bike – this bike’s just been developed; it has a USB hub to power your phone or whatever else, and it’s driven off the power you generate.  In Holland, this company here, Cargo Hopper, distribute products across the city – because they have a block-out on traffic in certain cities in Holland – and they do that with a solar-powered van that reduces emissions, or the number of kilometres, by 100,000 van kilometres per year by doing that.  And it’s a significant saving in terms of carbon dioxide.

    Garage sales and recycling
    The idea that products can be reused in a very smart way is impactful, and you’ll hear from Matt Perry today, in terms of the garage sale.  This product – and take the time to ask Matt a question about this – but this event and this whole thing has absolute momentum.  It started in one area two years ago, it’s up to 23 councils, and it’s going to take the world by storm, and it’s got fantastic values at its core.

    Campaign pitfalls
    There are campaign pitfalls, and it’s all about lack of proof, irrelevant claims, being vague about those claims, false endorsement, and trading one thing as green when [it’s] not.  And really, we’ve seen examples of companies being caught on that, and Saab have been an obvious example from a few years ago when they proposed that for each car we sold, 17 trees made the car carbon neutral.

    But if you’re true to your game, and you approach it in the right way, stick to the facts, get out ahead and tell a good story, be authentic and honest, don’t gloat about your achievements, but show humility through the process, and embrace your critics, you’re going to go a long way to creating an effective campaign.

    That’s my point of view.  I think there’s a lot of work to be done, from corporations at all levels.  I think companies are recognising it and making a step in the right direction, including our own.

    Tony Douglas:

    What went wrong with the climate change message?
    Thanks very much. I’ve come to talk today about the issue of climate change, because nearly everybody I speak to across the green movement, people interested in sustainability generally, really are questioning what went wrong with this. Even though we have a carbon tax in, it’s very unpopular and in fact it could well be the issue that determines government at the next election.  So I just wanted to give people an analysis of what we think went wrong, because out of communications campaigns that don’t work, you can probably learn a bit.

    The problem we’ve noticed in researching this issue over the last four or five years is that never at any stage have we had enough people who actually agree about what the problem is, how difficult the problem is.  Those are the numbers going back three or four years.

    We’ve never had more than 53 per cent of people in Australia actually accepting that climate change was caused by human activity.  If you haven’t got enough people agreeing on the problem, you’re never going to get them to buy your solution.   And this, I guess, particularly for non-government organisations who campaign on climate change, and for people in government, there needed to be a role probably played by the NGOs that, rather than start to talk about the solutions or try and shape the solutions that government were talking about, needed to keep talking about the problem, to make sure that more than 50 per cent of people thought there was a problem that we could solve out there.

    The issue here is that once the election was held in 2007, when Kevin Rudd was elected – and this issue was one of the reasons he was elected – we never had, even at the hub, more than 54 per cent of people actually thinking that climate change was a man-made problem.  And that dropped by about 10 points the moment the fossil industries got involved and started muddying the waters on this issue, and it dropped down to 45 points.  So that has been the basic problem all along: we just haven’t got enough people signed up to the way we see the problem.

    And of course, most people reject the solution, particularly if the solution is a tax, particularly if the solution appears to be something that is going to cost them money.

    Which brings us to the core of the communications issue that we need to confront on this.  Just giving people facts is not going to change people’s minds.  We needed to create a narrative, and for us the narrative structure is: What is the problem? What is the solution to that problem?  Who’s going to benefit?  And how are they going to benefit?  Because if we can’t tell a story about what the benefits or costs are in this for you, how you are going to benefit from the solution, or how you are going to suffer from not dealing with the problem, you can’t personalise this issue in a way that people are going to relate to what you’re talking about.

    You need a good narrative
    The more we put up scientists to talk about it, the more removed the general public were from this issue. The more we talked about what was going to happen with the Greenland ice shelf in 2040, the more removed people became from the issue that we were talking about.  So the campaign did not have an effective narrative structure to actually convince people to change. So messages by themselves don’t change people’s views.  Facts certainly don’t by themselves change people’s views.  But a properly organised narrative structure will begin to tell a story to people that they can relate to.

    In this debate, of course, once people realise that it might cost them more for their electricity, they all believed generally they would be worse off.  And once you’ve got things like that, then everybody earning under $60,000 a year in this country is going to think, this is going to cost me more money than I actually can afford.

    Where’s the story about benefits?
    We have had a debate about climate change in this country for the last two or three years that has been totally about the costs to the public, nothing about any of the benefits.  So we’ve had – ever since Tony Abbott’s been the Opposition leader – a relentless debate about costs and nothing about benefit.  And he succeeded brilliantly in keeping the focus there, and the green movement, the government and everybody else have failed miserably, to actually provide an alternative view,  or to begin to talk about the benefits in any meaningful way to people.

    However, there are some messages that can change this if you can stick with them and get them through.  But the current government has really not been able to stick at a message for more than a couple of days before getting dragged back into Tony Abbott’s views of these issues.

    So when you put up an argument that talks about who is going to be taxed, and that you are going to get compensation, you get a 10-point jump, and that jump’s almost entirely amongst Labor voters or people with Labor Party identification.  So we didn’t talk about the compensation enough; we could’ve changed what people thought about the carbon tax, probably still can, amongst a particular group of voters, and they’re the ones who earn under $60,000 a year and they are hard put to make ends meet on a weekly basis.  So that’s one thing that could’ve been said by the government to actually change people’s view on this issue.

    A whole debate really around this needs to be reframed away from the idea that everything you do about the environment is going to cost jobs or cost money.  This is a basic question we put in our research to see where people sit in actually framing environment away from being the wedge issue it has been in our community for 20 years – to talk about the environment and the economy together.

    A strong economy depends on maintaining a healthy environment.  That’s the kind of message that now needs to be the frame of the message for everything we say about the environment to avoid wedge politics being claimed with groups of people earning under $60,000 or groups of people in industries that, you know, use natural resources.

    So how do you make people accept the problem and the solution?  You’ve got to define the problem in terms of a desired outcome that you have. If you define the problem, you get to define the solution. Ensure that the solution will benefit people like the people you’re communicating with, so you’re communicating with a particular group of people.  There are various groups of people in the community you need to communicate with.

    Don’t talk to the converted
    In the environmental movement, a lot of people communicate like they’re talking about people like themselves, but they’re generally already convinced.  You actually need to talk to people who are not like yourself.  You need to find that 65 per cent of people or groups in that 65 per cent who think that a strong economy is dependent on a healthy environment and start talking to them to convince them of your issue.  And you’ve got to show how and why change will actually benefit people.

    Too much is talked about just the environment in these debates, rather than what the benefits are of protecting the environment for you.

    And for this campaign, you’ve [had] so much locked into the government agenda of trying to sell a carbon tax.  There’s been no big picture plan out there that talks about what the future should look like, and what are all the things that we can do to actually solve the problem of climate change.  And the other failure in this has been to fail to identify who the enemy is, and to fail to convince people that there are a small self-interested few that work on their own interests and not for your interests. What’s happened is that it’s broken virtually every rule in communicating public issues to people.

    If [the message is] seen as part of an overall plan, and a vision of the future which has got people in it, and prospering in it, and it seems to be good for the country, you’re far more likely to be able to connect with more people by having something that’s big picture.  So we’ve tested this and the individual things rate well or not so well according to where people sit, but the overall picture rates better collectively than any of the individual ideas in that campaign.  But nobody has campaigned to say we need to do all these things to solve the problem.

    If we’ve talked about climate change as the biggest challenge and a really big problem and we’re trying to tell people a tax will solve it, most people don’t actually believe that.  They believe something more like that.  And yet, nobody has had that big picture campaign out there that have constantly put pressure on government in a number of ways and created debates on this issue that engage Australians.

    Who is sending the message?
    In the messaging there’s also something pretty important about who says what.  When we worked for the CSIRO for a while, we found that when that brand name was out there talking about sea level rises, and what had already happened in terms of sea level rises round the Australian continent, that was absolutely believed by 90 per cent of the people.

    The fact that those sea level rises had already occurred over the last 15 or 20 years alarmed people; the fact that the CSIRO was saying it was proof enough that it was happening.  Once that fact was put in front of people, it meant a whole lot of things to people.  For example It meant beach culture dies in this country in 20 or 30 years because if the sea level keeps rising, our beaches will be flooded.

    But talking about what’s happened with the Arctic ice shelf, or talking about what’s happening in Greenland had no impact on Australians at all, and it was something in the future, and people are very wary of predictions that happen 20 years in the future.  But talking about something that had actually happened in Australia and was happening now, and could be proven was much more powerful.  The Bureau of Meteorology talking about actual temperature increases in Australia in the last 50 years was very powerful, a very trusted sort of brand talking about something that had actually happened, was happening here to us.  .

    The mining campaign success
    There was one campaign that the Miners Union ran with us in 2007.  Interestingly enough, Australia’s got the only coal mining industry union in the world that actually supports real action on climate change.  And they wanted to campaign in the seats where their members were,  in North Queensland seats, and the Hunter Valley.  The Hunter Valley seats were not worth spending a lot of money on because they were all Labor seats anyway, but seats like Leichhardt, Dawson, Flynn and Hinkler along coastal Queensland have a lot of Miners Union members in it.

    They wanted to run a campaign against the Howard Government’s lack of action on climate change.  And we went up and talked to people in those electorates and talked to them about climate change, and saw that there was a National Party scare campaign already in the mix, about this is going to cost jobs.  But when we asked questions about, well, what’s going to happen to your industry and your job over the next 10 or 20 years if these claims on climate change are true, people paused and thought about that, and thought that that might be a problem for them.  So this ad was made on the basis of that research and what people told us in that research, and this is what it was.


    You know global warming is putting our jobs and industries at risk.

    If we don’t act, we could lose a $6 billion tourism industry.

    It could mean the end of a $9 billion farm industry.

    All of our jobs could be gone if the coal industry isn’t cleaned up.  John Howard refused to sign Kyoto …

    And he won’t even set targets for reducing greenhouse emissions.

    We need a government that will take climate change seriously.

    Authorised Mining and Energy Union, Sydney.

    Tony Douglas:

    They’ve spent about $700,000 placing that ad in those four seats.  And those seats swung 15 per cent, Leichhardt, and Howard lost the seat.  Dawson swung nearly 13 per cent and they lost that.  Flynn swung 10 per cent and they lost that, and Hinkler swung 9 per cent and they held onto that by about 1 per cent.  And the member for Dawson, De-Anne Kelly, when asked why she’d lost, said “because the Miners Union told their members and public to vote against us”.

    The point being here, this is not exactly café latte central, coastal Queensland. It’s actually people are more suspicious of messages about the environment than anybody else. But if you make the message relevant to them, their lives, the industries they work in – and they are the three big industries in that area, the pastoral industry, the mining industry and the tourism industry – if you make what’s going to happen relevant to them, then they will listen to the message that you’re delivering.  And I guess if you can convince people in coastal Queensland of this issue, you can probably convince most people in the country that there’s a problem with climate change.

    Skye Laris:

    On government communications
    I don’t want to overlap too much with what Tony’s said, but I certainly share some of those concerns that he’s raised.  I want to start actually on a bit of a higher note, when we go through which government communications work and which ones don’t work.


    We need to think through energy beyond just this year, or even the next decade.

    For a long time, coal will remain a significant proportion of our generation, but we should have a much higher proportion of renewables to reduce the impact of that fossil fuel.

    Letting winds give us power must be an option.

    The idea of thinking about this alternative energy is well and truly passed.

    Other countries around the world are doing it, because it’s building a huge industry on the back of it.  And those jobs should and could just as well be here.

    We’re seeing the amount of money that Germany is throwing towards research and development of solar power.  And they’ve got stuff-all sun.

    There’s so much potential there to really become one of the world’s leaders in this technology.

    And the transformation that we are about to undergo is a similar transformation to the industrial revolution.

    Authorised by the Australian Government, Canberra.

    Skye Laris:

    So, before I start trashing government communications, I think that’s actually a very fine example of what should have been happening all along. You’ve got in there the CSIRO, you’ve got that expert opinion, you’ve got a very hopeful view about what can happen.  And you’ve also got your regular Joe Blow types that, you know, “they’ve got stuff-all sun.”  It’s gold.  So I think you know at long last, and I’ve been watching these sort of communications – and many of you have as well – for many, many years, and being extremely frustrated by that temptation to go into too much detail, to misunderstand your audience.

    Details are a turnoff
    So, what goes wrong when we try to explain it in too much detail, people lose interest.  It’s simply not interesting because it’s not relevant to their lives at that time.  We often target the wrong audience, and by that I mean we imagine because we like an ad that our audience will.  So imagine if you were watching that ad and you were a mum in Kellyville with a couple of kids, 1.5 incomes, and you’re thinking probably “I don’t really know, but a lot of people seem to be bagging out this carbon tax, it can’t be a good thing”.  I think when you’re watching that, you’d think well, maybe it’s all right, probably not still completely persuaded; there’s more work to be done.  But the temptation to speak to ourselves is something that has to be avoided, because it doesn’t work.

    Wrong methods.  I mean, I’m glad to see that the brochure has almost died, but it’s still something people love to produce, it’s evidence of what they’ve done.  Doesn’t do much more than that.  When you consider literacy levels through the country, or even time – I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have time to read it – that booklet that was sent around to every household on what this means – Household compensation: what this means for every household – didn’t have time to read it.

    Also didn’t like it because … it told me I was going to get compensated so obviously something bad was going to happen, otherwise I wouldn’t need compensation.  And it didn’t tell me why. It didn’t talk about renewables investment, it didn’t talk about what was going on.  So I thought that was a complete flop, and an expensive one.

    Another thing that government tends to get wrong a lot is timing.  And being bureaucratic in its nature it often cannot roll out good communications in a timely manner.  And there’s more recently been some further restrictions put on that through advertising guidelines.  So in an effort to make sure that everybody knew the government was terribly accountable and wouldn’t use government funds for campaigning purposes, further restrictions have been put on advertising, which makes it virtually impossible to respond in a timely manner through advertising.

    We frequently overestimate people’s interest and knowledge; we frequently underestimate their commonsense.  And by that I mean, people do know when they’re being conned, and I think because things are complicated, sometimes we skip over, we try to make the message simpler and there’s a transaction there, a delicate balancing act which we have to watch.  Because sometimes in making something simpler, we offer an argument that is not compelling and not believable.  And people see through that.  Again, timing, I think is extremely important.

    That tendency to preach never works.  And that’s very much linked to that issue of whether or not you’ve got communication that builds – whether it’s bottom-up or top-down.  Now, advertising in its nature is top-down.  So what sort of efforts can we go to reach into communities and have a more genuine community engagement.  Because if you’re looking for behavioural change, and to a lesser extent opinion change, then you need to be in at that community level.

    And the last point I’d make is that the doomsday and guilt message is actually ineffective.  An example of that is a great deal of research that’s been done on farmers’ opinions of climate change.  And this is a section of the community that tends to say that climate change isn’t happening, and that it’s cyclical, and look, it’s rained again recently, so everything’s okay.  When you look at what a cyclical process is for people through that, you’re telling farmers that not only their income but their very identity is under threat.  And it’s not surprising that people respond by rejecting that idea.

    Farmers get it
    It’s interesting to see what happens for people when you go straight to adaptation for farmers.  We talk to them about adaptation and risk management, and managing their businesses, and they seem to make that step with a great deal more willingness.  And having done that, and feeling a little bit safer in what the future holds for them, they’ve been able to look at what really is happening in climate change, and are more prepared to accept it.  So I really think that the doomsday/guilt message actually, for people who don’t feel they  can do anything about it, simply switches them off, and I think that fails as a message. So have a look at this one.


    Scientists warn Australia will be hit hard by climate change, with temperatures rising, water more scarce, and economists wanting to protect our economy.  We must act now.  We’re developing a carbon pollution reduction scheme to tackle climate change, putting a limit on carbon pollution and encouraging cleaner energy solutions.  Think climate, think change.  We can’t afford not to.  Find out more.  Have your say at climatechange.gov.au.  Authorised by the Australian Government.

    Skye Laris:

    Now, clearly there were political reasons rather than marketing reasons why the CPRS failed.  But I don’t think the CPRS was going to be helped by that.  I’m feeling a little stressed even with the rapid changing of those images.

    The thing that I think is a huge opportunity in government communications, and is not utilised all that well, is ministers.  Ministers get more free media than anyone.  And they coordinate the message; there’s, you know, the notorious government lines, so everyone’s saying the same sort of thing, so that you’ve got that echo effect.  The catch being that it also doesn’t sound genuine.  You might want to communicate a lot of themes without necessarily communicating precisely the same lines, but that’s a matter of recruiting people who are good at performing like that.  And there are certainly a bunch of them, but not all of them.

    The other thing of course is that those messages are tested.  And there’s a question about how you use testing of messages, clearly.  Do you use it to work out what people want to hear?  And that feedback certainly comes back, and you can just cycle through: well, people don’t really like to hear about climate change impact, so we’ll just talk about the nice stuff, whatever it is.

    Or do you use it to work out what the gaps are between how you’re communicating currently and what needs to be said to be able to lead a community to that next step, without getting too far in front, because when you do that, in Paul Keating’s words: “They’re waiting for you with a baseball bat”.

    So I think there’s still a gap, and it’s probably ultimately a question of whether political leaders are leaders, or how much they play into that game of wanting to win the polls.  And neither of them is doing terribly well, so I think there’s a role for focus group testing and polling, but I’m not sure that we’re quite using that in the most effective way that we can yet.

    Stop wasting time
    [Another]  opportunity is backbench communication.  When I talk about localising media, here’s a huge opportunity.  They have an allowance to direct-mail their entire electorate; they have an allowance for four newsletters a year; they can by-pass – I’m sorry, Andrew – by-pass News Limited, which increasingly on this issue is necessary; stop wasting our time with people who are not interested in communicating anything but a negative message; reach directly to the community.  And there is an opportunity there in that, and it is more important and more powerful than ever, and it’s usually wasted.

    The other really important thing is linking up communications.  So no one believes politicians, and what they really, really need are third parties to step in when they’re saying something that makes sense, and endorse it.

    Now a lot of NGOs I’ve heard say, look, that’s too political; we won’t get involved.  Well, it’s a political debate, and if you don’t get involved, we lose it.  So, no-one’s going to believe politicians and that’s the nature of our community.  Everybody accepts that.  So when, as business people, and as NGOs, as activists, we criticise government communications, we also need to be mindful about the role that we can play in making the messages that they do get right resonate in the community and be much more believable.  So I think that’s an important role going forward in terms of winning this debate.

    I won’t go through that, because I think I’m repeating the parts.  But just to wrap it up: localise, use social media, by-pass media that isn’t working, invite people to have conversations.  So when I talk about use social media, or localise communication, invite people to be talking with each other, because that’s how we’re going to reach people and broaden that discussion more so than through some of the other methods of communication.  So thank you.

    John Collee

    John Collee:

    Man the barricades
    I think people need to be sort of frightened as well as be offered a solution.  And if you don’t realise that the enemy is at the gate, then are you actually going to man the barricades?  And I think we have got to that point.  This is probably exactly the wrong message for people who are more interested in marketing and so forth, but in terms of saving the planet we’re absolutely backs against the wall now.  And there needs to be a space for that urgency to be conveyed.

    Chair, Simon Marnie:

    We need a ratbag
    I’ll come to Bernard in a minute, but Matt, do we need a ratbag at the gates?  Is that what you would like to see?

    Matt Perry:

    I think that the challenge that the space has is that… it lacks a central message.  It’s such a complicated and convoluted story that I think often there’s a temptation for, whether it be government or NGOs, or even brands and companies, to feel that they need to tell every aspect of this story.

    And in fact, actually, the way that communication works is keeping it simple.  You know, we’ve heard it a million times before but it’s amazing how often things are over-complicated.  And often for the wrong reasons.

    They’re complicated, or made complicated, because somebody’s got an agenda, somebody on the board thinks this, the research says that, and suddenly you end up with this sort of very short passage of time, this short moment of time that people may dedicate a nanosecond to, to deliver 58 messages that apparently need to be delivered in order for anybody to understand the real issues.

    And I think that that’s probably essentially – I think, getting onto the ratbag question, I think what we saw with using Cate Blanchett in the “Say Yes” work was – she didn’t appeal to everybody, and certainly, it must be said, generated a major debate.  What she did do was cut through, she made it simple, it was a black and white thing.  You either agreed with what she was saying or you didn’t agree with what she was saying.  I think that seems to be to me what’s missing.

    Simon Marnie:

    But she’s not a ratbag.

    Matt Perry:

    No, she’s certainly not a ratbag.  No. I mean, maybe she needed to be a bit more ratbag-like to appeal to some of the audiences it was trying to get to.  But what I’m saying is, a ratbag, or somebody who’s got a profile has that ability to cut through in a way that 15 different messages said by 15 different people kind of lacks something.

    Simon Marnie:

    Bernard, whilst new media and the websites that you post that are topic-based have been very successful, some of your best campaigns have actually been outside of new media, or even existing media.  And I’m thinking about getting kids into libraries, and the like.  How do you approach a message?

    Bernard Carlon:

    Well, I think this particular focus on climate change is the core for the communications issue that everyone’s grappling with right now, but for 30 years sustainability messages, sustainability programming, sustainability communications have been going on, growing as a discipline.  And I think that, as Skye pointed out, we need really robust integrated solutions to public policy changes.  So in this instance, you know, it doesn’t have to be boring either.

    The litter campaign’s “Don’t be a tosser” which was a bit edgy, actually has very good cut-through, but was invisible to a lot of people.  We trained 800 enforcement officers around local councils; we updated the laws at the time; we did a whole lot of … of infrastructure for litter prevention; we did partnerships with Keep Australia Beautiful and Clean Up Australia.  So all that integrated approach as a bottom-up, top-down for tackling issues like this I think is critical.

    And then you can do, within that, interesting things like on our Black Balloons campaign. We do have kids that are actually in libraries right across the state, which enabled people to actually borrow them out, and come home, and do their own assessment of all their own energy use, and then have an action plan themselves.

    I think one of the issues I heard a little bit in the presentations is about authenticity, that the message actually has to have some reality in it for people.  The product or the service that underpins it actually has to deliver on, in advertising speak, the value proposition.  If we’re not actually delivering the services, helping people understand, improving people’s knowledge, their skills, working on their attitudes, and supporting their behaviours through an integrated approach, then just sending out messages isn’t, or doesn’t seem to be working in some contexts.

    John Collee:

    Well, I’m agreeing with that, but I also was very taken with the notion that we have to really break this down into telling people how it’s going to affect them, the simplicity of that message.  And it’s absolutely true that we’ve been – certainly at 350.org – trying to kind of explain the science, and I do believe that’s probably the wrong approach, certainly endorsed by most of the speakers this morning.

    Always back the horse called Self Interest
    But if you’re speaking to Australians about how it’s going to affect them, Paul Keating said “Always back the horse called Self Interest”.  And I think that sounds right.  Speak to surfers at the beach, they’re going to go; tell golfers at the golf course they’re going to go; tell fishermen that the fish are going to go; tell miners that the mines are going to go.  All these things will happen, it’s almost written on the wall.  But we, as a human species, anything more than ten years ahead, we’re not really interested in looking at.

    I think those personal messages, speaking to the people, to the other 48 per cent that you don’t get it, absolutely we need to get personal about it and get specific about it.

    Simon Marnie:

    Matt, bearing that in mind, how do you reflect on the success of your Gruen Transfer ad which was not actually a placed ad, it was almost an inadvertent success – and I don’t downplay it by saying that.  How do you reflect upon how that took a foothold?

    Matt Perry

    Matt Perry:

    I think that particular example was a lot of luck.  You know, it was a TV show that more Australians watch than any other TV show.  It was during an election time, and dare I say, I hope there’s no Greens in the room, but the Greens advertising wasn’t particularly very good at that time.

    And none of the political advertising was particularly good at that time because it lacked the one thing that we’re all talking about here, which is it lacked a vision, it lacked emotion, it lacked self-interest – you know, why should I care?

    It just seemed like wallpaper.  And I think that what we identified in the Greens was that they had – people perceived them to be this, you know, entity that no sane, normal human being would possibly be able to vote for.  But actually we looked at their policy document, which was like a brick – actually, Ben, my partner, who’s the creative guy who wrote the idea, was sitting at a café, and the Avant Card stand was there, after we got the brief from the Gruen show.  And it must’ve been in the gods, because they were right there in front of him.

    On the Avant Card stand was a book from the Greens about their policies.  So everything else was a postcard with this simple message on it.  There was this 115-page manifesto.  So we took that, and went, Well, actually if you take five key points out that people care about, and the five or six that were in the ad that you may remember, and then translate them from something that is really rational and serious and actually quite worrying, and turn it into something that mainstream Australia can resonate with and understand – and realise that boat people are real people; and everybody should have dental care; and all this kind of stuff – and it just struck a chord, I think.  All the feedback we got online just said, you explained it in a way that I didn’t understand before.  And it wasn’t really that complicated.

    Simon Marnie:

    So it wasn’t really a lot of luck, is what you’re saying?  I do want to open the questions up now.  If you would like to join in the conversation, please do so.  Put your hand in the air, or also I will be passing my eyes around the room, so grab my eye and I’ll try and get to you.

    We saw there that Tony Douglas was saying that we made a mistake of talking about the solutions first and not actually outlining climate change.  Do you, as a panel, agree with that?  And who would like to take that first? Did we get caught up in the solution without outlining the problem?

    John Collee:

    I think that really we need a couple more talk fests like this because there has been a huge diffusion of the message.  There’s my organisation, there’s GetUp, there’s a bunch of other organisations out there, plus the government, and the governments of other countries, and organisations of other countries, and the scientists, all trying to sell the message in different ways.  And one of the things that you finally get some kind of clarity on after beating your head against the wall for years on this, is that there is one message:

    The environment is the economy.
    And I think that came up in a couple of presentations now, and you can break that down into everybody’s environment and their money – every golfer, every fisher, whatever, whatever – whatever they do, the environment is the economy is the thing we’re trying to sell.  And weirdly in Australia there’s such a focus – there’s a daily tide of information about money; every Joe Bloggs is telling you about share prices and the global financial crisis, and this and that – very few people are saying, Actually, you know, rather than having a roundup of share prices at the end of the nightly news, we should have a roundup of the environmental facts in the world:

    What are our fish stocks doing?  What are the carbon dioxide evels doing?  What’s the acidity of the oceans doing?  What are the coral reefs doing?  These things are actually far more important to most average Australians than the price of bloody BHP.  And if we could focus that as a green community on that simple message, that the environment is the economy, and then kind of use that as a sort of banner headline on everything we do, then we’d probably be making more progress.

    Simon Marnie:

    The question that then comes out of that is, if the environment is the economy, sustainability becomes a brand, then awareness becomes a product, and therefore it goes with none of the restraint that we see.  And thus green wash or green marketing can sometimes obscure the truth.  Matt?

    Matt Perry:

    Yes, I think it comes back to authenticity and honestly.  With what we saw earlier on with Andrew’s examples, particularly the Häagen-Dazs case study, you could easily look at that and be quite cynical and go, it’s just a brand trying to jump on the bandwagon and sell its ice cream essentially.  Which of course it is, it’s a business trying to sell ice cream.  But actually when you look to the depth and the authenticity and the support and the credibility that it had through the people that it brought around there, I think you realise that if you do these things really well – and I guess you don’t get dragged up in front of the US Senate Committee unless they think it’s important – then you avoid green wash.

    I think most brands at least have realised that by simply putting the green logo or colouring their logo green or whatever, to try and jump on the bandwagon is a pointless exercise and in fact actually just damages the brand.  A lot of people talk about green wash being a good thing, in the sense that it’s the first rung on the ladder; at least they’re thinking about it; once they get attacked for doing the wrong thing, then they realise what the right thing is.  And I think we’re quite sophisticated in this space now, and you don’t actually need to make those mistakes any more.

    Simon Marnie:

    From the floor, and please introduce yourself to the room, everybody, before you ask a question.

    Monica Richter

    Question from Monica Richter of the Australian Conservation Foundation:

    Within the environment movement at the moment, we’re starting to look at issues beyond climate change, and some of the issues that you were talking about, John Colley, and the fact that we’re recognising that we are in an emergency scenario.  And of  course there are people within the environment movement saying we can’t use the term “emergency”.  And we’re also recognising that incrementalism in policy gains aren’t going to solve the problems that we’re facing at the moment, that we actually need to be looking at transformational change.

    So within this context of how we try and communicate to an audience who are people who may not necessarily understand that we’re in this phase in our human/global culture and in planetary place, that we’ve got 7 billion people, resource constraints, it’s very wasteful, all of the issues that we’re facing. What recommendations do you have for us within the environment movement of how we might best communicate these kind of challenges?  And as well, not just the challenges but the solutions; how do we actually frame this?

    John Collee:

    I would say two things which have come out from this morning which I think are very instructive:  One is focus on the individuals and what they’re getting at, so speak to individuals within the community, individual groups: the fishermen, the golfers, etc.

    But also, I think we need as environmental groups, a unified banner message along the lines of “The environment is the economy”, or something.  There’s probably a better way of expressing that.  But certainly we need both a kind of unifying message that we’re all clearly singing from the same sheet, and that we’re definite. Rather than speaking in vague scientific terms, speak in specific terms about how this problem is serving to impact everything that all Australians do in their own field.

    Bernard Carlon:

    I think Monica is absolutely right that there needs to be a new way of thinking around how do you get society to act or to actually engage.  One of the positive things that I’ve noticed over the last five years is the level of engagement of corporates in Australia in this issue and their willingness to change their way of operating their businesses outside of the norm, you know, create different sorts of businesses, different sorts of products and services around a sustainability agenda.

    And I do think that the rise of GetUp and a whole range of other more community-engaged social drivers, rather than the traditional democratic systems that actually operate very slowly in a public policy perspective, and are naturally conservative in the way we actually do change, that those institutions will need take a really strong role out in our communities, in our businesses, the people who actually do control the way in which society works.

    And so it’s not about, let’s educate the kids so that in 20, 30 years’ time things are going to change.  We actually need to get those leading institutions now to actually engage in a different way of doing business.

    John Collee:

    I think we also need to – I like the phrase in one of the presentations – we need to identify the enemy.  One thing we’ve not discussed yet is the fact that there is a massive lobby acting against change, including Andrew’s The Australian newspaper, which as you say, they have editorial independence, but they are running an incredibly effective spoiling game, and they’re very rarely called on it.  You know, we’re actually taking {one of the newspapers}  to court – to the Press Complaints Committee – for their deliberate misinformation on sea level rises.  But I think we probably need to be more confrontational with the people who are actually telling a campaign of lies.  You know, this is not just {this newspaper) it’s the whole oil and coal fossil fuel industry.  But there has been a deliberate, well-documented campaign of misinformation that I think it’s our duty now as environmentalists, to actually attack that head on and call it for what it is.

    Question from Cameron Love of Energetics:

    I come to this as a parent, and I was interested to hear that it’s not about educating the kids.  But I think it is.  I think there’s a simplified message that you can deliver to children, or can be delivered by children, that may have some cut-through. You were talking about The Gruen Transfer, there was a very clever ad on last night about gambling, that was delivered by a 10 year old boy, and it was extremely effective.  And I’m just wondering – because essentially the future that we’re worried about is our children’s future, and their children’s future – I wonder if there’s a unifying message that can be created to the children, or by the children, that can create the table conversations at home with the parents about issues that resonate with them as parents, in every industry, whether or not there’s a simple message in there.

    Bernard Carlon:

    I do think we invest a huge amount in working with the Department of Education, Catholic schools,  in sustainable schools, in getting integrated into our curriculum relevant programs for doing exactly what you’re saying.  And they’re having an impact, and yes, there are table conversations going on because of those changes that happened over the last decade in the way in which environmental education, sustainability education has developed through the education system, and I think that’s fantastic and has its role.

    Transforming our society in the time frame that’s necessary for sustainability is a shorter time-frame than that.  We have to transform our institutions, the way in which our businesses, government and other institutions work.  Young people have a role in that, and there’s some fantastic ones – Young People Climate Action Network – which are very positive in this role as both with politicians and with business.  So I think we do have to work in all areas of our society. But the big game changer for transforming our relationship to this particular issue has to happen much more quickly than that.

    Cameron Love:

    Then maybe concentrate on the children of effective communicators.  Let’s take Tony Abbott’s children and target them.

    John Collee:

    You know from your experience that your children bring ideas home from school that you may disagree with, but they’re incredibly good at persuading you otherwise.  And I think they’re a fantastically good of bunch of fifth columnists, and we should use them as that.  I was chastened by, watching a BBC program on the history of science, which said that every big scientific idea takes a generation to change.  And no matter how patently true, it will always take a generation.  The old stalwarts who clung to the idea that the earth is flat have to die before people who know the earth is round grow up and take over.  And what Bernard says is absolutely right.  Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of time with this problem, that the grownups are going to have to sort it out.  And we are the grownups, which is a shocking but true realisation.

    Question from Anthony Hobley:

    Two very quick questions: one, why do we let those who oppose this set the agenda?  I mean, everyone here talks about a carbon tax, but it’s not a carbon tax.  You know, and nobody has corrected that, so we’re fighting on ground they set; and secondly, I’ve been very involved in Businesses for a Clean Economy, which is an umbrella group actually getting 330-plus companies out there, saying we want a price on carbon, it’s good for the economy, etc. And there’s many more with their heads below the parapet because of the political debate.  And it’s very different to my experience in the UK and Europe, where businesses have been very active in this debate.

    So why is it so difficult to get the message out that there is actually a lot of businesses that support this, and it’s not all business opposes it, when actually probably 50/50 at worse?  And why are so many businesses here so much more reticent to be involved in the debate around climate change than in Europe, even in the US where many have been very active?

    Simon Marnie:

    Let’s run through the panel first of all.  Bernard, do you want to grab the two questions?

    Bernard Carlon:

    Look, I think that there was a period of time where senior businesses leaders in our nation actually were more proactive in this area about eight or 10 years ago, taking a very strong leadership role.  That does seem to have fragmented a little.  And I think businesses have been focusing inward on their own business operations about how they are actually going to transform their business model within their business with– over the last few years – very tough economic circumstances.  But I can see that there are core sustainability principles in many of those businesses in the way they’re doing that work, but yes, there’s been a failure I think in the political advocacy in the public domain.

    My answer to that is that this is trench warfare that we’re fighting.  The Opposition had their fantastically successful strategy of defending one position then moving back a yard, defending the next position, moving back a yard, defending the next position.

    This is what they’ve done basically for the last 20 years, first of all denying that it exists, denying that it’s a human problem, denying that it’s serious, pretending that actually, you know, some technological fix will happen.  So they move back incrementally.  We on the other side, anyone who sticks their head above the parapet gets shot, you know.

    And you look at the Cate Blanchett experience, for instance, and you see that anybody who stands up as an apologist for this cause immediately becomes a target.  And the people who suffer worst from that of course are the scientists who get, literally, sackfuls of hate mail.  So of course, are you going to be discouraged if you’re a captain of industry or a corporate leader from putting your head up?  The only way to win a trench war I believe is for everyone to charge together.  We actually have to have a unifying theme, and we need to all pop our heads up together.

    Simon Marnie:

    Hopefully led by a ratbag.

    Download presentations and videos:

    Andrew McNally, presentation part 1 and part 2

    Tony Douglas, Director, Essential Media Communications – presenter in Sydney & Melbourne

    Skye Laris

    Blair Palese

    Left to right: Bernard Carlon, John Collee, Matt Perry

    Following are 10 key messages from the event, compiled by Murray Hogarth, a Green Capital senior adviser.

    1 Build towards an enduring narrative. ?Achieving sustainability, and especially the transition to a sustainable economy, needs a meta-narrative that brings socio-economic and environmental wellbeing together as one story that engages people as a “universal truth”. This is the holy grail of communications, reflecting cultural acceptance, and most likely will only emerge as the product of a series of more specific narrative building blocks. Tony Douglas, from Essential Media Communications, suggested the right narrative for the current era is: A strong economy is dependent on a healthy environment.

    2. The “story-telling” is everything. Having the right story or narrative is vital, but how it is told trumps all. To paraphrase Andrew McNally, of NewsNet: “You have to be there telling a story … it’s no good just putting up an ad”. Film screenwriter John Collee, of 350Australia, used the analogy of a screenplay in three parts – the problem, the complications and the resolution. There is much discussion of different media channels, for example traditional PR-driven media coverage and advertising versus new social media, but in the end there are many channels in play to tell a story and reach an audience. Whatever ones are used, it’s the power and integrity of the storyline that will decide if people tune in and respond appropriately i.e. act in the way the communication is intended to achieve, whether that is buy, vote, or change behaviour.

    3. Authenticity is a killer app. There actually isn’t an easy plug-in app for building a story that is authentic for your organisation to tell. And while the ingredients are simple to list, they can be hard to put into effect. Ideally you need a genuine public interest issue that is relevant to your organisation, brand, program or product and to which you can respond in a meaningful way. An example cited at MMGM was a hugely successful campaign in the US by natural ingredients ice cream maker Haagen Dazs to help save the world’s honeybees (https://www.helpthehoneybees.com/). NewsNet’s Andrew McNally says you need ‘values’ at the core, and warned: ‘You will be found out if you are telling half truths or lies.’

    4. New social media is a game-changer. Get Up’s communications director Skye Laris is glad to see “the brochure has almost died’”as the Internet provides such an effective alternative platform to deliver information for influencing from the bottom up (“top down never works for behaviour change”). Nadya Krienke-Becker, of The Shaper Group, says social media and social networks have given us a “platform for dialogue” that transcends traditional media. To paraphrase her, “we are all food editors and travel writers now”. NewsNet’s Andrew McNally says that in this new operating environment, every organisation is a media business, with its own publishing assets to “get the story out”; and “share-ability” is vital, with marketers seeking to get exposure across millions of page impressions using diverse media platforms.

    5. Don’t write off traditional media just yet. High repetition delivery of marketing messages via traditional television, media and print advertising can still work very well if you get the story and the timing right. These tactics, however, are more suited to short-term objectives like winning an election or stopping a particular policy change (think the mining industry assault on the original super profits tax) than long-term behaviour change.

    6. People are “always on”. There is no downtime for media and marketing now, with the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet, pervasive social networks and screen-based mobile devices that travel with people wherever they go, whatever time of the day.

    7. Choose your battlegrounds & know that good outcomes have to be earned. Winning in the public arena is tough territory, especially when issues like putting a price on carbon pollution are deeply polarised at a political and public level. Many businesses have chosen to shy away from positioning themselves on public policy issues in favour of looking inwards to engage their own people and transform their own business models. They nonetheless are building their stories and, potentially, a platform to go public when the time is more suitable, because you can’t buy credibility on sustainability overnight nor conjure up values without effort. NewsNet’s Andrew McNally says: “It is no longer about the paid media. It’s about the earned media.”

    8. Shape your message to the audience, not vice versa.There’s a warning for any organisation wanting to tell its story and promote its product – whether that’s a consumable, a service, a policy, a campaign, or an idea.  Don’t get trapped into messaging that tells the audience what you want to hear (such as we have to “educate the population” to think like us). Effective marketing communications for sustainability needs to lay the breadcrumbs for the audience to discover and follow to where you want them to end up. Matt Perry, of Republic of Everyone, noted: ‘The key problem with government advertising is that there is so much focus on the politics … they forget human beings are quite simple creatures.”

    The result is that by trying to be politically clever, and cover all bases, such ads can miss the mark in terms of informing or persuading the population. That said, Tony Wright of December Media, makers of the ABC-TV Carbon Cops series, warned at MMGM that: “Science is such a tricky area to communicate.” This adds to the communication challenge, when rigorous fact checking is demanded, and scientific complexity defies being dumbed down. The answer is to treat both the content and the audience with respect.

    9. We’re actually good at achieving behaviour change. Most people can cite examples of behaviour change challenges that have been overcome by effective public policy strategies that include media and marketing communications. Examples include using sun protection, responding to HIV-Aids, wearing seat belts, stopping smoking and littering. The underlying message, however, is that successful campaigns are “deep” and extend far beyond the communications – which is merely the shop front.

    Bernard Carlon from the NSW Government’s Office of Environment and Heritage used the example of its campaign to reduce littering with cigarette butts. The visible part of the campaign was the memorable “Don’t be a tosser” copy line, yet the unseen work included deep engagement of local councils and training for 800+ enforcement officers.

    On climate change, Carlon conceded: “We just haven’t cracked it on this one yet.” PR specialist Blair Palese, of 350Australia, is ultimately optimistic: “We are good communicators in Australia, and we have a good story to tell.”

    10. All big change takes time and mistakes can be made. There’s no sign of a quick fix on sustainability and climate change – despite the urgency,. Nor have we yet achieved the necessary sense of  cut through – that was created, for example, by the memorable initial HIV-Aids ‘Grim Reaper’ TV ads.

    Matt Perry of Republic of Everyone says we are still looking for a “seminal moment” that will crystallise action on climate change. EMC’s Tony Douglas still holds out hope for government communications recovering from early inadequacies, finally winning over the public to climate action including a price on carbon: “It’s a communications failure that still has the chance to be righted.”

    Which brings us back to having a compelling, authentic story to tell and embedding the cultural belief and associated actions that recognise the environment is the economy.