It isn’t easy being green

Ann Camden, Senior VP of Gibbs and Soell

It’s never been easy being green.

From eco-shaped water bottles to those noisy biodegradable SunChips bags, more businesses are making sustainability a priority as consumers become increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment. That consumer knowledge then puts pressure on businesses to incorporate sustainability while remaining profitable and to integrate these efforts into all aspects of the business to avoid accusations of hypocrisy.

As a senior vice president at Gibbs and Soell, a public relations agency specializing in agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, home building and other industries, I have experienced this debate first-hand. In nearly every industry, these gray areas exist, which means that as a communicator, you can’t just disseminate information; you must be prepared to explain it.

Here are a few tips to help you leap into the “wild green yonder” of greentech and sustainability communications.

Don’t Be Shy

Taking a stance of silence and moderation is easy, but it deprives consumers of valuable information and devalues the importance of improving the environmental footprint of products. And as more and more businesses start incorporating sustainability into their strategies, you want to avoid sins of omission or an appearance of jumping on the bandwagon.

Gibbs & Soell recently partnered with Harris Interactive to conduct a Sense and Sustainability study, used to gauge perspectives on corporate sustainability among consumers and executives. We found that only 29 percent of Fortune 1000 executives and 16 percent of consumers believe that a majority of corporations are actually committed to “going green”. With many companies taking major steps towards sustainability, this survey shows an increased need for communications about these efforts. Avoid using fluff words like “green” or “clean” (these are the eco version of “new and improved”) and instead give concrete examples of what your company is doing and plans to do. No one can become fully environmentally-friendly over night, so be honest about the process and where you have room to improve.

Don’t Mix Messages

One of the great risks when talking about sustainability initiatives is the accusation of greenwashing, a term that refers to messages that mislead consumers into thinking a product or business is more eco-friendly than it actually is. Today’s sustainability-savvy consumer is highly attuned to empty claims. Businesses that try to have their cake and eat it too will quickly find their credibility compromised.

Environmental commitment should permeate your organization, including internal day-to-day efforts. At Gibbs & Soell, we require all employees to change their default printer settings to double-sided printing. It’s a small first step, but it is one way of living the messages we’re communicating.

Tell A Story

Not so fast with the PowerPoint slides. When it comes to green communications, try telling a story instead. Whether you are a CEO trying to engage employees with your business’s new eco-friendly policies or a PR professional who needs to convince the C-suite that this is more than environmental fluff, stories have the power to compel and emotionally connect people to issues.

Don’t Expect It To Be Easy

Sustainability efforts require a commitment that goes beyond using a travel mug instead of Styrofoam cup for your coffee each morning – and the commitment often requires sacrifice. For example, we recently heard about a company who was seriously considering switching to sustainably-produced paper as part of their organization’s attempt to increase their green practices. The only problem? The company’s designers didn’t like how the Forest Stewardship Council certification watermark looked, so they wouldn’t source the green paper! An unwillingness to commit even when it requires a little bit of discomfort or small changes undermines your credibility and makes consumers skeptical of your motives, while willingness to compromise small things for the greater vision demonstrates that you are serious and genuine.

Gibbs & Soell recently launched a greentech and sustainability practice within our agency. It has been a learning process for us, our clients and business partners – and as we strive to offer thought leadership in this area, we’re looking at ways we can incorporate sustainable practices into our own business. I would love to hear more about how you’ve made sustainability a priority in your business and communications!


March 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm 2 comments


 Our objective: write a smart, compelling plan to promote family dining at casual  restaurants.  If we succeeded, our plan would be selected and we’d win a sizable piece of  business.

 After just deplaning from a long day with another client, I stared at the draft my colleagues  had started, but knew instantly it wasn’t anywhere close to client worthy.  We were all  stretched with lots going on, but this was a significant opportunity to expand on our recent  success with this client.  It should have been prioritized, but wasn’t.

 When I took the plan out of my bag the next morning, I knew there was only one thing to do — lock myself in my office and crank it out.  It was now 7 a.m. and the client presentation was at 1 p.m.  This was not an ideal planning process for sure.

 At 11:30 a.m., I emerged from my office to share my draft with a colleague.  Her response? — “I don’t get it.”   Ouch!  There’s nothing like those four tiny words to send chills down your spine. “Whad’ya mean you don’t get it!  Isn’t it obvious?  Don’t you see how this clever little event adds tons of dimension to the overall plan?”

 After much shouting and table pounding, I resigned myself to this:  If you have to explain it, it doesn’t work. 

 Back to the drawing board.

 I continued to tweak the document until the presentation.  One o’clock came, we presented. In a follow up call from the client, there were many questions and even more rambling answers about how the disparate parts of the plan worked together.  When it was over, I didn’t think we’d sufficiently convinced them that our plan was smart and compelling. 

 In less than an hour, the client called back.  They chose our plan and awarded us the business.

 What led to our success?  Honestly, I think it was less about the plan, and more about the relationship, trust and an afterglow from our recent success with this client. As David Maister suggests in his classic “How Clients Choose,” too many professionals get overly focused on technical matters, and lose sight of the essential nature of professional relationships.  This doesn’t mean that technical skills are irrelevant – of course, they are critical.  But having technical skills is only a necessary condition for success — not a sufficient one. 

 Above all else, what clients look for is that rare professional who has both technical skill and a sincere desire to work with both me and my problem.  The key is empathy- the ability to enter another’s world and see it through their eyes. 

 On the agency side, the key talent is being good at getting prospects to reveal their problems, needs, wants and concerns.  If they’re doing the talking and you’re doing the listening, you’re ahead.  If you’re doing all the talking, you’re losing.  Professionals talk too much.  Ask good questions and listen.   

 Pete Brace is director of communications and influencer marketing for The Gatorade Company, a division of PepsiCo.  Prior to joining PepsiCo, he led the food and nutrition practice areas for two of the three global public relations agencies for which he has worked: Burson-Marsteller, MS&L, and Ogilvy Public Relations.

November 1, 2010 at 12:39 am 1 comment

Digital Out of Home (DOOH)

Tim Dorgan: President, COO;

Advertisers and their agencies are searching for new, interactive ways to target sizable audiences in a world where “old media” just isn’t cutting it. A world where media ADD is a way of life, where “on-the-go” doesn’t do justice to the scale of our mobility, and where media audiences are fragmented beyond the degree anyone thought possible.

 Enter Digital Out-Of-Home (DOOH).

 Whether in movie theaters, elevators, coffee shops, malls or bars (where is focused), digital video screens are appearing in large numbers wherever a flat surface exits…and where significant numbers of people are there to see them. DOOH ads can be targeted simply by the type of locations in which individual networks are deployed. Want business people? We can give you the Wall Street Network and Captivate. Want exercise enthusiasts? We can give you Club Com and the Health Club Media Network. Want young adults? We’ve got or TargetCast. And so on and so forth.

 And, because all these networks have Internet connectivity, messaging can be addressed down to the individual venue level, which provides an even higher degree of targetability.

 So…with all of this going for it, why has this medium not yet “taken off.”  Lack of scale was the initial reason, but DOOH networks are now rivaling or exceeding large cable networks. Every DOOH network worth its salt now has a Nielsen study, which provides some measure of credibility.

 I believe another factor contributing to advertiser hesitancy has been in the perceived “quality of the DOOH ad impression.”  While the medium looks and feels like TV, advertisers aren’t convinced that the DOOH ad experience and impact are the same. Some of this is justified. Seeing a tiny screen in an elevator or in a noisy bar is not the same as the idyllic vision of mom, dad and the kids sitting on the couch watching prime time television. This of course doesn’t factor in the DVR’ing, channel changing, multi-tasking, talking/texting/emailing-while-you’re-watching reality of today’s TV viewing. Nonetheless, this perception seems to be the standard against which out-of-home viewing has been compared.

 So you have the compelling characteristics of this new medium being weighed against the uncertainties of the advertising viewing experience. The only way to break this logjam is truly “old school.” It requires that early adopters conspire with media providers to do the quantitative research necessary to demonstrate the power of DOOH. As scale has been achieved, major advertisers have begun to work with DOOH networks to quantify DOOH as a direct response medium and an equity-messaging platform. Kudos to these organizations who have gone beyond the basic Nielsen study to see how the medium works for their individual brands.

 These studies will spawn others and will, I believe, move DOOH from its standing as “promising” to that of “must consider” for anyone trying to reach the many hard-to-reach consumers out there. It’s starting to happen already.

October 4, 2010 at 2:01 am 1 comment

Take the “work” out of networking…

Aaron Brost

It has been widely said that it’s not what you know, but who you know that makes the difference.   And, if you think about it, you likely know more people than you think, especially considering the rise of social networking sites.   For many, networking can seem like a full-time job, but it doesn’t have to be.

I’ve found that simply keeping people in your network informed of your goal is a great start.  When you’re top of mind, people will remember you as they hear of potential opportunities.  But, you can’t only rely on someone else to make a connection for you.  You must be proactive and strategic in building your network.

Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Make a list of everyone you know and who they know via social networks like LinkedIn.  Don’t be afraid to ask someone to make an introduction
  • Be sure to do your research when meeting someone for the first time – both about the individual and the company they represent
  • Make a specific ask and communicate your end goal
  • Follow through on all referrals
  • If you have difficulty getting started, consider joining a professional development organization like PRSA

Many people network only when it becomes a necessity, but networking must be an ongoing process even when you’re employed, because tomorrow you might not be.  Similar to the relationships you build with key  reporters, it’s easier to speak with someone you’ve previously pitched than to make a cold call.

Finally, remember that networking isn’t all about you.  Make sure to ask people how you can help them.  Adopt a ‘pay it forward’ philosophy and surround yourself with people who do the same.   In the end, it will pay dividends.

–Aaron Brost is the president of Ro-Bro Marketing & Public Relations, based in Chicago, Illinois.

April 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm 2 comments


  • Blogroll

  • Feeds