Tue, May 25 2010

You’re the PR person for a green charity funded by BP: What to do, what to say?

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Cause-related marketing •


From today’s AdAge, a screen shot of the satirical rogue Twitter feed, BP GlobalPR.

The front page headline in yesterday’s Washington Post was not what you wanted to see if you work for the Nature Conservancy: “Oil spill threatens to stain alliances: Environmental nonprofits face potential backlash as supporters learn of ties to BP.”  It was worse online: “Nature Conservancy faces potential backlash from ties with BP.”

Which got me thinking: If you were head of PR for the Nature Conservancy or Conservation International or another organization happily accepting grants from BP these past years, what would you do now?

That being a tough question, I decided to let someone else answer it.  I posed it to branding guru Nancy Schwartz of GettingAttention.org, who recently took Susan G. Komen to task for their questionable fried chicken alliance with KFC.  (Buckets of fried chicken will defeat cancer?)  As expected, she immediately responded with some very good answers.

Me: Nancy, imagine you’re head of PR for one of these charities.  What do you do?  What do you say?

Nancy: As I see it, the fact of the Nature Conservancy’s (NC) taking funding from BP for years, no matter how small a percentage it is of the overall organizational budget, is a very bad sign of organizational values gone missing or soft. And once those values are endangered, resultant policy decisions are too.

This is brand gone bust big-time; far bigger even than the Komen-KFC cause marketing deal, chronicled here, since it’s all-organization and long-term rather than a single campaign.  There’s simply no way an environmental organization should be funded by a natural resources mining company – their key principles are radically opposed.

Here’s what the Nature Conservancy PR pro should do to try to rebuild the organization (and secondly, its brand)—not a bad idea for the PR teams at EDF, Conservation Intl etc.).  Better yet, NC should have followed these guidelines for guarding its brand and developing the right partnerships.

1. Get out there broadly and openly, and communicate—honestly.

• NC is doing a pretty good job of the broadly part. For example, they’ve been tweeting to build awareness of and questions for 2pm today chat on the topic with its CEO.
• But not so honestly.  The chat isn’t really a chat, despite NC’s claim to transparency.
    o Submitted questions aren’t visible on the chat page, nor will all be answered or even listed online.
    o The PR team will select “the best ones” for the CEO to respond to.

2. Train and prep key spokespeople, program staff (not the CEO or board members or the PR folks). The fact that an early NC response (via its blog, here) came from chief scientist Peter Kareiva does make it more credible – or at least makes it more compelling to read. • Ensure these spokespeople have personalities and that they say what they do.
• Two recent BP respondents to comments on Karieva’s post simply provide their names and describe themselves as BP employees. A title and a brief description of what they do will be more effective in building bridges. Otherwise, they remain faceless entities (the institution of NC, rather than individuals like those asking the questions).

3. Show and state appreciation of its supporters focus and passion for the cause they’re dedicated to, and the one that drives the Nature conservancy.
• To emphasize shared values—what brings the organization and its base together, rather than focusing on what divides them.

4. Acknowledge that – based on supporter input, and the fact that the NC lives by its network’s passion and support—NC has made a mistake in taking BP funding and in not acknowledging that funding up front in its initial responses to the gulf oil spill debacle.
• State that the partnership has been a productive one (what else can they say) in terms of their influencing BP to make the right decisions when asked, on renewables mainly.
• That NC has not let the funding influence its path but they realize the perception that taking the funding establishes.
    o And that perception is (almost) everything.

5. State that going forward, NC will no longer take funding from BP and any other natural resource mining companies (if it does so).
• But will continue to work with these companies to improve the environmental safety of their operations.

6. Invite participation in a supporter advisory group, to be launched this week. The advisory group (no more than 50 representatives at a time) will be reached out to for input as NC tries to climb out of this hole.

7. Reiterate the organization’s appreciation of its supporters and its commitment to working with them to protect the environment, including the gulf coast.
Me: Paging the Nature Conservancy:  I hope you’re reading this!  Thanks Nancy for some stellar advice.

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