‘Shoe-horning’ PR clients into the climate debate

PR piggybacking on climate change

‘Shoe-horning’ PR clients into the climate debate

COP26 has elevated climate change into an even hotter media topic right now. So should PRs be trying to help clients gate-crash the debate?

With the COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) only weeks away, the world is braced for even more media attention on the climate change crisis. And, for better or for worse, technology PRs will have been racking their brains to find green or sustainability angles for their clients’ tech.

Media attention on climate change hits 10-year high

In fact, data from The Media and Climate Change Observatory (which tracks the level of media focus given to climate change or global warming) suggests that during August, media coverage on these issues peaked to its highest level in over a decade. And that’s sure to escalate as we get closer to the start date of the conference.

DigiDay reports that publications ranging from the FT to Bloomberg and the Economist are running dedicated sections or new vertical titles devoted to climate change. And on Twitter Mike Butcher, editor-at-large of hallowed tech startup title, TechCrunch,  confirmed he will now only be covering “technology and venture funding which addresses the Climate Crisis, and, technology and venture funding which has a positive Social Impact”.

A quick scan of the Response Source platform that UK journalists use to post requests for PR comment and information, reveals that during September over 20 climate change related queries were submitted from the likes of corporate IT publications, national newspapers and trade and business titles.

PR opportunities for ‘genuine’ contenders

For companies that offer technology or services that can genuinely make a difference to the climate crisis, there are some great opportunities to gain media exposure.

But let’s face it. Many brands that aren’t closely involved in addressing the climate change problem will be asking their PR agencies to come up with ways to capitalise on this media attention. All around the country, public relations and media relations experts will be asking themselves: How can I find a way to shoe-horn my own clients into the debate? Cue endless PR brainstorming sessions and client messaging and positioning workshops.

Risking our credibility

As PR people, sometimes, if we’re able to help clients surface new insights or bring new arguments to the table, these piggybacking tactics can work. But the danger is that the PR pitches and content come off as opportunistic or weak  (risking our clients’ – and our own – credibility). Nothing rankles journos more than being inundated with hundreds of PR pitches that add little value.

It reminds me of the backlash last year when journalists were accusing PRs of spamming them with thinly-veiled sales pitches and blatant ambulance chasing as they desperately tried to attach their clients to the COVID-19 crisis.

Please don’t blame PRs for trying to find ways to piggyback on the news agenda. It’s what we’re paid to do! But especially when it involves an emotive subject such as ‘saving the planet’, we need to try and temper our enthusiasm.  I’m definitely going to be treading carefully on this.

(Image credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash)