Sometimes it seems like certain topics don’t lend themselves to breaking the mold or unconventional approaches. Such was the case when I went to go hear a talk recently by Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House. You all probably know of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl whose diary documents her family’s experience hiding in Amsterdam for 2 years during the Nazi occupation, and who ultimately died in a concentration camp at age 16. Leopold’s challenge these days? Finding innovative ways to keep Anne’s memory and legacy of tolerance alive for Gen Z. How do you break through to a demographic with a shorter attention span and less generational knowledge? And how does this apply to climate tech?
Redefining a legacy in Gen Z terms
In the case of Anne Frank and the Gen Z demographic, Leopold and the board had to embrace how Gen Z is getting its information. While previously the organization used generational knowledge of Anne, along with books and education sessions in schools, Gen Z was the first group to grow up without a parent or grandparent alive during the war. The generational knowledge was no longer there. Moreover, it was the first generation to grow up with the internet and social media.
The Anne Frank House had to come up with a plan based on the characteristics of Gen Z: they have always relied on the internet, have shorter attention spans, are highly visual, they value diversity, and are more inclined to form unique identities. The nonprofit ultimately came up with a strategic plan that now complements its traditional approach, incorporating Tik Tok videos, highly visual social media posts, more focus on tolerance, equity, and inclusion, and even posts on Anne’s sexuality. The thinking is that if they can attract a young person’s attention through just one single facet, even if not part of the “typical” Anne Frank narrative, this might spur these highly identity-focused individuals to learn more.
Lessons from the Anne Frank House for Climate Tech
Climate tech is not unlike the Anne Frank campaign. The problem of climate change is a serious challenge, with our own survivability as the ultimate question and hoped-for ending. Yet we can’t descend into constant red alerts and alarmism to bring attention to solutions. What’s the best approach?
It may seem a stretch, but like the AFH challenge we must use PR and communications to reach existing audiences and future audiences to assure long-term interest and engagement. During a retreat I participated in some years ago, employees were encouraged to write down on post-it notes all ideas for the future of the company, to be stuck to a giant white board and later categorized. There were to be no sacred cows, every kind of suggestion was welcome. Some people proposed highly radical shifts in the core business mission, which turned into productive discussions.
We can do the same in our communications approaches to climate tech. No sacred cows. What about humor? What about empathy, what about anger? What news angle or emotion should we appeal to for each of our key audiences? Some of you may have seen Apple’s Mother Nature ad with Octavia Spencer playing the title role, which received 36 thousand likes on Apple’s Youtube channel alone. Besides the direct likes, the ad spawned countless parodies – not always friendly, but that motivated viewers to go back and look at the original. Not a bad approach.
How we can deploy similar thinking for PR
In PR, can we achieve the same effect? Of course. It’s not apples to apples, but in addition to standard PR tactics from news releases to speaking opportunities, we can stage creative events at conferences. We can set up and promote provocative panel discussions. We can write edgy or humorous executive viewpoints. We can film engaging behind-the-scenes videos that can create chemistry on social media.
Reporters and editors are hungry for good content, so simply trying a new tool to break the mold isn’t going to help unless you provide a full context for them, and make it easier for them to connect the dots. Our mission in the PR community should be above all to add value – but we can do it in a creative way.
Here at Blue Practice, we have focused solely on positive climate and sustainability solutions for more than a decade, and we know what plays with each of our target audiences, from business and tech publications to energy verticals. But on top of that we stay abreast of trends, and place a high priority on testing new approaches to break through the PR noise. We bring the benefits of those tests to our clients. We look forward to brainstorming what we can do with you. Feel free to reach out to us for a chat. We are happy to suggest ideas.