Breaking the Mold: Unconventional Approaches to Climate Tech PR Campaigns

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. 

Nimble Communications Strategies in the Wake of Unexpected Policy Changes

Family with little daughter standing in front of their house with solar panels on the roof, having electric car.

I received an email alert from a nonprofit last week about a seemingly flagrant play to kill – or at least maim –  the solar+storage industry in California. 

The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) here has proposed prohibiting licensed solar contractors from adding a battery to a solar system they already installed, or making repairs or modifications to an existing solar and storage system that they previously installed. The board has also proposed limiting the size of the battery that solar contractors can install. 

Why? Because they want licensed electricians to be able to do that work. This is a major disconnect and bad news for homeowners.

Most solar and battery systems are installed by licensed solar contractors rather than electricians. The solar contractor’s license is a specialty trade that has been around for over forty years in California. Licensed solar contractors train more extensively on battery installations than licensed electricians because it is such a core part of what they do.

Usually if a homeowner wants to add a battery to their existing solar system or make repairs or modifications to their existing battery, they have the original solar installer do the work — or they risk voiding their warranty.

Thus, these proposals put the consumer in an impossible situation, where state regulations would force them to hire someone else to do the work and void their warranty in the process.

In addition, these rules would eliminate thousands of existing local solar companies and workers from their own market, including very experienced battery installers. This would limit choices for consumers and drive up the cost of getting solar and/or a battery.

All signs point to the utilities being behind this move. For years, utilities like PGE have been lobbying CSLB to outright revoke the ability for licensed solar contractors to install batteries, and to have batteries be in the exclusive jurisdiction of licensed electricians only. Their likely objective is to use highly technical changes through a little-known government process to further hamper the rooftop solar and battery market.

We forwarded this to our client, a major solar panel manufacturer and battery provider, who then sent it on to their public affairs team for action. Political moves such as this force clients to deal with sudden changes, and communications strategies must be flexible in order to deal with impending positive or negative policy decisions. 

Here at Blue Practice we keep tabs on climate tech industry policy so that our clients can be informed. We then quickly discuss the best way to adjust our communications to respond to the policy, perhaps with prepared statements that we may send to the press about a particular issue, or perhaps with the development of an executive viewpoint piece that we will place in the trade or business press. 

Having an agency that keeps its ear to the ground to anticipate industry-changing policy can allow you to work together to craft an optimized strategy that addresses critical questions from your diverse audiences. Even if the policy change is unsuccessful you still will have been prepared. To find out more about how we can help you stay nimble, give us a shout.