For the journalists and industry analysts covering this emerging space, reporting on the highs and lows has made them even savvier, more critical and more demanding on the businesses they research and the executives they interview.
At Schwartz MSL we work with these professionals every day, suggesting the story ideas, offering the data and providing the access to thought leaders that feed their reports. To even better understand how their perspectives are changing and how they want PR folks to work with them, we conducted a survey.
We uncovered some pretty interesting facts that any organization wanting to publicize a sustainability or green story will want to know. Here are a few:
Survey Says Don’t Believe the Hype: 48% of survey respondents felt the biggest perception challenges facing the industry are high-profile flameouts (e.g. Solyndra) and too much hype around early stage, unproven companies.
No coincidence: 65% felt overhyping technology or milestones or a lack of transparency are the biggest communication mistakes a company can make.
Schwartz MSL Says: PR programs must be built on a foundation of credibility and transparency. Most media and analysts have been burned by hyperbolic claims or unsubstantiated data, and would rather cover a bold, interesting company with substance that under promises and over delivers.
Survey Says Follow the (Thought) Leader: 55% of respondents cite interviews with industry experts among the sources they most frequently rely on for article ideas and other content.
Schwartz MSL Says: Thought leadership programs are the cornerstone to our media and industry analyst relations efforts. Arranging interviews on emerging trends, breaking news or policy needs (and not the new solution offering) deliver many of the most valuable results for our clients.
Survey Says Social is the New Normal: 34% of respondents cited Twitter or LinkedIn as the best ways to get their attention, and 27% cited social media as a major source for story ideas.
Schwartz MSL Says: Even we were surprised that Twitter tied with desk phones as the second most popular way to contact reporters. And with a quarter of media and analysts getting ideas from social means every company should be budgeting for social media PR in 2013.
Posted by Erin DelLlano on May 8, 2013 at 4:34 PM
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The name of the game this election season is jobs.
And when it comes to green jobs, the sectors that are driving clean power creation, energy efficiency and sustainability have proven to be stronger, growing faster, and faring better than many other job sectors have over the past few years. (That’s at least according to groups such as the Economic Policy Institute; look at any number of websites and get a much different answer.)
That being said, if you actually look at the number of people that claim green job employment, even the most bullish interpretation is still conservative.
At Schwartz MSL, we have always leveraged the crucial role job creation and economic development play in our clients’ businesses, communities and markets. Here are a couple ways we’ve integrated the topic of job creation into our PR programs:
Hiring trends: Whether offering special training to vets or prospecting in blue collar fields, the types of industries or experience you're targeting can be an interesting story.
Q&A from the Field: The employee herself or himself is a story. Outlets such as the Career Journal section of Wall Street Journal Online are always looking for the right candidate’s story.
Survey: Gathering data from where employees worked previously, or even their current job satisfaction as part of the green economy, can make for media-worthy results.
Executive Commentary: Positioning executives as thought leaders regarding trends suchas where they’ve seen growth stemming from and how they are helping keep jobs in the US.
If you have an interesting green job story at your company and want to discuss the best ways to highlight and promote it, give us a shout. We love talking about this stuff...
Posted by Erin DelLlano on October 17, 2012 at 8:35 AM
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Whatever your political affiliation or personal opinion of the man, there’s no denying Bill Clinton’s skills as an orator. Fresh off his DNC speech (which is already being described as one of the best of his career), the former president spoke to a room full of solar folks today at Solar Power International (SPI). His talk was filled with kudos, ideas and some straight dope on where he sees the industry falling short.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
Solar is going to win…just a matter of when:It’s always nice to feel that you’re on the right side of history. Market leaders may change and technologies may evolve but success is inevitable. The key to getting there is through something Clinton called “creative cooperation” that he described this as different groups coming together to solve problems—public and private, across national barriers and political backgrounds. He offered one great story that his organization Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) recognized with an award.
The industry as a whole hasn’t done a good enough job of telling our story: As a PR practitioner, this point especially resonated with me. Pointing out all the ways that “Americans simply don’t realize” how much solar has achieved--including in job creation, building local economies, and becoming a sizable contributor to our state- and national-level energy mix--is indicative that we haven’t been doing a good enough job of telling our story.
This was one of the sentiments expressed by one colleague of mine in the SPI Show Daily this week and it may stem from the hesitance of some large non-US companies to engage in PR in an aggressive way. He also pointed out that yes, Obama opponents use Solyndra as an example of wasted federal spending on “pie in the sky” cleantech businesses. But you can’t blame people for believing a story taken out of context if you have, but don’t provide the context. We need to connect the dots regarding how much the industry has already contributed to communities around the country and what it realistically takes to get us to the next level.
Free beer tomorrow: Clinton seems to truly relish his life as an elder statesman with seemingly endless folksy anecdotes of his Southern upbringing. One story he shared was of a shop owner from his hometown who would hang a sign “Free Beer Tomorrow”, the joke being it brought people in but they’d never get their free beer…it’s always coming tomorrow! For solar, he sees it reaching the tipping point. There’s already been enormous success—including record growth this year—and we need to beat the drum for this success. Yes, there’s more coming tomorrow, but for today, let’s recognize how far we’ve come.
Solar is an enabler for change: How solar is playing a role in bringing opportunity and greater independence to some of the poorest regions around the U.S. and around the world is clearly a benefit near and dear to Clinton. It aligns with work coming out of the CGI, which focuses on helping communities and countries that are crippled by poverty, and in the case of Haiti, massively high energy costs. It’s inspiring to remember how energy can change lives, and how clean energy promises a very bright future for communities that would never have realized otherwise.
Having Bill Clinton join the show was a huge win for SPI this year, and a highlight of the entire show. Wonder who they’ll get next year in Chicago?
Posted by Erin DelLlano on September 12, 2012 at 1:00 PM
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It’s been a banner month for Massachusetts’ clean energy community. For both Mass-based renewable energy companies—and businesses targeting and investing in the state—there have been several bright spots.
Greentech Media highlighted a report out from the Mass Clean Energy Center shows the state created more than 70,000 green jobs in the past four years—making it the highest per capita in the country—as well as massive growth in solar installations.
Not bad for a state with a former Governor, and GOP presidential nominee, who is pushing a U.S. energy platform that calls for more fossil fuel production and less regulation.
But in all seriousness, Massachusetts has always been at the forefront of the clean energy economy, regardless of who’s in the governor’s seat. (Luckily, however, current Governor Deval Patrick has put the state on track to achieve an aggressive goal of 250 megawatts of solar by 2017.)
Innovative, forward-thinking and committed individuals have pushed to get the right policies and legislation to foster the industry. The result is a boom not just for clean energy—but for the job market overall.
What’s this all mean from a PR perspective? For starters, solar providers serving the state need to step up education and awareness programs, public relations efforts and stakeholder engagement programs to make sure their target customers understand the tremendous opportunity with the locked in solar prices (ending September 30).
It also means businesses employing and hiring green jobs in the state can capitalize on trend stories covering their contribution to the sizable clean energy economy.
Finally, it’s a sign that Massachusetts is listening—and that there are more opportunities for businesses looking to locate or work with state-based agencies and legislatures—all of whom have shown a strong commitment to the industry.
Posted by Erin DelLlano on August 31, 2012 at 10:56 AM
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The term bankability is thrown around a lot in solar these days, and I expect to hear it even more on the floor of Solar Power International next month. It has become a mantra for many PV companies—large and small—not only to describe technologies and projects, but even for the businesses themselves.
In addition to distancing themselves from high-risk/highly publicized failures (I won’t say the name, but hint: rhymes with Melinda), bankability has become as important as a UL certification in terms of getting on the short lists for solar projects. With Tigo Energy getting some good ink this month around the positive bankability report from BEW Engineering, I think we’ll see more companies increasingly finding ways to promote these validations.
And I think that’s the right move. I know for the communications programs I lead for my solar clients, finding ways to smartly to inject the fact that they are bankable into communications is a part of the strategy. However, there’s a danger that what is already becoming a buzz word might been diluted further. To help avoid this, here are three quick reminders on how best to integrate your “bankability” into your PR programs.
1. Educate: You’ve got to do more than say your bankable--provide the details into what this means for your company. Tigo did a great job outlining the bank, the product and even the features, leaving little room for questions. ABB also did a great whitepaper on the topic: “Six Stages of Bankability”
2. Demonstrate: Last month Borrego Solar (a Schwartz MSL client) announced that U.S. Bancorp (USB) and National Consumer Cooperative Bank created a $64.4 million fund to finance eight of Borrego’s PV installations, totaling 18 MW. Having these projects in the bag through the fund brings more than just great tax benefits, but enormous brand equity.
3. Repeat: As with anything in marketing, repetition is a key to success. The more you align with banks, partners and projects the more you’re able to mitigate risk and open the door for future opportunities.
Posted by Erin DelLlano on August 23, 2012 at 6:16 PM
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Industry conferences are, by design, a place to reach key stakeholders. But standing out from the noise requires a bit of strategy. Too often, companies will spend anywhere from $50,000-$250,000 on a major event for booth space, a sponsorship, giveaways, employee travel and press release wire costs, without taking that one extra step to truly maximize their investment: PR. Think about it: some company at the event will have a bigger booth, a cooler giveaway and more prominent signage based purely on having more budget than you. But what is in your control is the ability to set a solid PR strategy around an event and out execute a bigger-coffered competitor.
Here are a few tips to help your company and your executives gain more mindshare around a cleantech conference:
Timing is Everything: Create a surround sound approach at a conference by preparing the right set of media coverage to pop during the event. From the case study in Renewable Energy World to the Q&A with Greentech Media to the bylined article on Forbes.com, getting these stars to align means planning out at least 8-12 weeks before the show. If you tie it together by offering reporters rich content during the event, such as a video or infographic, you’ll be generating buzz before you even step on the tradeshow floor.
Get a Jump on the Competition: If you’re planning on issuing a major announcement, take a step back and consider moving it up a week or two. Big companies can swallow up a lot of the attention at a show, and by launching early you won’t have to compete as much for reporters’ attention. In addition to generating solid coverage leading up to the show, you’ll also have some relevant, timely news in your back pocket to interest reporters.
Get Tweeting: Many B2B cleantech companies undervalue the power of Twitter, Flicker and YouTube. These channels are powerful social media outlets that industry influencers such as reporters, analysts and policymakers rely upon for industry insight. Events offer tremendous opportunities to boost a following. Use the show’s hashtag to share booth activities or sessions; capture video interviews of your partners or demos of your product. We’ve even used these channels creatively to engage with conference audiences—such as setting up Twitter-based surveys and contests.
No news? No problem. Just bring your perspective: Having a new manufacturing plant coming online, a big new investment round or a great new customer to showcase is always great PR fodder for a conference. But, even without the “hard” news, developing an interesting perspective strategic to your PR goals can create for a compelling interview. Got an opinion on how to improve the LEED system or thoughts on the solar anti-dumping tariffs? Your PR team can leverage those thought leadership positions to your advantage.
These are just a couple of high level tips that hopefully are some food for thought as you get ready for the shows. Good luck and see you there!
---------------------------- Wait A Minute is a multi-media series providing 60 second insights, analysis and suggestions on how to approach and manage today’s PR, marketing and communications challenges. Wait A Minute is published weekly by Schwartz MSL.
The opinions expressed via “Wait A Minute” are of the authors and not necessarily of Schwartz MSL or MSLGROUP.
Posted by Erin DelLlano on July 11, 2012 at 12:00 PM
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The high production levels of natural gas, due in large part to an abundance in shale reserves, has pushed natural gas prices to a 10-year low. Plenty of pundits are outlining the threat this poses to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, which are still working on creating a more competitive cost per kWh.
However, there’s room for optimism especially when we adopt a long-term vision of a more decentralized, flexible power grid.
One clean energy technology that stands to benefit from low natural gas prices is the fuel cell.
Stationary fuel cell plants are in use by utilities, manufacturers, universities and other commercial facilities, to leverage more cost efficient and cleaner baseload power than what’s produced at traditional coal plants. These stationary fuel cells are more than twice as powerful as the ones used in vehicles, but go through the same type of electrochemical reaction that turns hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, heat and water. Cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP) fuel cell plants that use natural gas as the feedstock offer tremendously powerful and cost effective, clean, distributed power generation. Dropping natural gas prices make these systems even more attractive.
Solar and wind stand to benefit, too.
Most utilities, driven by renewable portfolio standards (RFPs), federal tax credits and corporate commitments to sustainability, will continue to look at a mix of energy sources that include solar and wind. What these ultra-clean power sources deliver in clean energy generation, however, they can lack in baseload power due to their intermittent natures.
These more flexible, local and cleaner energy sources are critical to the power grid of the future. There is a PR opportunity here to shift the conversation onto the need for more integrated plants that use natural gas collaboratively with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and fuel cells—and beyond the short term cost per kWh.
Here in the US, it’s hard to think of water being more valuable than gold. But in regions of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where sanitation issues and water-related diseases are responsible for up to 80% of all illnesses and deaths, that’s just how valuable clean water has become.
To raise awareness of these water challenges, the UN launched World Water Day 18 years ago, and has been using it to fight for attention of this global crisis ever since. This year, thanks to a big PR push by non-profits such as WASH and the Water Advocates, the campaign is closer to getting the level attention that it deserves.
Trying to convince Americans of the sheer scale of this problem is the biggest obstacle. For years, the biggest problems that long showers or green lawns created was maybe a bigger pinch from our water bill. Now, with water shortages facing at least 36 states, the problem is hitting closer to home. Riding that passion are demonstrations to get Washington and the world to act. Among the activities: the World's Longest Toilet Queue tomorrow on Capitol Hill. Looking forward to seeing what kind of turnout that appropriate yet painful-sounding demonstration gets...
I’m in San Francisco, so I won’t be able to make it. Not sure I could hold it that long anyway. I have, however, logged in to stay updated on future opportunities to advocate on international WASH issues. You should too: here
In related Schwartz client news, Energy Recovery, Inc., which makes technology that brings down the cost and energy consumption associated with desalination, launched a new educational site to educate kids and adults alike. Visit the site here and read how desalination works, and how it is an important part of the overall solution to solve the global water crisis.
Posted by Erin DelLlano on March 22, 2010 at 3:15 PM
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Out of the hundreds of standards that will ultimately be needed to run the nation’s emerging Smart Grid, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) announced it has determined about 80 of them in its new report. Smart grid standards have received a lot of PR in the past few months as many predict they will be the top road block to the market maturing and having its full impact.
Released during this year’s GridWeek conference in Washington, DC, the draft is open for comments for the next month. Jeff St. John at Greentech media did a solid overview of the release. Designed to guide utilities and vendors as they roll out services, products and software, these standards are being born out of a Smart Grid Conceptual Reference Model, which NIST is using as a guide to identify and keep track of all the various systems and requirements.
NIST highlights two groups that are being formed to help direct the future of the Smart Grid—where savvy and well networked Smart Grid businesses will be participating:
--Smart Grid Interoperability Panel: a public-private partnership established by NIST at the end of this year to offer more permanent organizational structure to support the ongoing evolution of the framework.
--Smart Grid Architecture Board: a subcommittee to the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, which will lead the development and management of the Smart Grid Conceptual Model.
While many panelists and board members have likely been identified by NIST, there still should be opportunities for Smart Grid businesses to lobby themselves into the groups. Take the Cyber Security Coordination Task Group (CSCTG) for example, where security companies are helping build the requirements that address all cyber security elements of the Smart Grid.
Not selected by the NIST? Well, the releases of new standards and regulations will offer repeated PR opportunities for businesses to offer insight, commentary and thought leadership to the media—and help get their company and technology recognized.
Take this report, for example. What’s noticeably absent? What does NIST need to focus on in Phase 2? What are your thoughts?
At last week’s GoingGreen West 2009 conference the issue of water -- safe, clean, reliable water sources to be exact -- got a good deal of attention. Maybe because, despite the heavy fog that was wrapped around the Golden Gate Bridge, California labors through its third straight year of drought?
The panel “The Water Grid & Water Markets” covered a variety of current and very cool near-future technologies. From water quality IT dashboards (IBM) to off grid, mini-desalination plants (Energy Recovery) to subsurface water storage (Schlumberger Water Services), there’s a plethora of solutions available and emerging that address the growing water crisis. It’s clear that the biggest challenges are not great new ideas or innovations but rather finding ways to lower costs and leverage public policy to drive adoption.
One technology that I’ve been coming back to is on-site water recycling. “Gray” or wastewater recycling systems are nothing new; however, the process traditionally has received fairly lousy PR. Often likened to sewage, grey water actually comes from showers, dishwashers and other household sanitation, except the toilet. Graywater is an important part of solving the crisis, but like all things water related, California struggles with graywater provisions. Expensive systems, low rebates and restrictive mandates have resulted in fewer than 10 residential systems permitted and legally installed in Los Angeles every year.
Hopefully that is changing. In late July the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (HCD) Codes and Standards Division announced the adoption of the state’s new graywater standards. If successful, these new standards could make it easier for systems to be implemented and safe water be reused. According to the HCD, these systems can help a family of four reduce its annual water consumption by 22,000 gallons of water--from the laundry system alone.
With countries like China practicing well-established regulations of water reclamation for hotels, institutions and schools for years, the US seems behind the curve yet again in our water use practices. However, California’s HCD new standards are helping lower the cost of greywater systems and encouraging adoption, and seem to be a big step in the right direction. We’ll have to keep an eye on them in the coming months to see how the program takes hold.
Posted by Erin DelLlano on September 22, 2009 at 12:51 PM
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Few regions of the country have been hit harder by water scarcity issues than California. From Santa Cruz, Monterey, Long Beach, Carlsbad and Huntington Beach-seawater desalination has been turned to in a big way to combat the problem. It also has had to fight an uphill PR and Public Affairs battle thanks to outdated perceptions around the process, especially regarding energy costs. In working with Energy Recovery, Inc., a company that manufactures an energy-saving pump for seawater reverse-osmosis (SWRO) desalination, we've seen firsthand how much misinformation persists with government, media and general public audiences.
On Wednesday, the Marin County water board approved (unanimously) the creation of a $105 million dollar desal plant. Unfortunately, town halls in San Rafael (where the plant will be) echoed the inaccurate perceptions around what this will mean for people's drinking water as well as NIMBY-related aesthetics objections—all which aren't helping to pull California out of its water emergencies. Water recycling and conservation are great and more of each is needed, but those measures alone won't help save a water system built to serve 18 million people in a 36 million resident state.
Venture capitalists realize that water is the next looming crisis nationally and something that goes beyond the bounds of local communities. By building plants along the California coast—and other coastal regions such as Florida and Texas—more of the existing water can go to agriculture, lessening the need to draw water from river deltas and reducing the impact on fish and wildlife along rivers and their tributaries. That is why companies in reverse osmosis membranes, carbon nanotubes and other technologies are beginning to see a significant amount of private investment.
At least the proposed Marin County desal plant is raising the issue, and presenting an opportunity for stakeholders in the industry to teach people how new technologies are improving the process by reducing energy consumption and impact to wildlife. Perhaps then more people will appreciate how and where desalination fits in as one piece to solving the water crisis—which includes recycling, conservation, and most importantly, education.
President Obama’s visit today at the site of a planned wind energy manufacturing plant in Iowa reminds us of the president’s dedication to renewable energy and creating more green collar jobs. Even more interesting than his well covered PR visit are the reports from Washington that the Interior Department is planning to announce new rules that will pave the way for wind turbines off the East Coast. Finally.
This move by the Obama administration could usher in a powerful new era for wind energy in this country. Currently, the US has zero offshore wind parks in operation. That’s right, not a one. Considering reports by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) that predicted by 2020 the EU will have between 20GW and 40GW of offshore wind energy capacity—you can say the US getting “blown away” by our European peers. (Sorry.)
From reduced turbulence, to higher wind speeds to increased transmission options, offshore offers tremendous opportunities to advance wind technology and ensure that it is a significant part of our renewable energy efforts. Currently, wind makes up less than 2 percent of all electricity generated in the US today. With offshore installations, such as Cape Wind off of Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, looking like their time may have come, we might actually have a real shot of reaching President Obama’s goal of 10 percent of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2012. And for individuals concerned with the environmental impact these wind parks will have, several environmental groups—including the Audubon Society—have backed offshore projects.
It will be interesting to see how these rules impact businesses throughout the wind energy industry, and this news promises to offer some great discussions at the upcoming WINDPOWER 2009 show. We’ll have to hold tight to see what the report from the Interior says before we can understand their impact, and find what new public relations and public affairs opportunities these companies can pursue.
But so far, this is shaping up to look like a meaningful Earth Day. And wasn’t it time?