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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It's always best to be in the know, behind the scenes, to be a part of the "in" crowd. So, we asked and you told us. Check out the surveywe conducted with reporters and analysts to find out what makes them tick- why do they cover sustainability? How do they choose their stories? Where do they see coverage going in the future? And more...
Downloadthe survey, look at the graphs, and then you'll be part of the "in" crowd too!
Posted by Leah Raras on September 12, 2012 at 12:00 PM
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Today, we released the results of a 2012 summer survey of cleantech, energy and sustainability reporters and analysts. In conducting the survey, we learned a lot of interesting things about the reporters and analysts with whom we work on a daily basis here at Schwartz MSL, with many of the findings applicable for PR teams across other markets like consumer, technology and healthcare.
As we said last week, the survey results debunked some PR assumptions and reinforced others, but most importantly I think they will help us all better understand the interests and attitudes of the media and analyst community. This can only help us become better communicators.
For the purposes of this post and the video below, I wanted to focus on one major takeaway that I think all technology PR and marketing professionals can use in their day-to-day jobs: the extent to which reporters and analysts are embracing social and digital media channels in their everyday jobs.
We meet with a lot of B2B technology companies across energy, cleantech, cloud, open source, healthcare and other markets who still aren't using Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels to their full potential. It's surprising how many still think Twitter is the domain of consumer marketing.
We think conceding Twitter to your competitors is a major mistake in technology communications. Better yet, we think you should be owning it in a way that makes the competition jealous. Here are three reasons we believe using Twitter in PR is a must for almost all B2B technology companies.
Reason #1--Market influencers are on Twitter
Many companies don't view Twitter as critical because they don't believe customers get their information on technology products from Twitter. That may be true in many markets, but the primary people who influence your customers are on Twitter and they are likely on there a lot. Twitter is another channel through which you can build media and analyst relationships, manage your reputation, generate impressions and monitor breaking news. Many VCs, private equity firms and financial reporters are also on Twitter, making it a potential way to generate visibility with investors. Finally, it can be a great recruiting tool especially within the developer and engineering community, since it is easier to communicate corporate culture through social media than through press releases and traditional media.
Reason #2--Reporters and analysts are getting story and research ideas from Twitter
Our survey showed that more than a quarter of media and analysts are getting story and research ideas through Twitter. It is also a means for them to monitor breaking news and monitor stories coming from competing outlets (another source of ideas for them). If your company is not on Twitter, you are essentially missing out on a prevalent channel through which to generate visibility for your company. Many reporters also look for sources now on Twitter, so if you are missing out on that conversation, you are leaving opportunities on the table.
Reason #3--Reporters are more comfortable than ever being contacted through social media
The Schwartz MSL survey showed that Twitter is now tied with work phone as the second most popular communication channel (after email) for working with media. A close third? LinkedIn. More than one third of respondents said that they are open to being pitched through social media.
With the 2013 marketing budget season upon us, now is the time for technology companies to embrace social media as part of their communications plan. It will take a little investment in time and money, but social and digital are not fads within the technology media and analyst community, so the payoffs could be significant.
The survey and analysis of the results is available here. We’re happy to answer any questions you have in person, over the phone, via email or better yet, over social media.
Posted by Jason Morris on September 6, 2012 at 3:47 PM
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It's not hard to get me excited about clean technology companies since I believe so strongly in their impact on the economy, the environment and the overall good of humankind. And at Schwartz MSL, we're fortunate to handle public relations for a number of true "platform" type of players that are not only selling products, but also providing the necessary "building blocks" to enable an entire ecosystem of third-party products and services, like Tendril (smart grid), Picarro (GHG measurement and isotopic analysis for food safety, emissions management, etc), Enviance (environmental compliance and emissions tracking), Leyden Energy (energy storage) and too many others to mention.
Virdia's successful ramp up can come none too soon, as the market needs a scalable, cost-competitive and high quality supply of cellulosic sugars for the fermentation processes that companies use to produce biochemicals, fuels and nutritional additives. And it isn't just for the environmental good of society that we need cellulosics succeed--it is also important to the billions of private and public equity invested in companies like Amyris, Coskata, LS9 and others to deliver materials for sustainable product development.
Many of these companies launched on the assumption that cheap, scalable sources of cellulosic sugars would be a given. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened and this is where some companies launched the proverbial cart before the horse. The market has had to rely on corn and other crop-based sugars that suffer from price volatility related to the success or failure of short growing seasons, fuel prices, food prices, water prices and agricultural land prices.
Product manufacturers value cost certainty and long-term contracts, which are almost impossible when dealing with seasonal sources of sugars. The wood for cellulosics comes from sustainably harvested and replenished wood sources grown over multiple seasons, reducing exposure to weather and resourced-driven price fluctuations, to deliver a more consistent cost structure.
Cellulosics will happen and so will the categories of products they enable, and so the major question is (as Virdia's CEO Philippe Lavielle says), "who will win the sugar wars?"
President Obama "filled in the cracks" on the long-rumored Cash for Caulkers program yesterday as part of a new jobs plan. The latest details have consumers eligible for a $12,000 tax credit if they take steps to weatherize their homes. The goal would be to put contractors back to work and also stimulate the buying of home products aimed at energy efficiency, which would be good news for Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart and others sellers of home improvement materials.
Speaking of energy efficiency, the New York Times reports on a new study that says that focusing on efficiency could reduce energy consumption by 30 percent by 2030, thereby reducing the need for the US to build new power plants. The article reminded me of the fact that renewable energy continues to get the lion's share of media attention, even as people look for cost-effective, pragmatic and near-term ways to cut energy usage in a down economic environment.
That is not to say that renewables get too much attention as they are a critically important part of energy independence and the US economy. But rather that companies with legitimate energy efficiency products need to do a better job marketing the size of the problem they solve and the potential ROI for customers--and the economy at large.
This afternoon at GreenBeat 2009, John Doerr will give a keynote focused on the main theme of the event: The Smart Grid. With the recent $3.4 billion in stimulus funds allocated to projects, the smart grid market has a PR problem, becoming a lightening rod for debate about its cleantech and stimulus credentials.
I am of the personal opinion that any technology that reduces our energy use is cleantech. I also think that anything that helps consumers save money and makes energy more efficient has huge economic value. After all, utility bills likely rank third after mortgage/rent and car payments as the most expensive budgetary item for households. Reducing utility bills by even 20 percent creates more consumer spending power which is a key cog in an economic recovery.
But back to Doerr...beyond just his affiliation with one of Silicon Valley's premier VC firms, he is a bright and interesting guy. He has some creative and pragmatic ideas on how to address the energy, environmental and economic crises, including one written about today by the New York Times (via Yahoo! Finance).
Doerr apparently has pitched a weatherization stimulus that would incent homeowners to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes through improvements in insulation, windows, etc. Doerr calls the program, "Cash for Caulkers" and word is that the White House is seriously considering it.
I am looking forward to today's keynote to hear Doerr's opinion on Smart Grid and see if he has any other ideas that should be promoted as policy. Doerr's speech should be the first in a number of compelling presentations at the GreenBeat 2009 event.
How is that possible? Khosla says that Cleantech is not about solar, wind or biofuels, but about re-engineering the way society lives, from lighting to concrete. When asked about the size of the problem, Khosla says that he sees only opportunities. Furthermore, he talks about how clean technologies have to achieve unsubsidized market viability within 5-7 years or they will struggle to be an investment and commercial success. Overall, just a very interesting interview with someone with an amazing track record of finding breakthrough technologies and companies.
Do I agree with every thing Khosla says? Nope. However, I do agree that Cleantech is bigger than the Web. This is an important point since many have called it a fad.
Cleantech, green, sustainability or whatever you want to call it, deals with a number of fundamental issues that impact all aspects of human life. Examples include drinking water (desalination) and irrigation in drought-ridden regions of the world, transportation (biofuels, batteries, green auto), remote and distributed energy generation (solar, wind, batteries), manufacturing, consumer products, energy efficiency (smart grid, energy management), etc.
April may be taxing for many, but for the Cleantech industry it seems as though things hit rock bottom in Q1. Based on the news of the last two weeks, April funding showers may bring Q2 flowers.
Venture capital, state tax credits and stimulus money have started flowing into a number of cleantech and energy markets, giving the market a lot to PR about. During this week alone, we have seen two lighting-related technology companies announce a round of funding. Nuventix and Luxim each scored rounds for different approaches to the sustainable lighting issue, with the former cooling LEDs and the latter offering a plasma-based ligthing technology.
Meanwhile, energy storage technologies, such as batteries and fuel cells, are getting big tax breaks in Michigan to the tune of $300 million. Technologies that help replace lost auto manufacturing jobs will likely get some public affairs love from states like Michigan, Ohio and Indiana for the rest of 2009 and beyond. The DOE is also joining the party by kicking in $41.9 million in stimulus funds for fuel cell technologies.
Can the cleantech industry sustain the momentum into May? With Wind Power 2009 on the horizon, I expect we'll see some signficiant news from major renewable manufacturers related to that space. We then move into Intersolar Munich before we get to June. Everything considered, it looks as though cleantech could be rebounding from the funding doldrums that slowed things in Q1.
To say that the stimulus package currently under review contains significant support for renewable energy, green and cleantech would be a gross understatement. Depending on whose data you use, it is roughly five-to-seven times the total of all VC investment in cleantech in 2008. Or, a little more than twice the total revenue of the solar industry. Wow.
Biofuels will get $800 million. Batteries will get a big chunk. Bottom line: Even if this bill is halved before being signed by President, it will create the largest government investment in renewable energy, likely exceeding all past investments combined.
Government subsidies have been critical to the growth of solar and wind in Europe. The US has lagged behind. This is a major step forward in making the US the world's top producer of renewable energy.
Companies need to take advantage of this opportunity because it will not exist again in our lifetime. It is analagous to being a contractor or steel producer during the New Deal Era. Opportunities exist for both commercially mature and pre-commercial technologies.
Many companies avoid engaging in Government Relations because they don't understand it or they rely on industry associations to execute it on their behalf. If you have a technology that you believe can solve the energy, environmental and geopolitical challenges facing the country, now or in the future, then you should learn about how it works. You will learn a lot about policy making, appropriations, government project management and how to sell to government entities. It also will add to your executive's expert credibility when your public relations team is executing a thought-leadership campaign.
Uncle Sam's House is about to become much more energy efficient and whether you directly engage with him or not, there are many companies that will play a role in helping.
I'll be posting on the historic nature of the stimulus package and the government relations opportunitiy for green companies, projects and technologies, as the federal government becomes the world's largest investor in cleantech. But first, I want to make sure I capture the green elements (if any) of Obama's presidential inauguration speech.
Obama began his speech slightly before 9:07 a.m. PST and in less than two minutes, made reference to the fact that, "the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet." He called this usage one of the "indicators of crisis."
9:14 PST: "We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories..."
9:18 PST: "With old friends and former foes we'll...roll back the spector of a warming planet."
9:21 PST: Obama says that countries of relative plenty can no longer consume the world's resources without regards to its effect.
In an 18 minute inaugural address, President Obama addressed energy in four separate passages. Likely more than any previous president. Every passage focused on sustainability or renewability in some reference.
Now all eyes in solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, tidal, water and energy management (and public and government relations) turn toward the stimulus package currently proposed in the House. More than $50 billion in tax credits, projects and investments in renewable energy are currently included and we'll do a run down of specifics this week.
As we enter 2009, we wanted to take a look at cleantech markets we think will get the lionshare of the media attention during the year. We're calling it the Clean (Baker's) Dozen. We made our selections based on a variety of factors including 2008 venture funding, 2008 media attention, ties to existing large industries (auto, construction) and viability for commercialization.
Here is the list:
-Monitoring & Management
-Storage & Batteries
-Green Building Materials
There are others that should be on this list and that have significant public relations and government relations potential, including Water conservation, purification and potability, but they just haven't taken off yet. We'll do a post on each of these during Q1 and highlight some approaches we think are worth watching. Through our government relations team, we'll also keep an eye on Federal and State funding and policy to see if the G-men agree with our choices.
I held off on posting immediately following the election results to avoid letting any excitement or disappointment seep into any analysis of how it impacts green and cleantech public relations and government relations. However, I think it is safe to say that the results mean big things for cleantech companies and the green movement as a whole.
Green bloggers everywhere started immediately discussing what an Obama presidency means to the green industry with some examples here, here and here. Martin LaMonica's post on CNET (the first link) is particularly comprehensive.
So here is my bottom line thought and I have written this in the past: The government is going to become a huge financer of renewable energy projects both in terms of greening government buildings and providing incentives and appropriations for individual companies. If you are an emerging growth cleantech company looking for funding, GR may be a good supplement to a venture round. Both direct GR contact and local PR campaigns are great ways to target government grants and funding.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
Some random thoughts on which I may expand later after digesting the week at GoingGreen:
-There is a debate between two camps in solar and other incentive-boosted renewables. One camp says there needs to be a focus on markets with resources (abundant sunlight) and less emphasis on public policy. The other camp thinks that policy is the major issue short and long term. I think they are both right in that eventually the technology will be so efficient and cost-effective that it will end the ROI debate, but incentives will still help the market and can't be ignored (hello, Germany).
-Most experts agree that the country cannot afford to ignore nuclear in the short term. That said, many believe that new nuclear wouldn't have an impact for a decade or more (kind of like new oil fields) and so the emphasis should not be on nuclear as the primary solution. Most support keeping it at 20% of our energy source. Elise Zoli of Goodwin Proctor had some of the best points on the subject on the GoingGreen fossil-fuels panel. One point on nuclear by Vinod Khosla that was interesting: The innovation cycle for nuclear is 15 years whereas solar thermal and other technologies will have gone through 15 innovation cycles in that same time period.
-Green and cleantech are the fastest-growing venture asset classes, attracting between 10-14 percent of all venture dollars. It is now the "third leg on the VC stool" with technology and life sciences. -Ira Ehrenpreis, General Partner, Technology Partners
-The most depressing panel of the event was the clean-coal panel. Not depressing in the sense that they made bad points or failed to make a case, but it just seem like the participants anticipated objections and weren't passionate about the subject. One interesting point was made by Oorla Protonics about using natural gas to turn materials into oil. The CEO said that natural gas is the champagne of fossil fuels with oil being the wine and coal the beer. Using champagne to turn materials into low-grade wine or beer is ludicrous.
-Not surprisingly Khosla was the hit of Tuesday and Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) the draw on Wednesday. Khosla talked about how it is "main tech" not "cleantech" that matters and that the market should embrace solutions that can capture 80 percent of the market. He said that using one sheet of toilet paper as suggested by Sheryl Crow is not a solution and that the Prius is a nice status symbol but so are Gucci bags. This is probably the area where I disagree with Khosla most. I know he is looking at it more through an investment lens, but from a practical standpoint EVERY little bit helps. So if what I can afford to do today is buy a Prius and use less goods that leave a footprint, then I should do it. It is analagous to weight loss. If someone focuses on the sixty pounds they need to lose, instead of making small changes to their habits (less sugar, don't eat at night) that result in gradual weight loss, then they will never succeed. I am not saying that we should settle, but there has to be bridges to that 80 percent market solution.
-The most daunting thing from a green and cleantech PR perspective was this: There is SO much noise in the market and we still haven't really seen anything yet. Imagine for a moment that the current financial crisis dies down in Q4, the federal climate becomes green friendly and boosts incentives, the states and municipalities continue their charge. What will that do? Increase funding in cleantech to astronomical levels, likely open the public markets to green IPOs and pour millions upon millions into the marketing and government relations coffers of cleantech and green companies. Most are operating on marketing budgets under $1 million annually today, investing primarily in manufacturing, R&D and go-to-market. Any money they are spending now (and it is not much) is on public relations, search-engine marketing and some local government relations. The second half of 2009? We may see double the number of public companies and marketing budgets in the millions. Advertising will get better and more frequent, and the PR and lobbying noise will get louder. There may be a HUGE government cookie that begins to open in six months.
GoingGreen was a fantastic event held at a great venue. It was yet another cleantech event that was oversubscribed showing the health of the industry. It has made me even more excited for Solar Power International in San Diego. Feel free to get in touch with me if you will be there the week of October 13. email@example.com
PG&E spoke at yesterday's GoingGreen event and talked a bit about their work in renewables. The speaker didn't take any questions from the audience at the end of the presentation and really just read a laundry list of investments they have made in plants.
Now everyone knows that they are mandated to get a certain percentage of energy from renewables, so the traction they have made is not surprising. The big question is would they be doing it if not mandated? At least their efforts are real, regardless of motivation. As Vinod Khosla said later in the say, he suspects more than half of all green claims are green washing.
The most interesting part of the presentation was when the spokesman cited a statistic that solar costs drop 19 percent for each doubling in manufacturing capacity.
Scott Kirsner recaps an interesting post about the M&A climate at the end of 2008 in traditional technology and how the softening economy hasn't necessarily killed M&A activity. In it, a Boston-based VC talks about how 2008 saw some relatively major acquisitions in lieu of companies testing a frigid IPO market.
Unlike traditional technology sectors, Cleantech is one area that seemed immune to the cooling of the IPO market during 2008 (specifically, solar companies). There were a number of companies rumored to be filing for an IPO, some who went public and still others getting hundreds-of-millions of dollars in valuation. Now cleantech seems to be cooling too (or at least the success rate is dwindling) and there have been several acquisitions (Schneider Electric acquiring Xantrex is one). So is green like tech after all and the IPO desert is upon us?
Not really. Most say that the cooling of the IPO market for cleantech has more to do with the expiring ITCs, an aversion to investment risk and lack of action at the federal level. I spoke to a VC at the recent PVSEC conference and he said that "every major solar integrator on the west coast was on the chopping block" due to the uncertainty of tax credits. Hyperbole? Maybe.
More likely, opportunists are trying to drive down valuations and acquisition prices by playing on the ITC fears. Our government relations team which follows the regulatory market believes that the cooling of cleantech IPOs is more of a delay in the inevitable than a long-term trend. The fact of the matter is that the federal political climate will warm significantly in February when a new administration is entrenched. Both McCain and Obama promise to be friendlier to cleantech companies than the current administration boosted by, in all estimates by political pundits, larger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Cleantech companies just need to resist the M&A urge and hold out for a couple of quarters.
Expect more action at the federal level in 2009, bolstered by more legislation and regulation to drive forced adoption of renewables at the state and local levels. This will reenergize the IPO market for cleantech companies and push even more VC investment. Solar will continue to be the major public-market focus during the first half of 2009, before wind, biofuels and others catch up.
The public market darkhorse? Energy storage which many VCs and entrepreneurs say is the bottleneck in green efficiency and adoption.
And if the climate doesn't warm at the federal level in 2009? Expect that many regions of the country will fill the void with state and local legislation and tax incentives. This includes New England, the mid-Atlantic, Southwest and California. These measures will still give the market enough fuel to support a number of successful companies and prevent any M&A firesale.
Quick Note: We'll be hosting a webinar on the intersection of public relations and government relations for green and cleantech companies on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. You can register here.
Great post from Katie Fehrenbacher at Earth2Tech today about how the selection of Biden would impact the future of cleantech. This is especially important at the time when many are concerned about the expiration of the ITCs and the impact it will have on adoption.
Regarding the ITCs, I have spoken to many people in the cleantech industry in the past months and will speak with many more at PVSEC, AlwaysOn GoingGreen and Solar Power International. Everyone with whom I have spoken expects the change in political climate come January to compensate for any lag in incentive coverage at the beginning of 2009.
What does this mean from a marketing budget standpoint? It varies by company, but many are pushing ahead with cleantech PR, government relations and advertising spend in Q4, looking to be well positioned when the new administration and Congress push a renewable-friendly agenda in 2009. Others are sure that even if action by the federal government is delayed, enough large (population) states will increase incentives (California, Texas, New England, New York and New Jersey) to make the investment worth it.
I know many think that green has reach a bubble stage and this is the natural cycle of the bubble bursting, but I don't think we have even scratched the surface of green adoption and investing.
Some other thoughts since my last post:
-WSJ post on a recent survey saying that Americans want their energy clean and cheap. Well, duh? My guess is that most would accept clean and comparably expensive for the short term, in order to reach clean and cheap. They just have to see a clear path to getting there and it will be tough since regional solutions make the most sense.
-Interesting post from Michael Kanellos of Greentech Media on "Five Inconvenient Truths" for the cleantech revolution. The most interesting was #5, which predicts that Haliburton, Chevron and others will eventually benefit. Do people think that the cleantech revolution will result in the collapse of these companies? I think history shows that whenever there are disruptive technologies in a market, the established forces try to slow adoption but then ultimately work to become part of the revolution through R&D or acquisition. Think of the Internet (Microsoft), open source (IBM) or software-as-a-service (Oracle) as examples. The bigger issue won't be the adoption and driving of geothermal by large energy interests but the manner in which they go about exerting their influence. Provided the PR around their entrance into cleantech is done correctly (honest, transparent and sincere), they can counteract some (but never all) of the skepticism.
-CNET does a great round up of clean car technology. It will be interesting to see how it plays out long term. Will it be plug-in electrics and hybrids, which will require a non-coal based electricity grid to have the most impact or hydrogen fuel cells which require a complete overhaul of the fueling infrastructure? Out of all of the markets, including solar, wind, hydro and others, this is the one that will have the biggest impact on everyday life.
-Ping me if you'll be in Valencia, San Diego or at Cavallo Point in the coming weeks. The next two months should be fast and furious in the cleantech world.
After a long hiatus in which I took a couple of trips and battled a sinus infection, it's great to be back in the saddle on Renewablog. Not to mention I returned with exciting news.
Schwartz has partnered with AlwaysOn to sponsor and represent the GoingGreen event. GoingGreen has become the premiere cleantech industry event focused on green financing, venture capital and emerging growth companies in solar, wind, green IT, sustainability, biofuels, etc.
GoingGreen kicks off what will be an action-packed Fall for the renewables market, as PVSEC Europe, GoingGreen, greenXchange Xpo and Solar Power International (the artist formerly known as Solar Power 2008), all take place between Labor and Columbus Day week. If the other conferences have a line-up like GoingGreen (Raj Atluru and Steve Jurvetson, Vinod Khosla, Ajit Nazre, Ray Lane, etc.), we are in for one great stretch of conferences. One topic that is sure to be top of mind? The expiring renewable tax credits and the impact that a change in Washington will have on industries like solar, biofuels, wind and hydro.
If you attend the events, let us know what you think. I've been waiting for this stretch all year long.
This is another example of the considerable movement at the municiple and state levels to drive green adoption. While this is a great thing for green vendors, it makes the job of cleantech PR practitioners and marketers much more difficult, as they are tempted to take a patchwork local-market approach to selling their wares.
While local PR programs are effective (we've been executing them for medical clients for nearly two decades), green is a different market that requires as much nationwide education as it does adoption. This is especially true as the federal climate becomes more politicized in an election year and much of the legislation introduced in 2008 is more about drawing battle lines than about getting things signed into law. That will change in early 2009, which makes national PR programs integrated with government relations even more critical. For this reason and this reason alone, it is important that green marketing and PR organizations not get too myopic.
With all of that said, bravo to San Francisco for taking the initiative to get a program in place. It will lead to an influx of companies setting up shop in the city and create a number of green collar jobs in the area.
It will be interesting if this also helps draw conferences to the city that have to date been the domain of Southern California, including Solar Power 2008 and GreenXchange Expo. Good days for solar are ahead.
The majority of the state's water comes from the Sierra snowpack and that pack is thinner this year than in normal years. Some farmers can make up the difference with deep water pumps, but those pumps run on diesel and use 5 gallons per hour, meaning one hour of pumping costs about $26-$30 per hour depending on the cost of fuel.
Conservationists and environmentalists point to global warming as the driver of snowpack reduction, whereas global warming naysayers call the drought cyclical. Regardless of who is right and given the cost of fuel right now, it leads to interesting questions about markets you don't hear much about.
The first market is desalination. This is a technology that has never made sense because of the fuel needed--wood, coal, natural gas--to power a desalination plant. Today, solar and wind, and (longer term) maybe even tidal resources could power such plants and give coastal states (hello drought-stricken Georgia) an almost inexhaustable source of fresh water. Not to mention it would help us deal with rising sea levels (sorry, bad joke).
The other area where renewables could help is deep water pumps. A lot of areas around the country have deep water reservoirs that are expensive to tap and require fuel to harvest. Using wind and solar power would dramatically cut costs for farmers and reduce the strain on reservoirs, rivers and other irrigation options.
If you are marketers in the aforementioned areas, this is a prime time to educate the market and government regulators about the viability of such technologies to generate sales leads and stimulate new investment. It will be interesting to see if either of these areas get any interest at the IDG GreenXchange event or Solar Power 2008. By then, California will be five months into an official drought and no doubt there will be plenty of discussion about the role renewables can play in water shortages.
After a busy May split up by a Yellowstone trip (and two Grizzly sightings) I am back in the saddle on Renewablog pledging to do 8.3 percent more green posts in Q3 than I did in Q2. Why? Because green gets a premium everywhere these days.
A new survey commissioned by BioCycle (and executed by Schwartz client Marketools) shows that consumers are willing to spend $8.30 more on a $100 product if it is made from recycled goods or helps the environment. This brings the total of such goods to $150 when you also factor in California sales tax.
All kidding aside, this is a great sign that even during a softening economy people are still willing to open their wallets for greener goods and services. In fact, the survey also shows that seven out of ten respondents are willing to pay that premium, so it is not just a small subset of people throwing off the average.
When posting on a blog it is sometimes easy to overthink your topic and gloss over some of the really simple topics that are incredibly critical. This dawned on me when reading a post by John Gartner at MarketingShift.
This is a critically important point for a couple of reasons:
1) We have reach the second stage in green hype. The first stage was the embracing of Green by hype watchers as the next big thing in business and lifestyle. The second is an age of backlash and skepticism driven by fear that it willbe adopted, along with generalpushback by media and others who will say that adoption is not nearly matching the Stage-One hype. A lot of the media out there right now is focused on the inefficiency of solar, the negative impact of biofuels and freak windfarm fires. This makes it a prime period of time for green washers to get destroyed by media and the general public. Hence, why John's "genuine" statement is important.
2) People sometimes overlook that communications and marketing can come across as condescening. Look at the presidential campaign. You have the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barrack Obama trying to spin every little piece of information or data their way, to the point that it sometimes gets insulting to the viewer. An Editorial in the NY Times this week accused them of thinking the American people are a bunch of "rubes."
This is how I feel sometimes about green marketing--that is so superficial and transparent, it does more harm than good. So the simple message is: Be genuine and don't condescend. If you have to fool someone or oversell your greenness, it won't appear green to your audience, it will be transparent.
We're often asked by clients if the biggest trade show of the year in their respective space is a good location to announce news. We usually answer their question with a question: "What is the goal of the announcement?"
We explain that if the goal is stand-alone media coverage, they might be better off using the event to pre-brief media and announce a couple of weeks later when the market has exhausted its news. If the goal is to drive business development activities, announcing what they are doing at the show to give sales and bizdev a press release to shop to customers and prospects might be the way to go.
The green/clean tech world is relatively immature when it comes to events. There are several that are vying to become the RSA, NRF, Mobile World Congress or JavaOne of their respective markets---such as Solar Power and GreenXChange Expo--but for the most part there is not yet that one event that makes green marketers exhaust their news arsenal.
But unlike security, open source, application development, retail technology and wireless, green does have a landmark "event" that brings every marketer out of the woodwork with a news announcement: Earth Day. I performed a highly scientific research project (40-second searching of Google News by source) and found about 500 commercial press releases from the past 24 hours that mention Earth Day.
My favorite? Purex announced that Jaime Pressly has become its spokesperson for the company's green campaign. I can just see Joy, Randy, Earl and Crabman doing what they can to stop global warming on My Name is Earl.
But the point is that Earth Day may have officially become the noisiest day in the Green world. The question for marketers then becomes: "Should you announce signidicant news on Earth Day?"
I think the answer would be a resounding "No." Earth Day is much too noisy, especially when you also factor in this year's Presidential campaign, earnings season and just about every other news event that could drown out a momentum announcement, new corporate green initiative or donations to a green charity.
My advice? Avoid Earth Day like the plague and don't contribute to the noise being created by marketers in every sector from detergents to light bulbs. Better yet, follow the advice of my eight-year old daughter who said, "Let's shut everything off today that uses electricity, including the Wii, Webkinz, the TV and the toaster."
Generation Green speaks. Shut off your computer, take the day off and celebrate Earth Day away from the noise.
According to a recent survey from IDC, we have seen an inflection point with regards to the adoption of Green IT. According to the firm, more than half of all IT buyers now consider "greenness" as part of the buying criteria. The number one driver in green purchasing decisions is economic revolving around operational costs. As energy prices continue to go higher, there is little chance that this trend will stop anytime soon.
What does this mean? It means even more hardware marketers will tout the greenness of their products through PR and advertising. It means that companies that reduce storage and other infrastructure requirements (SaaS) will continue to point to the indirect costs those products save customers. Bottom line? Green IT is here to stay.
-While photovoltaic (PV) solar was the rage at Solar Power 2007, solar concentrators seem to be the most prevelant technology at WIREC. Sopogy, SkyFuel and Abengoa were a few of the concentrator companies exhibiting, albeit with slightly different strategies and target markets. Global Solar Energy was one of the major PV manufacturers present (*disclosure: GSE is a Schwartz client).
-Wind and solar are again the most dominant technologies on display in terms of commercially available products. Also well represented are biofuels, biomass and firms looking to service those companies (legal firms, government relations, etc.).
-Big kudos to ACORE for sponsoring a free lunch and again to the WIREC folks for having enough seating.
It'll be interesting to see if the traffic picks up a bit more tomorrow and to see what companies are saying regarding the ROI of exhibiting. There are obviously a lot of these events popping up around the country and abroad, and finite green marketing budgets need to know which events are worth the growing costs.
-Also on E2T, PG&E said that their latest geothermal contract will allow them to meet the 20 percent threshhold set by the state for electricity from renewables. This is important because one of the stock objections from utilities has been that cleantech hasn't advanced to the point where it is economically possible to generate large percentages from renewable sources. Green marketers now have an example to give when that objection is made by legislators and other key audiences.
-And finally, as I posted about earlier last week, the House is finally pushing a bill that would extend the renewable tax credits and rebates that are so critical to consumer and business adoption. This would help sustain the market has seen over the past several years.
These regions are right to do what they can to advance the use of renewable technologies, but long term something needs to be done nationally. People who do their part to reduce their carbon emissions and reduce the strain on the power grid should get some sort of universal credit or break. You could have one neighbor receive thousands in incentives and tax breaks, while the other gets little incentive to install a renewable energy system. This is wrong.
It is analogous to two households with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 getting dramatically different tax rebates as part of the economic stimulus plan just passed. Cities and states should continue to do what they can to advance the use of renewables while the federal government sits in gridlock. But long term, Washington needs to do something aggressive that improves upon and superscedes local incentives.
It is unlikely that the political environment will change until January of 2009. In the meantime, marketers will have to continue to target areas where tax breaks and incentives make adoption more likely. National campaigns certainly don't hurt in terms of education and awareness, or in priming the pump if the federal climate does change, but direct lead generation is more likely to happen in localities. Some may even invest most of their marketing dollars in Europe where Germany, Spain, the UK and others continue to adopt renewable plans at a furious pace.
So why did we wait? Well, clients always ask us when they should announce a new product or service offering. Our response is usually, "If PR is the only driver of the announcement date, we should wait until you have a compelling story around the product or service, including customers that support the fact that what you are bringing to market is truly differentiated."
The news is not that we are entering the Green PR world. It is that we have a differentiated services offering, including aggressive media and government relations, that is already helping our cleantech clients achieve their business goals. The news is that we are taking what is our single biggest core competency--helping emerging growth companies facing heavily entrenched, better-funded competition level the playing field through PR--and applying it to a market that needs it more than perhaps any other technology market in history.
Renewable energy companies face significant challenges, many of which I have blogged about the past. They face one of the largest and most entrenched industries in the world in the form of traditional energy (oil, gas, coal, etc), as well as the marketing and lobbying arms of numerous industries that don't like being regulated (auto, utility, manufacturing).
They also face very steep, well-funded competition within their own markets now that VCs around the world are sinking eight and nine-figure rounds into companies in solar, wind, fuel cells and biofuels. They also face large corporations in other markets who have begun developing and acquiring their way into renewable energy.
Bottom line: This is the ultimate David versus Goliath story and a story in which we are relishing the opportunity to play a part. We now have officially been cast in a role and are packing a pretty big slingshot.
Great story today in the NY Times by John Markoff and Matt Richtel about how California is leading the solar charge, with massive amounts of investment, subsidies and jobs being created as a result. There was also news today of Applied Materials making a large acquisition of an Italian solar company for $334 million dollars.
These two stories are both great news for emerging-growth solar companies. They both support the position that solar technology is not an energy-crisis fad, but a long-term viable market. The Applied Materials deal will continue to send the message to investors that there are lucrative equity events waiting for them in renewable energy. It also may signal to Applied competitors that they need to be more active in investigating the market. As I've mentioned before, the market needs some big fish to bring their marketing budgets, lobbying arms and workforces to market to educate key audiences renewables and move the industry forward.
This is a trend that is not going away anytime soon.
I saw a great profile on CBS News regarding some engineers who took a traditional hybrid car and equipped it with additional battery power and a plug-in power source. It turns out that when you drive the car fully charged, it doesn't have to have to use the gasoline engine for the first 40 miles--highway or city! This means that the majority of Americans (81 percent according to the report) likely wouldn't have to use gas at all, provided there was a way to charge the car at work or at a transit station. This includes me, as I commute a grand total of seven miles everyday to BART and back.
This raises a few different points (some marketing-related and some not):
- Sooner or later, the laggards in the auto industry will not be able to discount the advances being made in clean-car technology. They will be committing marketing and sales suicide if they don't start embracing the move toward ecologically friendly options. As I stated in a previous post, the green halo is only going to get brighter with all of the environmental education happening at primary and secondary school levels.
- Will the adoption of electric cars and vehicles that do little harm to the environment damage the move to mass transit systems? If people aren't doing damage to the environment and their fuel costs are next to nothing, what will make them (other than a long commute) want to carpool or take public transportation? Marketers of mass transit will eventually have to start doing more to differentiate their service if the economic and environmental reasons aren't compelling. Food and beverage service, satellite TV and radio at your seat? I'd be sold.
Battery technology has to improve dramatically (not an epiphany, well publicized).
The electricity charging the car has to come from renewable sources. This could include a solar array at a home, business or parking structure, or the embracing of renewable sources by utilities, such as that produced by solar or wind farms. Charging a car with juice from coal-based energy is not a very clean option.
The horsepower generated in an electric car has to increase or those V-6 and eight-cylinder-loving Americans won't give the electric option a single sniff. Many have joked about the American dependency on heavy, high-powered automobiles. The only thing that has become more obese than our populace are the cars we drive.
Two guys in a garage became a euphemism for the technology entrepreneurs of the dot-com bubble. It seems that those two guys have gone back to inventing what the garage was meant to house--new, greener breeds of cars.
While I don't excuse the federal government for failing to advance renewable energy research, adoption and strategies, it may not be a bad thing that states have taken the lead. After all, we are talking about the country with the fourth largest land area in the world. A country so vast that it doesn't make sense to say "we are going to be first in X, because it is the best option for the entire country."
Truth is, the only thing that the U.S. should eventually become first in is consumption of renewable energy. It should serve as a melting pot of renewable energy, as it has served as a melting pot of cultures for hundreds of years.
Reports have begun trickling in regarding the level of green investment during 2007 and they are impressive. VCs continue to see green as a major investment vehicle for their funds, especially in light of the high-flying performance of thin-film provider First Solar. Green tech companies took home $3.4 billion in 2007 and some estimates have placed that figure in excess of $4 billion. In any event, green is getting greener.
What does it mean for marketers? Well, there is good news and bad news.
First the bad news: If you think things are noisy now, you ain't seen nothing yet. More investment means more marketing dollars spent on advertising, PR and other awareness campaigns by your competitors. It means that the market is going to become even more competitive. It means that start-up companies may have enough cash to do in two years what took you three or four. Not to mention some of the massive rounds from 2006 and 2007 went to companies building out R&D and manufacturing, so some of those companies haven't even started marketing yet.
The good news? It means that other companies will be helping to advance renewable energy technologies in the mainstream consciousness with legislators, consumers and corporations. It means more money in the coffers of the renewable energy market to educate key audiences and battle the fear, uncertainty and doubt put forth by lobbyists, critics and some traditional energy companies. Anyone who has spent any time in marketing knows that trying to create a market or raise its visibility is tough to do without a budget that is in the millions of dollars. It can be done, but it helps to have others pulling the cart with you.
The increased investment and competition may also allow marketers to make the case for more budget in 2008 and 2009. Nothing riles a management team or board of directors more than a less mature competitor getting more attention from media, buyers and investors.
A colleague and I got to attend a great event on Thursday. It was the unveiling of a new solar PV system at the Head-Royce School in Oakland. The event involved a full school assembly (all students K-12, teachers and administrators) to debut the new system and featured presentations from the head of the school, a prominent Cal Berkeley professor in the school's Energy and Resource Group, and the president of Borrego Solar, the designer and installer of the system (DISCLAIMER: Borrego is a Schwartz client).
The array on the gymnasium roof, where the ceremony was held, was amazing. Dr. Dan Kamman, the Berkeley professor and a Head-Royce parent, was very passionate and informative. The most amazing thing, however, was the level of involvement of students in the project. The school had formed a "green council" involving kids of all ages that helped consult and plan the project, as well as other initiatives at the school.
A fifth-grade girl and an eighth-grade boy, both members of the Green Council, delivered speeches covering the various green initiatives taking place at the school (e.g., composting, an edible garden, recycling), as well as a history lesson on solar connectors and solar PV systems. The hundreds of students were attentive and clearly understood the significance of the ceremony and took a tremendous amount of pride from their efforts.
Everyday, we hear about new and exciting programs around the country, aimed at making students more aware of environmental challenges and issues, and encouraging them to get involved. I got the sense sitting there listening to the students and hearing about the various initiatives at Head-Royce, that a new "Green" generation was taking shape. It is clear that while there may be occasional, short-term setbacks in the move toward renewable energy, long-term success will be ensured by the education and activism of the next generation walking the halls of primary and secondary schools around the country.
What does this mean for technology companies and marketers? It means that the green halo is not going to go away anytime soon. It means that a new generation of consumers will look at the environmental impact of the choices they make and will make minimizing that impact a key purchasing decision.
I've been asked by several folks which green blogs I read on a regular basis. I can honestly say that my home page when I open up Firefox is Earth2Tech. It's part of a GigaOM network and tends to focus on the technology behind the renewable energy movement. It also provides some great round ups of what is happening in renewable energy markets and on other blogs within the Green universe.
Without further ado, here are some of the other Green blogs on my blogroll:
gristmill--provides great discussions around different topics of the day and closely scrutinizes what is happening at a public policy level in the world of green.
Green Wombat--Todd Woody does a good job blending environmental and technology news on a regular basis as part of the B2 network.
Treehugger--The name speaks for itself, rounding up the best in environmental news.
VentureBeat--True it is not a green blog, but is a great place to see where the funding is going.
This weekend, my wife and I were getting ready to watch a movie when I saw The American President on TNT or TBS (is there a difference?). This is the one where Michael Douglas plays a widower, single father and a first-term president. He meets and begins dating a lobbyist (played by Annette Bening) from a environmental group. The climax of the movie is a press conference where Douglas says that he is going to send aggressive gun control and climate legislation to Congress--two separate pieces of legislation that he was using as bargaining chips--while ignoring any negotiating he has already done with House and Senate members on the bills. The global warming bill he supports is a 20% reduction of green house gases by a certain date.
Now, I've seen the movie a dozen times (sadly) and it remains one of those guilty pleasure, Saturday afternoon movies that I will likely watch again (it has Michael J Fox, Richard Dreyfus and Martin Sheen as well...great cast). However, something struck me this time when watching it.
I knew that the environmental legislation pushed by Bening's character was a central plot component, but what struck me was that this was a topic for a movie released in 1995. That is 12 years ago now, going on 13. This amazed me because I would never have guessed that climate change has been a mainstream topic for that long. Maybe it is because I thought the debate was still centered on the ozone layer then or because gas was under $2 per gallon. In any case, I was shocked. Yet, it still seems as though we are only now scratching the surface of coming legislation, technology, etc.
What it also made me realize is that David Roberts of Gristmill is right: the world will be a much different place in 2020 when we are nearing the first date in many carbon emission-related bills currently under discussion.
Consider that in 1995Bill Clinton was a first-term president. Solar was a niche industry with little VC or private equity investment and certainly no $200 million rounds. The Dow hit 5,000 for the first time. Yahoo! was founded. Biofuels, fuel cells and ethanol weren't part of the everyday lexicon. CFL stood for Canadian Football League, not a type of light bulb. There was no Internet bubble or tech recession.
Amazing, no? Given the amount of investment in and marketing noise around renewable energy today, I am willing to bet that things will advance a bit more quickly over the next 13 years, with or without Michael Douglas leading the charge.
Other key parts of the legislation include the extension and an increase in solar tax credits for consumers and businesses (opposed by the White House), repeal of oil industry tax breaks (opposed by the White House) and a requirement for 15 percent of all energy to come from renewable sources (opposed by utilities). The Senate will take up the legislation this week. There has already been talk that the bill may get broken up in order to get certain elements passed.
I've mentioned before that the next 12 months are likely critical for the renewable energy industry. Billions in investment have flowed into solar, wind, biofuels and other technologies with the expectation that government mandates will continue to generate and even accelerate demand for renewable sources.
Do I think there is a scenario by which the entire industry stalls as a result of an unfriendly political climate? Not unless oil falls to $20 a barrel, gas to $.99 a gallon and a report comes out saying that trees are causing climate change and not carbon emissions. In other words, no shot. More likely is that individual states will lead the charge on legislation and it will just take a bit longer for renewable energy technology companies to see the rapid growth in terms of revenue and investment that many expect to see over the next decade.
Just as everything is cooling down for the holidays, the renewable energy debates in Washington are heating up.