A broader PR palette now critical to move clean technology industry forward

Clean technology investment was a major platform for Obama during his campaign.

He said, “My energy plan will put $150 billion over 10 years into establishing a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades.” He promised to create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund, hoping to invest $10 billion per year into this fund for five years. Obama also promised to double science and research funding for clean-energy projects, including those making use of biomass, solar and wind resources. This was such an encouraging vision for our industry.

But the encouraging news is that this wasn’t campaign rhetoric.

Yesterday, President Obama boldly acted on fuel efficiency and global warming. He urged passage of the $825 billion economic stimulus package in the House and Senate. Those bills include billions for investment in renewable energy, conservation and an improved electric grid. He said, “No single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy.”

There’s never been a more critical time for authentic, persuasive, pragmatic, inspired communications. But does “traditional PR” play within this unfolding drama? Are messaging, thought leadership and media relations the core PR elements needed to affect the necessary change?

No, certainly not.

The clean technology industry is a complex ecosystem that includes economics, politics and public policy. Clean technology companies must continually balance these considerations. The industry also has a vibrant moral dimension – a making the world a better place element – that adds legitimacy, scope, involvement and urgency.

In this dicey economic time, the clean technology industry needs even greater support from investors, public policy makers and the public itself to blossom. To achieve the progress President Obama envisions, we must think, plan and act holistically from a communications perspective as the clean tech industry develops and markets products and solutions that ultimately enable us to live cleaner, greener, better lives.

Thankfully, public relations now represents a much wider palette. It should – and must – embrace a variety of strategic areas including thought leadership, public advocacy, social media, crisis communications, ethnography, employee communications, corporate social responsibility, multi-cultural relations, healthcare, change management and financial communications.

To name a few.

Depending on the clean tech company, product/service, market segment and challenges faced, many of these communications ingredients must be thoughtfully weighed, integrated and acted upon, often in the same relative timeframe. Again and again and again.

Yes, these are complex, critical, consuming, highly charged challenges for communications professionals.
But what a historic moment to shape a societal/global movement that will continue to grow in urgency as tough times morph … into stable times … and better times.

Thought leadership

Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout thought leadership …

While the notion of being a thought leader is readily embraced by most clean tech companies (who doesn’t want to be one?), you have to play it right or risk undermining your organization’s credibility.

Eight things you need to know:

1.  The starting point? The word “thought.” Begin by creating a big picture idea with relevance to many. Look outward, not inward. The idea isn’t myopically focused; it has appeal to others outside your company. And while it doesn’t have to appeThought leadership – Beaupre & Co.al to a vast universe, it must appeal to a market or a segment of the clean technology market. Pervasive thought leadership platforms cleverly rise above (A) a company, (B) its products, (C) its technologies, and (D) its services. This is definitely the hard part.

2.  Companies create thought leadership ideas to forge a differentiated position for themselves. By developing big concepts, the thought leadership company creates competitive advantage. How? Because the marketplace perceives it as a mover and shaker: someone shaping the agenda vs. responding to it. Great thought leadership campaigns give their creators an offensive vs. defensive position. And get them noticed. Example: GE’s “Ecomagination” campaign. Despite a former checkered environmental record, GE effectively re-positioned itself: an initial $700 million in clean tech R&D in 2005, expected to grow to $1.5 billion by 2010. GE wants $25 billion in Ecomagination product revenues that same year. A commitment of that size resonates across the industry.

3.  An effective thought leadership idea has forward appeal. It’s not a rehash of where things have been, it’s a brilliant definition of how things should be and where they should be headed. It’s a desired state with emphasis on benefits. Example: Obama has consistently spoken about the need to take dramatic action to revive U.S. manufacturing and create jobs by investing in alternative energy sources. He emphasized it in his inaugural address, “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

4.  Effective thought leadership ideas are embraced (sometimes readily) by others. The ideas are so strong and compelling, that direct competitors either overtly or indirectly respond to – and shape themselves around – the idea. In some instances, competitors adopt the thought leadership idea but morph it with their own language.

5.  Great thought leadership lives a long life … years not days. It isn’t intended to be a short lived advertising tagline or a bumper sticker … it’s a concept that becomes a definitional stake-in-the-ground for high-level corporate messaging.

6.  The best thought leadership ideas are thought provoking, challenge the clean tech marketplace and are perceived as newsworthy by the media.

7.  Now for the second word, the “leadership” part. Great thought leaders don’t sit back and say, “Give me a call when you want to talk about this idea.” They are bold, aggressive and in-your-face. They push the ball up the floor and take their message out with great consistency.

8.  There is – for the bold and socially minded – an even higher state of thought leadership. Companies can rise above their own market niches (and self interests) by making their world a better place to live. Clean technology is at a perfect crossroads for this kind of corporate social responsibility.

Clean technology boom: bigger than the Internet? Yes.

Journalist Marc Gunther, one of the media’s most prominent followers of clean technology trends, lays out the five reasons why he thinks the adoption of clean technology will be a bigger upheaval than even that wrought by the Internet. He predicts that between the size of the industries involved to generational changes that feed the public’s appetite for environmentally friendly products, clean technology will touch every thread of our lives. Gunther spoke at the Brodeur Clean Technology Forum at the Harvard Club in Boston in October 2008.