2009 PR Predictions

By Dan Welch
Story + Welch

Greenwashing will grow as a marketing weapon (that backfires)

In December, Bank of America announced that it would stop financing coal companies that practice the widely criticized mountaintop removal method of extracting coal (a lucrative practice which basically involves cutting the top off of a mountain, extracting the coal, and pushing everything else into the valleys below).

Ignore the fact that no one could really find a mining company that would be affected by Bank of America’s announcement (one mining industry spokesman called it “grandstanding”), or that BoA wouldn’t elaborate on what the company was sacrificing in choosing this noble course of action. Like a growing number of companies, Bank of America wanted a pat on the back for “going green.”

Greenwashing – the eco-pejorative version of whitewashing – is a problem because if affects the companies that truly are making a positive environmental impact in the world. The fact that it is misleading is not the main problem. Rather, it is that the mad rush to be green will engender a growing cynicism among consumers. And when the line is blurred to the point of invisibility between companies actually making a difference and companies only claiming to do so, there are no real winners.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is updating its guidelines for making environmental claims, and they will likely ensnare a big-name company once in a while. But, as with other forms of advertising regulation, the real arbiter of power is not the regulatory body, but instead the consumer.

Increasing during 2009 and beyond, expect this growing consumer cynicism to punish companies who make clumsy attempts at greenwashing. And for marketers and PR practitioners who represent authentic green companies, cutting through the green clutter will require ever-increasing creativity to gain consumer trust. Finally, this cynicism may ultimately make most first-person “we are green” marketing claims ineffectual. Look for the rise of objective influencers who help consumers navigate the green maze with implicit or explicit endorsements.

Few Denver PR Agencies Are Walking the Walk

The amount of lip service public relations agencies give to new media, social media, Web 2.0, etc., is stunning. It seems you can’t sit through a pitch these days without listening to agencies explain how “critical it is to connect directly — and unfiltered — with your target audiences.” 

So we thought it might be interesting to examine how many Denver PR agencies practice what they preach even at the most basic levels. What we found surprised us. Of the 32 agencies we checked, only seven had blogs, and even those seven had great disparities in how often posts appeared and how easy it was to find their blogs. So here is the honor roll:

  • Pure Brand — 45 posts to its blog since January 1. We found this blog to be the most varied and interesting, with a lot of quick hits on a number of PR and advertising issues.
  • Schenkein — 25 posts since January 1. The Schenkein blog disappeared for a while, but was resuscitated by Elaine Ellis at the end of January. Since then, it has made a strong showing.
  • Story + Welch — 21 posts since January 1. We found this to be the smartest blog, with a lot of analysis about business issues (not just PR issues). But mixed in with those lengthier pieces are some amusing quick hits.
  • Metzger — 19 posts since January 1. Originally, we missed Metzger’s blog because it isn’t linked from the agency’s Web site (or if it is, we still haven’t found it), but fortunately a reader emailed us the URL. 
  • GBSM — 8 posts since January 1. For GBSM, we counted Steven Silver’s Scatterbox blog, which offers an array of opinions on topics that interest Silvers ranging from elder care to HBO’s Inside the NFL. Our only complaint is how infrequently he posts.
  • JohnstonWells — 6 posts since January 1. A mix of JW and industry news, it is not uncommon for the blog to go almost a month without a new post. 
  • GroundFloor Media — 3 posts since January 1. The GFM blog offers updates (albeit sparingly) on interesting firm and client projects.

Steven Silvers/GBSM had already found his way into our blogroll, but we will be adding the blogs from Pure Brand, Schenkein, Story + Welch and Metzger because of their commitment to blogging frequently on interesting topics.

NOTE: Post updated 3/9/2008 @ 1:04 p.m.