Canbio Update: Talking About Biomass
December 4, 2009
By Crystal Luxmore
Talk to me about wind power and I picture a great white turbine. Wax
poetic on solar energy and I see fields of long, black photovoltaic
cells. But biomass? Well, there are wood chips, elephant grass,
garbage, and chicken feces.
Talk to me about wind power and I picture a great white turbine. Wax poetic on solar energy and I see fields of long, black photovoltaic cells. But biomass? Well, there are wood chips, elephant grass, garbage, and chicken feces. Then there are biogas converters, wood stoves, heat and power plants, waste-to-energy plants, and biorefineries. Or we could go with the end product. But wait: should I be picturing oils, gas, heat, or chemicals?
And therein lies the public relations conundrum of bioenergy: it’s confusing and wholly unsexy. If bioenergy wants to get higher up on the government and public agenda, it needs to become more tangible and more appealing.
So how can biomass companies reach key decision makers and make them listen? Try following these rules for better communications.
Start with the end in mind. Figure out what result you want from your communications activities. Do you want to win a government grant? Lobby a ministry to change its policy? Get the local community onside? Identifying your audience and desired outcome makes reaching it much easier.
Focus on your project, but highlight the bigger benefits. Gear your message and imaging to the type of bioenergy or project you are promoting, but communicate the overall benefits of switching from a fossil-based to a bio-based economy. An easy way to communicate the bigger message is by joining an industry association, whereby you effectively lend another voice to the regional, provincial, or national voice of the bioenergy industry.
Stick to the message. Confine yourself to two or three key messages that focus on the positive outcomes and benefits of your product or service. Journalist Ann Medina says that every company should be able to say what it does in seven words. If you can’t do that, then the media, busy government officials, and potential financial backers won’t understand it—and chances are, you don’t either.
Back it up. Turn facts into short stories that appeal to people’s emotions and needs. Keep them short and simple. Think in headlines and sound bites. Get others to tell people how great you are by providing testimonials.
Debunk myths. Myths about biomass live longer than any scientific facts. Keep abreast of any myths out there about your project and its risks and benefits and make sure your messaging addresses them.
Be honest. People are smart and they are hungry for honest information that helps them make meaningful choices. This is just as true for the general public as it is for politicians and CEOs. Don’t sound like an advertisement; communicate all of the benefits, but also have a handle on any negative factors (the environmental footprint caused by transporting biomass, for instance) and have all the facts ready.
Spend money on a website. Most people approach a website as they do a first date: if it’s good-looking, professional, and easy to get to know, they will answer when you phone to ask for a second date.
Climb the pyramid of influence. Pick out the people at the top who you would most like to get your message to, especially those who have the power to pass your message on to hundreds more. Find key allies and opinion leaders and win their support from day one.
Sing from the same hymnbook. Wind, solar, and biomass are all complementary renewable energy solutions, and it’s only when they’re taken together that they can build a critical mass to supplement fossil fuels. So why aren’t we all singing from the same hymnbook? Look locally for other renewable energy companies and combine your communications efforts. Approaching government and even investors as a consortium can give you an advantage. •
Crystal Luxmore is a freelance journalist and the public relations manager for the Canadian Bioenergy Association.
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