Is Green Newsworthy?

Developing a green or environmentally responsible product is an important contribution to the planet, but is it really a central marketing opportunity? I meet so many entrepreneurs who feel that the “green” aspect of their product is going to be the secret weapon to make it newsworthy -- and even shelf worthy. Though it once was a defining differentiation factor, being green is no longer something that truly makes a product unique and it’s not something that makes a product newsworthy. There are some specific times of the year, however, when an eco-angle is more newsworthy and that’s what I’m going to share that will enable you to use the green aspect to gain attention and hopefully end customers.

Thankfully today, most new products have some green aspect to them as our world is moving in the direction of complete social responsibility. There is opportunity, however, but it’s quickly becoming very mainstream. According to sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson in the book, Cultural Creatives, about 50 million of adult Americans (slightly over one quarter of the US population) belong to a group of consumers who “care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, and social justice, about self-actualization, spirituality, and self-expression.” What’s fantastic is that corporate America is following suit by developing products that cater to what is now a widely adopted mindset, and retailers as huge as WalMart and Target are making these kinds of products available. At least in large cities, almost every major grocer has an organics section in the produce department and an aisle filled with natural, sustainably created and eco friendly products. In some neighborhoods, plastic bags have become outlawed and stores encourage shoppers to bring their own recyclable bags and charge to provide paper ones.

Publicity is part of the marketing process. Marketing is anything that a company does to get a product off the inventory shelf and into the hands of someone who is willing to pay for it. Publicity is the art of persuading the press to report about something. What’s incredible is that this could be seen as exponential marketing, because when your product is reported about in a magazine or on a TV show that’s read or seen by your potential customer, you are reaching an average of 13 million readers/viewers. Better yet, in contrast to the suspicion a consumer often feels about the objectivity of advertising, consumers trust the opinion of a reporter almost as much as they trust their best friend’s opinion. A friend’s (or celebrities) opinion is, by the way, the #1 best marketing any company could hope for.

Soliciting the press to report about a product is a bit tricky, as a reporter’s job is to report “stories” in the editorial section of a media outlet that is about or behind a product. Advertising, which is the paid side of a media outlet, exists to support the editorial and as such is completely subjective. Editorial, is objective. As such, when reporters report about a product, the features and benefits of a product are not “newsworthy.” The fact that it’s an eco friendly product falls into the feature and benefits category for a reporter, most of the time.

There are times of the year, however, when media outlets do what are called “special issues,” or “gift guides” and these are times with the highest probability that your product could serve as editorial content. In the eco world, Earth Day is the benchmark of the calendar. This usually falls in April. And, this is the time of the year when not only eco-oriented magazines like Body + Soul, Whole Foods, or Nutritional Insights might report, but mainstream publications like Vanity Fair do a “Green Issue” and Parade (the magazine inside USA Today), does their eco issue. Every regional magazine, newspaper (and often national morning TV shows) showcase green products sometime around Earth Day. There are a lot of opportunities to tell your story, but April is the time when the eco story is the best one to choose for your publicity campaign.

There are cycles that run in the media which provide excellent opportunities for companies to tell stories about their products. This occurs, usually, a few days after a large controversy of some kind of a large news story that is reported for multiple days. For example, if your company makes seeds and Monsanto was recently in the news being publicly shamed for its genetically engineered seeds, your non-GMO stance becomes a reportable or newsworthy story a few days later. If you make natural sleeping aids, the Michael Jackson sleeping drug overdose story serves as a reason the press might be more interested in your product. This is when the press are looking for “solution stories” that help their viewers / readers find restitution regarding a large issue.

Kermit the Frog said “it’s not easy being green,” and this has become the case now with something called “green washing.” For a while now, companies have jumped on the eco bandwagon, just to attract attention, when in fact their product was not really natural, green or helpful to our health. A company could be criticized for using a “me too” marketing approach that appears to take advantage of something for purely commercial reasons and isn’t grounded in authenticity. The folks in the naturals industry are a very specific bunch who are very big on authenticity and congruency. In other words, if your product or company’s heart and soul is not perceived as true, consumers will smell it a mile away. The industry will band together to block you from hanging your marketing hat on this factor. A good example of this is a restaurant chain called Chipotle. Their menu offerings are about simplicity of farm grown foods; their slogan is “food with integrity.” When the public found out that McDonald’s was a major investor, it caused a massive problem for them that caused Mickey D’s to sell their stake in the chain. The same thing happened with Kashi and Kellogg’s. So, though these are massive companies who you may not identify with right now, just keep these things in mind as you make your “green” claims as it relates to a product. The press (and consumers) are interested in authenticity and truth as well, so when you’re ready to expose yourself to a reporter, make sure you are indeed truly, green.

Alyson Dutch is a product launch PR maven and the author of the PR Handbook for Entrepreneurs, creator of the Bootcamp for Entrepreneurs and founder of full service PR firm, Brown + Dutch PR and the “speed dating for products and press,” Consumer Product Events. She is a speaker at INPEX and mentor for the Small Business Association’s SCORE program.

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