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How charity and media partnerships can raise climate awareness at scale

5 November 2021

With the UK’s hosting of COP26 in full swing, civil society organisations are already joining forces to inspire climate action on a global stage. However, by looking outside itself and engaging with media industry partners there is scope for the sector to really extend the reach and power of its communications.

As Sir David Attenborough identified, saving the planet is a “communications crisis” and we know that scientific “us versus them” language can often alienate and ostracise many from seeing a place for them in climate action.

Climate activists have grappled with the challenge of communicating the science of the climate crisis, as well as the policies and initiatives needed to tackle it. All too often we see language and images that are ineffective in telling us how we can take action. Humans have consistently been framed as the problem, but what we have failed to show audiences is that we’re also the solution.

Recently, the UK’s media and broadcast sector has taken positive strides to tackle this challenge putting climate action at the heart of their commissioned content. Just this year, Sky launched a £2m fund to support brands committed to creating ads focused on sustainability, ITV invited viewers of popular shows like Coronation Street to make green changes and BBC Bitesize created a whole range of climate educational resources for teachers, parents, and young people. But now more than ever, we need cross-sector collaboration to sustain and increase these efforts and engage new audiences.

Challenges facing the third sector

Charities are well-placed to steer a dialogue on climate change that demonstrates the role of community action and puts diverse voices front and centre. Yet, at Media Trust, we know charities face an array of barriers when it comes to engaging mainstream media, creating cut-through, compelling content, and fundraising to make these efforts possible. Research commissioned by the Garfield Weston Foundation found 80% of environmental charities admit they are unable to raise the money they need to achieve the impact they want.

These are issues we’ve been tackling since the launch of our Weston Communicating Climate programme, offering free expert-led training in strategic communications for 30 environmental charities working across the UK. The programme has been delivered entirely online and with bitesize modules, meaning charities regardless of their location or capacity have had the opportunity to apply and take part.

When designing the curriculum, we worked with climate framing experts including On Road Media and Climate Outreach, but knew we needed to also engage the media industry in order to tap into the latest techniques around advertising and audience segmentation to drive changes in attitudes and behaviours at scale.

The benefits of industry support

Global media agency MG OMD responded to a newsletter about our programme (the power of communications!) and offered to lend the time and expertise of over 400 skilled staff members to our cohort of environmental charities. The partnership has since seen us facilitate 121 sessions between the charities and teams of agency volunteers who responded to a specific communications challenge set by the charity with strategic solutions.

So what did the experts have to say? Well, to start with, all the charities were asked to set clear objectives, define their target audience and explain their communications challenge in simple terms. Whether it’s increasing the number of subscribers to your newsletter or persuading more young people to volunteer, a great brief will explain what you want your audience to do for you and why in one sentence.

Researching your target audience and understanding their motivations will help you decide which messages, content and channels will work. Students for Global Health, for example, gained insights from MG OMD into how 18–24-year-olds feel about the environment and barriers that might prevent them from taking up their ‘Big Green Youth Survey’ before COP26. Understanding that young people classed as ‘harder to persuade’ needed to be convinced that individual actions play a role in policy change, they were able to refine their messaging and begin to gauge responses from the communities they wanted to reach. YouGov has some useful free audience insights to help get you started.

Finally, make sure you have a clear and persuasive call to action that links to your overarching objectives. When The Rivers Trust said they wanted to engage people on issues surrounding rivers, while also generating funds, their agency team came up with a simple, memorable ask; take 5 minutes by the river, tag 5 people and give £5. The charity tested the campaign with audiences this summer and plans to develop it further in the future.

Cultivating a meaningful corporate partnership

Firstly, carefully consider your objectives. What do you want to achieve for your charity, its mission, and beneficiaries? Is there a key communications or policy moment you can leverage? What media expertise are you missing that might bring you closer to your goal?

When you’re ready to approach your potential partner, it’s crucial that they are committed to your cause in some way, shape or form. We were lucky to find a partner that shared our mission (MG OMD already had climate action high on their agenda as part of their wider commitments to Ad Net Zero). Many media industry organisations will have CSR initiatives that could align with your cause so it’s worth doing your research beforehand.

It’s important to then track the impact your partner has on you and the communities you support. We recommend implementing a measurement framework to track and assess this impact, with agreed milestones and regular opportunities for checking-in.

We can’t adequately tackle the climate crisis without cross-sector work and clear, engaging and amplified messaging. This requires bravery and learning both from the side of the media organisations and charities, to ensure we work together to accurately portray the realities of how we take climate action and what will happen if we don’t.

If you enjoyed this you may also like: How to stay sane in a climate emergency

Banner Image: Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Ceri Jones

project manager - Weston Communicating Climate Programme, Media Trust

Ceri leads Media Trust’s Weston Communicating Climate Programme. Formerly she worked for the UK membership network Action for Global Health and creative agency Shape History.