How Traditional PR Screws Over Sustainable Brands

Truthfully, I’m a self-taught publicist. While--yes--I previously worked at a boutique luxury-lifestyle firm in New York before converting Orchard and Broome into the business it is today... working there didn’t equip me with any of the know-how that I employ in our current approach. To that point, the way in which we ‘do’ PR is not just different, but (so I’ve been told) intellectual, thoughtful, and uncommon. It’s really just the most common sense approach, in my mind.

I’m not going to tell you the method to my madness--sorry to burst your bubble--but I will say that traditional public relations does not work for sustainable or ethical brands. In fact, it sort of screws them over. There’s quite a lot to consider in working with sustainable brands and/or startups, in general. I also spoke on this topic in an article for Ecocult previously.

1. Pricing and ROI

No reason to beat around the bush: cost is a huge factor to consider in PR for these types of brands. Initially, I intended to be ardent about a minimum retainer, as it’s incredibly difficult to scale the level of work we do, and I felt that price was fair (and already under-market-value) for the service we provided. Needless to say, that’s changed. It’s an absolute luxury for smaller brands to have a publicist and almost always requires that they stretch their budgets, hence the magnified risk--beyond the fact that ROI on PR efforts oftentimes goes unseen and cannot be measured in the first place.

So, it’s incredibly important that these brands find justification in spending whatever amount of money they do every month. To that point, we vet every brand we represent and ensure that they meet certain criteria that set us up for success: most importantly having a multi-faceted brand narrative that can be translated to various verticals, great visual assets, and reasonable expectations and a baseline understanding of the results of engaging in public relations.

2. Discovering the Brand ‘Differentiator’

The multi-faceted story speaks to the fact that sustainability is not the full story for these brands. Years ago, when the industry was far less saturated, it was completely viable to get coverage solely based on the fact that a brand had a clean, transparent supply chain and/or were making use of innovative materials. Now? These brands are a dime a dozen--and cropping up on the daily.

It’s our job, in the initial phase of a relationship, to do branding as it pertains to PR. That entails an exercise of brand discovery and language. I feel it’s pinnacle to identify the type of verbiage used (or not) around a brand, in order to position them in front of their target audience and ensure that their ‘brand persona’ is conveyed properly.

3. Understanding Sustainability

Considering the fact that sustainability is inherent to these brands, there needs to be a general understanding of what that means to and for each company. Specializing in this niche, in-part, stemmed from the fact that I represented a company that forced me to learn and understand the certifications related to sustainable business: GOTS, Fair Trade, Leaping Bunny, USDA Organic, OEKO-TEX, Cradle to Cradle, FSC, so on and so forth. You need to talk the talk and walk the walk, too. Journalists are becoming more and more educated in this regard, and it goes a long way to be well-versed.

The cost for obtaining and upholding these certifications often prices out many small brands that are, in fact, qualified. So, understanding specifically what your brand does (or doesn’t do) that defines their sustainability and ethics is something to be established from the get-go, in order for those aspects to be properly communicated to the media. It also avoids back-and-forth in the sense that publicists need to “check back” before giving, say, an answer to a question that a reporter poses.

4. Operate Mindfully

One of my mantras is “be conscious and mindful.” It translates to every corner of my life in terms of client relationships, company culture, purchasing decisions, health and wellness, personal relationships, and beyond. As it relates to PR for sustainable brands, though, that means being mindful of not only their ROI, but also expenses.

This means, we don’t bill back clients for any meetings with journalists or editors (that’s our cost, those are relationships we’re building for our company), we shy away from press releases, as they’re both expensive and underwhelming as far as return, and we don’t pay for databases with (oftentimes outdated) contact information to blast out mass emails. Rather, we take a thoughtful approach to crafting pitches that are to the point, but informative and interesting (we think), and research the right people to present those to, and send a more personalized note. Fewer, better.