Feature on Publicity and the Environment with Barbara Kohn, PR consultant for TiME
How did you become involved in environmental work?
I spent most of my career in public relations. I actually started out with the US Department of Agriculture as an information specialist but later transitioned to become a public relations agency professional when Silicon Valley exploded in 1983. I focused mainly on writing and social media; since then, I have branched out to blogs. When it comes to the environment, my passion is animals and animal rescue. However, the San Francisco Jewish Federation is sponsoring TiME as one of its causes, so I thought I could offer my help!
How can TiME improve its public profile?
In my opinion, the world is communications, and it is guarded by gatekeepers. In order to reach your target audience, you need to grab the interest and enthusiasm of the news media. You need to have a strategy. You need to target the right media outlets. Good PR is cheap—you just have to get an editor to agree to include an article about your cause. Especially in the digital age, you don’t have to wait for anyone else to reach the people you want to reach. Get people to know you and believe in you. Manage communications and maintain contact to hold their interest.
How do you feel about social media as a marketing tool?
Social media is a two-way street. If you’re not careful, you can get trashed. It’s important to manage your presence on social media to get what you want from it. Social media is an ongoing conversation. You must listen, respond and take note. At the same time, however, you have to continue to do conventional public relations and marketing. There is no one correct method — it is important to maintain a diverse stream of tactics.
Why is the environment not more of a popular cause in your opinion?
Well, to me, I think it has a lot to do about accessibility. Animals like cats and dogs are part of people’s daily lives, and are animate, sentient creatures. It’s not so much of a stretch to then relate to wild animals. Additionally, there’s an enormous social-media presence surrounding animals. When it comes to the environment, unless they’re living in a biodiverse area, it’s less a conscious part of their everyday life.
In that case, how can we make the environment more relatable?
First of all, I think it’s important to say that you don’t have to reach out to everyone. I use the analogy of a party with one-hundred people. Thirty-three people there are passionate about your cause—keep them engaged. Thirty-three people could care less about your cause and will continue not to care even if you put in tremendous effort—don’t worry about them. The target people are the others who aren’t engaged but need to learn—this is where you need to focus.
Secondly, you need to reach people on an emotional level. You have to be able to understand your audience and their passions. I’ve spent much of my career devoting time to learning about what the target audience wants and needs. You need to find out what people care about and engage them. Distinguish yourself amongst other organizations. Get a passionate core of supporters to share your message.