PR Campaign Draws Strength From the Grassroots

By: Nancy Mann Jackson

How the power of member participation powered up one association's image campaign.

Americans are going greener, but most people still have little respect for the garbage man—although he kept the environment clean long before the rest of us were worried about it. For the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), which includes the National Solid Waste Management Association and the Waste Equipment Technology Association, that's an image problem that can be costly for its members.

In an effort to remedy the public's misunderstanding of the solid waste industry, in October 2008, NSWMA launched a grassroots image campaign, "Environmentalists. Every day."

"The remarkable thing about our industry is that when trash is collected on schedule and streets are clean and there are no threats to public health, no one thinks about us," says Bruce Parker, president and CEO of EIA. "We want to educate key audiences that the industry is using innovation to reduce its carbon footprint through recycling, creating renewable energy from landfill gas, and conserving natural resources.  We are part of the solution, not the problem."

Rather than spend "billions" on a national advertising and media campaign, Parker says, EIA chose to use the outreach power of its members and their employees in local communities across the country. EIA appointed a committee of members who pinpointed target audiences and messages, then developed a 76-page toolkit to help members get involved.  The toolkit includes a sample PowerPoint presentation and script for presentations to community groups about what happens to trash after it leaves the curb. It also includes lunchroom posters to help educate solid-waste employees about the environmental impact of their work. The kit offers various options for participating in the campaign, such as speaking to community groups, including a campaign message in email signatures, and working with local media to secure press coverage.

"Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of proud men and women, who really are the best ambassadors for their companies and our industry," says Thom Metzger, EIA's director of communications and public affairs. "By providing them with some key resources and ideas, they can effectively reach out to schools, community organizations, media, government officials, and other people in the communities they serve."

During its first year, the campaign met or exceeded almost every goal set by the planning committee, including goals for member involvement, media outreach, and online traffic. The campaign website attracted nearly 40,000 unique visitors and more than 150,000 page views during its first year. The campaign resulted in at least 18 media stories in 2008 and 30 in 2009, including articles in The Economist and The New York Times. Press releases from EIA have been published in hundreds of newspapers, reaching millions of readers.

Today, the campaign continues to expand. In 2010, EIA is adding a section about social media to the toolkit, offering more training sessions for members, forging partnerships with other organizations, and honoring participating companies.

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Alabama. Email: [email protected]

"Environmentalists. Every Day." Campaign Timeline
October 2007 Association leadership gives approval for the Environmental Industry Associations to begin working on a grassroots image campaign.
December 2007 EIA leaders assemble a committee including representatives from member companies of all sizes to begin planning.
Early 2008 The planning committee holds five meetings to hammer out details, including target audiences, messages, and funding, and develop resources for the educational toolkit.
October 2008 EIA debuts the "Environmentalists. Every Day." program at its annual meeting, launches a new website, mails posters for break rooms or locker rooms of all member facilities, and begins media outreach.
November 2008 EIA sends bound copies of its 76-page toolkit to each member. Copies are also made available to members online.
April 2009 EIA conducts web-based training sessions to educate members on how to use the toolkit and put the campaign into action. Additional web sessions are held in July and October 2009.
Remainder of 2009 Live training sessions are held at more than a dozen chapter meetings and EIA's annual meeting to familiarize members with "Environmentalists. Every Day." program.

Nancy Mann Jackson

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer based in Huntsville, Alabama.