Can Storytelling Save the World?

Written by: Laurie Zakreski, Zak Communications

In a fast moving and unpredictable industry, we have a favorite saying we like to employ in times of stress (so, weekly):

“Remember, it’s PR, not ER!” 

It’s been a helpful way to remember that we aren’t saving any lives. So, let’s keep things in perspective, people!

Lately however, we find there is an undeniable sense of purpose to being a professional storyteller. Against a backdrop of the ongoing turbulence that has characterized the past few years, we’ve noticed the types of conversations we are having with co-workers, clients and media, are different. They’re less about the usual product benefits or styles and trends and more likely to be around topics such as diversity and inclusion, transparency, mental health, call-out culture, and perhaps most urgently, climate change and sustainability.

Back in September 2019, Zak Communications took part in the historic Marches for Climate Action in Toronto and in Montreal with Greta Thunberg, along with an estimated 500,000 other people. Two years later, the collective concern around climate change has become exponentially greater, as we digest the hard truths from the latest reports while witnessing, or being directly affected by, the consequences of climate inaction. 

The numerous problems underlying climate change can seem overwhelming. However, it is vitally important to remember that every action matters. PR has an important role to play in accelerating progress, as our job is to communicate a brand’s ethos, including its sustainability efforts. PR is instrumental in helping to both educate consumers and to influence behaviours. It’s at the heart of what we do.

At Zak, we’re fortunate that many of our clients have well-established and, in some cases, cutting-edge sustainability efforts. Our recent work on behalf of brands such as L’Occitane or Elisa C-Rossow have been about advancing these initiatives — knowing that consumers are increasingly focused not just on what a product or brand can do for them, but on how a company’s behaviours are impacting society and the planet. We know that consumers are more inclined towards brands whose values mirror their own, therefore, communicating these values is key. And that’s of course where PR comes in, developing storytelling around processes rather than just the product.

In crafting messaging for clients around sustainability, we first need to understand how each brand defines it for themselves. Sustainability is a multi-layered issue and so there are many criteria and standards that can be applied. Is it producing less waste? Being clean and vegan? Lowering the carbon footprint? Encouraging thoughtful consumption? Having an in-store recycling program? Cutting back on packaging? Offsetting emissions? It’s important to also be realistic. Nothing is perfect because the truth is, the planet needs ALL of these efforts, and the fear that we aren’t doing enough should never be a reason for doing nothing.

Being transparent about what more can be done is just as important as what is currently being done, therefore communicating goals can also be an important part of a brand’s messaging and, furthermore, a factor in a consumer’s decision about which brand they will purchase. 

Sustainability is much more than a ‘key message’, it’s an actual necessity. At Zak, we are committed to expanding our vernacular in this area by learning to ask tough questions, both of ourselves and of others and doing our best to ensure our clients’ efforts are well understood by the consumer. We may not have it within our power to save lives, but we do have a role to play, as storytellers, in being a part of the climate change solution.