Sirius’s forthcoming Making Waste Resonate report recognises that waste is as much a communications business as it is a logistical or processing one.
The document offers a frank and honest assessment of where the waste industry is coming up short in its media relations by drawing on exclusive research. Hopefully, it also provides remedies to address these issues by identifying key opportunities where the industry can leverage its assets and develop smarter, more creative, communication strategies.
If you compare us to similar sectors such as utilities, we are not doing a great job of managing and improving our media profile outside the trade press. It is important that the sector starts to do so in order to leverage the commercial opportunity that exists in this rapidly changing sector. I am also convinced we have the ammunition to make it happen.
An independent report seemed like a good way to see if these assumptions held true and to make some recommendations for improvements.
The way we communicate as a sector has improved tremendously and there are some brilliant examples of successful media and engagement strategies. Often, however, these are examples of organisations addressing a single commercial opportunity, such as a new facility or piece of legislation or regulation. Where it perhaps falls short is the bigger picture which builds the reputation and raises the profile of the sector as a whole.
“So what?”, you might say. “Why do we need media coverage if it’s not directly aligned to a specific opportunity?” Indeed, some of the people we talked to in the production of the report,quite rightly, challenged the need for a wider media presence.
I could not agree more that untargeted coverage without objective serves no real purpose other than to massage egos, whether corporate or personal. I am also a realist. We do some great stuff to save the planet but, ultimately, we are all here to make some money and, frankly, if we don’t the good work will cease to happen.
But the reality is that our sector in isolation cannot optimise the opportunity that a change from waste to resources offers. To really bring about change, we are going to need to make some headway in supporting people to change their behaviour on a pretty significant scale.
We will need to help people to understand the resource challenges we face, how the sector is working to address these challenges, how their actions and behaviour can affect our ability to do this, how they will need to change the way they consume products and the need for them to take responsibility for their part in the secondary resource supply chain.
The real challenge is not with people like us who live and breathe waste – most of us are already believers. We need to reach Jill and Joe Public and, let’s be honest, their only real engagement with our sector is some home recycling and making sure they get the right bin out on the right day. All too often we talk a good talk and tell an engaging story, but we only tell it to ourselves or our first line of stakeholders.
It is more than just changing behaviour, however. Building the reputation and profile of the sector and repositioning it as a vibrant and innovative one that has a vital role to play in the way we design, manufacture and consume products will also enable us to attract and retain the brightest talent. Demonstrating the huge commercial opportunity, and supporting this with examples of our ability to deliver, builds confidence and has an important role to play in our ability to attract much needed investment.
Finally, we are missing a significant brand-building opportunity, not only for us as waste managers but also for our customers. All too often waste producers are going to great lengths to leverage the commercial and environmental benefits of improved resource management but are failing to improve their brand. But some companies do make most of this opportunity – the best example of this is M&S with its Plan A, an environmental commitment to build its brand and differentiate itself from the competition.
Austen Lees is managing director at Sirius Communications
The Making Waste Resonate report will be published exclusively on MRW.co.uk shortly