Gore's PR for the Planet


The global warming campaign will really begin in 2008


By Victoria Schlesinger



First place winner in the ACP and Current TV Ecospot 60-second video contest.

 

The Alliance for Climate Protection might sound like the innocuous, forgettable title of yet another environmental group, but it’s about to become a household name. In the New Year, the ACP has plans—and the means—to inundate the public with its call to fight global warming.

When Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize in partnership with the IPCC on October 12, he announced that his half of the $1.5 million prize money would go to the ACP. But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $100 million the non-profit, established by Gore, intends to spend annually come 2008 in order to spur public demand for climate change action.

 

“The planet doesn’t have a PR agent,” Gore told the Associated Press last July. “But now it will, because the Alliance for Climate Protection is going to use the modern techniques of messaging to get the scientific evidence in front of people all over the world.”

The former Vice President founded the ACP summer of 2006 following the release of An Inconvenient Truth, his academy award-winning documentary on climate change, to fill what he considered a vacant niche in the environmental movement.

“The VP saw a gap for mass communication. He saw a need for an unprecedented campaign on global warming,” says Brian Hardwick, director of communications for ACP.

According to Hardwick and much of the polling data, the question is no longer whether human induced climate change is a recognized problem, but what to do about it. A Gallup Poll taken in April 2006 found that 74% of Americans say they understand the issue of global warming “fairly” to “very” well and some 58% believe that increases in the Earth's temperature over the last century are due to human activities.

Despite this, a year later only one-third of the roughly 1,000 people polled said they were “very worried” about the effects of global warming. What’s missing, Hardwick says, “is a sense of urgency that it really needs to be done now and that we really do have a way that will provide opportunity rather than sacrifice.”

To galvanize the public, ACP plans to launch in February 2008 an unprecedented media campaign on the scale of the Regan era “Just Say No” to drugs crusade. The Martin Agency, known for its Geico and Caveman ads, won the bid in September to handle the three-year, $300 million media blitz.

While neither ACP nor Martin is willing to discuss the specifics of the campaign, it will employ all the typical media avenues—print, TV, online—to deliver a message that “emphasizes solutions to problems” says agency president Mike Hughes. Gore will kick off the campaign, announcing its message in February.

Mass media campaigns when well funded and multi-faceted can significantly impact the public’s behavior, according to Jennings Bryant, professor of mass communications at the University of Alabama. States that employ a “Click it or Ticket” seat belt campaign have an average 14 percent higher usage than states without one. While the drive to educate women about the importance of breast exams has resulted in earlier detection of breast cancer.

But to successfully engage all Americans, particularly Republicans, “they may have to disassociate from Gore,” Jennings says. Some mass media campaigns don’t play up the name of the group running the campaign in order to widen appeal and increase the feeling that the message has many different sources. It’s unclear the degree to which Gore will play a role in ACP’s campaign.

Political biases aside, “They’re gonna have to keep this fresh,” Bryant says. While ACP may be able to engage Hollywood fans and college students relatively quickly, reaching the US Chamber of Commerce, for example, will require a different angle and more time. And ultimately, if the group has its sights on citizens of other countries—China, Russia, India—they’ll need years to have an impact.

The ACP has a line up of heavy lifters on its board who are no doubt helping to raise the funds for the group’s sizable budget. It consists of venerable names such as Theodore Roosevelt IV, managing director of Lehman Brothers; Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to presidents Ford and Bush senior; Sherwood Boehlert, former New York Congressman; and Gore as chairman. He and wife Tipper contributed the group’s $5 million in seed money, which in part came from the proceeds of An Inconvenient Truth.

ACP is also the sole beneficiary of the Live Earth concert in July, which featured 24 hours of live music across 7 continents, drawing a record-breaking 55 million video streams. Interspersed between sets by Madonna and The Police were entreaties to conserve and take a stand against global warming. While the massive event was intended to raise awareness, rather than funds, ACP says that when the accounting’s done, any left over proceeds will go to them. That’s because its producer Kevin Wall is also on the ACP board.

If Live Earth is any sort of barometer for ACP’s global warming awareness campaign, then hold on to your computer’s mouse and get ready to shout out.

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