Green to Gold

A former big box retailer client came to us with a brilliant idea. He wanted to do an environmental PR program tied to…St. Patrick’s Day. Geesh! “Big agency,” he asked, “how do you propose to bring my (lame-brained) idea to life?”

So like good little agency service providers, we convened a brainstorming to figure out just how we go about achieving our client mandate to equate the green of St. Patrick’s with the green in the meadow. Hey, I got it. We’ll clean up the Chicago River after the drunken fools pour green dye into it. Nah!

Why don’t we hire some store workers in t-shirts to pick up the trash on New York’s Fifth Avenue in the aftermath of the St. Patty’s Day Parade? I don’t think so.

In the end, the retailer’s PR guy wound up creating an FSI in which all the store’s “green” products were listed as sale items for St. Patrick’s Day.

Back then, the motivation to be green lied less in its prospects to make a difference, and more in the PR/marketing potential. In his CNN/Money piece titled “The Greening of P.R; Read All About It,” Joel Makover took notice of the sudden rush to green by the big full-service agencies.

“But it’s more than that. The greening of P.R. reflects a new found reality: It’s now safe, or at least safer, for companies to tell their good, green stories.”

Some call their offering sustainability practices so as to not scare off too many prospective clients. (God forbid the agencies come off looking like Fenton Communications.)

Next week, at the World Business Forum, Yale professor and Green to Gold author Dan Esty will address in earnest the phenomenon that actually gives green PR its meaning — not just some faux-marketing initiative designed to drive sales or enhance reputation.

Mr. Makover is correct. The agencies are making over this important practice, but it’s not the first time. It’s just more real this time, not to mention the prospect for mining gold from green.