Prepare for Deep Dive when Pitching Sustainability to New York Times

By Dave Armon, 3BL Media CMO
Nov 2, 2016 4:55 PM ET

One of the best punchlines delivered so far at BSR Conference came from New York Times sustainability reporter David Gelles when panelists were asked to recommend new breakthrough communications techniques.

“If I could briefly plug print advertising,” Gelles said, referring to a full-page ad that appeared on the back of the Times business section today from the office chat platform Slack, which used the space to deliver an open letter to Microsoft.

“That’s the breakthrough technology we’re talking about?” quipped BSR Managing Director of Communications Melanie Janin, who followed up by asking Gelles how much the Times charges for a full-page ad.

Jokes aside, Gelles maintains the ad sparked considerable buzz about Microsoft’s entry into the workplace collaboration space occupied by Slack.  He would not comment on the presumably hefty price tag for the print ad.

The reporter, whose Sunday New York Times “Revalued” column focuses on corporate responsibility and sustainability, likely disappointed many of the communications execs when he outlined his criteria for pitching stories.

Big brands, big industries and big issues are appropriate fodder for Revalued.  But pitches need to demonstrate something new, a big step beyond what has been done previously. He’s also looking for tension and access to executives willing to talk openly about their internal deliberations and struggles around messy topics.

“Every story I write isn’t going to make the subject of that story happy. I think that’s healthy,” said Gelles, pointing to a recent barbs aimed in the direction of large brands touting social and environmental achievements.

Gelles empathized with nonprofits, which struggle to get coverage from the New York Times.  Anything less than a $100 million grant from a celebrity philanthropist doesn’t generally elicit a response, he said.

Others tips from the BSR session “Beyond ‘Going Viral’: Breakthrough Communications” include:

  • B2B marketers should not worry about their storytelling techniques being any different than consumer-facing brands, said Leslie Kruempel, interative marketing manager for Organic Valley.  “People want to be inspired,” said Kruempel, adding that story ideas often come from members of the dairy cooperative’s sales team.
  • Nonprofits who don’t have sufficient budget to invest in technology tools to power their communications programs can experiment with ambassador programs at little or zero cost.  “Quick, easy, rapid prototyping,” supervised by a board member for 20 minutes a week, can start in one market and expand once perfected, said Serena Torrey Roosevelt, partner at NationSwell.
  • Paid social media promotion has proven more cost effective and targeted than broadcast ads, said Anastasia Khoo, chief marketing officer for Human Rights Campaign, who explained how she spent $10,000 on Twitter promotion to spark a dialog about professional athletes who are gay when NBA player Jason Collins came out. “The reality is it’s a pay-to-play environment,” she said.