Challenges to Environmental Communication and How to Overcome Them

Climate change has been a topic of inquiry for many years, but recently it has dominated news headlines. With the involvement of politics and policy changes that affect the Earth, there is a great debate involving what people should do to fight these issues. With overwhelming scientific evidence that humans have significantly accelerated climate change, environmental communicators can feel frustrated when faced with people who refuse to believe that the changing climate is a problem. Walls are put up between those who passionately work to prevent further climate change and those who do not accept it as a legitimate problem, and it sometimes feels like there is no common ground between the two populations. Here are some of the biggest barriers to understanding climate change and the environment, and how communication professionals can attempt to break through and make this issue relevant.

“Not My Problem”

Psychological studies have shown that all around the world, those who directly experience the effects of climate changes are the ones who feel most compelled to act and who are concerned about the future (need to find this citation again). People living in coastal cities, cities with normal high temperatures that continue to rise, or historically cold towns that are experiencing mild seasons see in their every day lives that the world is changing, and they dramatically hope that the rest of the world takes action. However, a large part of the world doesn’t have this same perspective. They have not noticed the changes in their lives that much. Therefore, it is up to communicators to show these people that there ARE affects that will eventually be seen in their families lives. Through creating interactive experiences and making messages targeted towards the audience’s own life and experience, they will pay more attention to what is said and potentially be more compelled to take action.

“Not My Political Party”

Issues concerning the environment have become partisan. Many people use a political party as a part of their identity, and therefore form opinions around that party as to affirm this identity. It is important for communicators to remove political bias when speaking about the environment. That said, politicians do not always make the best spokespeople for these issues. Instead, a more unbiased voice should be used to address an audience and present facts.

“Not My Field of Study”

When you get down to it, greenhouse gasses, carbon emissions, and the specific scientific effects of climate change can be complicated matters, especially to people who do not like science! Many people truly do not understand, or choose to tune out language that they are not familiar with. While specific scientific facts are vital to those that study this phenomenon for a living in research labs and in the field, others who do not have the same background knowledge need a more baseline understanding. Messages need to be simplified and not focus on details that require a bachelor of science degree to understand. Making information available to everyone, regardless of education level, is key to getting the entire world on board with sustainable practices.

Say it With an Infographic

Some people are visual learners and easily recall pictures. Other think in numbers and need to see something quantified in order to believe it. There is also the “left brain/right brain” debate, where some people gravitate towards logical arguments over creative ones. It is always important to know your audience when presenting information. But with so many different learning styles, what if you can’t settle on just one approach? What if you are pitching an idea to a panel of senior leaders in a company that includes a design professional and the head of the accounting department?

Selecting one presentation style can be limiting if you have diversity in your audience. An innovative and effective way to present important information while appealing to different styles is to use an infographic.

What is an Infographic?

Infographic are visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly. They combine the best of all worlds, and the result is a visually appealing way to convey your thoughts.

Here is an infographic on an infographic! I pulled this from the source, Kathy Shrock’s Guide to Everything. This is an example of what an infographic looks like as well as cool information about the tool itself.

What Does An Infographic Look Like?

If you are wondering if this visual presentation style could work for you, here is an example of an infographic on the topic of coffee.

As you can see, there is value to using different types of visual representations. Combining text, numbers, and images in a visually appealing way will make readers want to pay attention to the data you’re presenting. You don’t have to settle for one style of boring chart, or even create a lengthy slide show presentation. Infographics make it possible to make many assertions about a topic all in one place.

How Can I Make an Infographic?

Here is a cheat sheet from Piktochart that shows how to arrange data if you want to create your own infographic. Different layouts visually make more sense depending on the information that you present.

Is an Infographic Right for My Presentation?

According to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, an info graphic is 30 times more likely to be read than a purely textual article. People remember 80% of what they see and do, compared with just 20% of what they read. While research looks promising on infographics, it is important to keep a few potential limitations in mind. Some settings and topics would not be appropriate for infographics, so it is important to be clear on your assignment and audience expectations. Also, sometimes infographics can appear cluttered if they have too much information in too little of a space, or if they go on for too long on a website and force users to keep scrolling to get to the end. If your presentation style allows a visual element and you keep your facts concise enough, infographics can be a creative way to combine graphics and text to reach your audience.

Better Business Writing: The Anatomy of a Business Report

The world of business is fast paced and sometimes relies on quick decisions. For creative writers, crafting a business report can be tricky because messages must be very concise. Details are great and still necessary, but the audience of a technical document needs the most important information without “fluff” around it. To stay on track, here is a break down of the necessary pieces of a basic business report.

Executive Summary
This is essentially a mini version of the report. The reader should be able to see all major findings and make a decision based on the concise information given in the executive summary. Often, this could be the only part your audience has time to read so it must get straight to the point.

To begin the report, state the problem and any questions that need to be asked in order to solve the problem. Avoid giving too much history on the topic; that comes next.

Here you have an opportunity to provide the purpose and scope of the report.  Give any necessary details needed for the reader to understand why the report was compiled. This puts the problem into context.

Interpret and analyze research and data that are used to support the recommendations of the report. Subheadings are helpful here to guide the reader through all of the information. If you decide to insert a figure such as a chart or graph to visually represent information, make sure you name your figure and explain what it is showing.

Without giving any new information, simply summarize the findings from the discussion section. You have already explained the implications in the discussion section, so this is a summary. Clarity is key!

Now that you have presented data to support any recommendations you may have, present them in a clear way, such as a bulleted list. They should be command statements so the organization can potentially use your recommendations.

You may have additional items that were referenced in the text that you need extra space to expand on. This can include surveys, interview transcripts, and even photos useful for the report. Use the appendix for this information.

All sources throughout the document should be in APA format, and given a proper citation on the reference page so the reader can do addition information if necessary

Depending on your specific task or topic, you may add or take away some sections. Formats for business reports are flexible, but having a basic outline helps you to hit all important areas. And remember, above all else, be clear and be concise.

Surviving as a Communicator in the Era of “Fake News”

With many people getting information about the world from their social media pages, it is essential that communicators are conscious of current skepticism surrounding facts. On national platforms, lies have been called “alternative facts” and the truth has been shut down as “fake”. Even the National Communication Association spoke out on the importance of preserving free and responsible communication. Here are some tips to stay grounded in the era of “fake news”:

  1. Always Cite, and Actively Look For Reliable Sources
    In your own writing, make sure you always correctly cite sources from which you receive information. Your readers will appreciate seeing exactly where facts and figures come from. Similarly, as you research, look for articles that cite credible, reputable sources. Just because you have not heard of a source does not mean it isn’t reliable, either.
  2. Use a Fact Checking Service 
    If you are skeptical of something that you read, put the information up against a fact checking website. Find a service that is nonpartisan that will independently evaluate a news story against documented facts. Two popular services include Politifact and Fact Check.
  3. Avoid Inflammatory Words in Your Writing
    When you feel passionate about a topic, it is easy to let your emotions out in your writing. Be careful with this; dramatic adjectives or flamboyant language can make proven facts seem fake and biased.Earlier this year, representatives disagreed on whether or not to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics. PBS reported on this with the headline “House Republicans reverse their plans to eviscerate the Office of Congressional Ethics”. Using a word like “eviscerate” instead of “end”, “eliminate”, or “discontinue” puts much more emotion into the topic, sensationalizing the entire issue.
  4. Research Content From the Article, Not Just the Headline
    In order to generate traffic and viewership, many websites create links to their pages with enticing language. An article with a suspenseful title that teases readers into clicking can often be misleading. This “Click Bait” is typically not from credible news sources, but since it contains sensationalized stories, they become more popular than stories containing facts. The number of views and shares on a story and the order in which it appears on a Google search does not necessarily mean it is trustworthy. In 2011, The Department of Justice was attacked by many news sources for apparently providing muffins at conferences that cost $16 each. The Atlantic reported this skewed story with the headline “$16 for a Muffin?! which got plenty of shares and attention. People were outraged after reading this headline and immediately agreed that this was an example of wasteful government spending. It turns out, the muffins weren’t really $16 each. They were part of a continental breakfast, and the $16 price tag covered a spread of breakfast items, tax, and gratuity.
  5. Subscribe to a Variety of Sources
    If you only receive news from one media outlet that has a bias, you likely will only see content the aligns with that narrative or ideology. It is important to cross reference sources rather than follow one specific source. AllSides is a media source that detects polarization in news articles, and applies a ranking from its spectrum of biases so readers are aware of subtle biased angles.

Whether you are reading the morning newspaper or doing research for a class assignment, it is important to be cautious of the information that you come across. Be aware that bias exists and some sources are not as responsible as others. By taking a few extra steps to verify data, you can become part of the solution to our nation’s problem of “fake news”.


Public Apologies: Redemption or More Bad PR?

Admitting that you did something wrong is not always easy, especially when the reputation of a company or public figure is on the line. Communicators need to be constantly ready to handle bad PR in a careful, efficient way. The past week (April 9-16, 2017) was full of public blunders, so I decided to grade a few of the responses that followed them.

  1. United Airlines
    After a video went viral of a passenger being dragged off of a United Airlines flight, the internet was in disbelief. Photos then surfaced of the victim with a bloody face, and different versions of the story emerged. Some said this happened just because the flight was overbooked, others said the passenger was unruly, and some even claimed this was because he was a minority. But consumers didn’t care to know the exact policy or factual scenario. All they saw was a forceful removal of a passenger from a plane. United was barely done explaining a miscommunication in the media where two female passengers were not allowed to board a plane wearing leggings when it had to respond to this incident.

    Response Grade: C
    United apologized for needing to “re-accommodate” customers, but the public thought that word didn’t begin to cover what the video showed. Their CEO Oscar Munoz managed to make a more authentic response on television, recalling the shame he felt when learning of the incident. Emotion was apparent in his voice as he promised this would never happen again on his airline. Sadly, this response wasn’t very immediate, and many people got caught up on the callous original statement. For someone recently named Communicator of the Year by PR Week, Munoz should’ve known better.
  2. Pepsi
    The latest Pepsi ad campaign features Kendall Jenner moving through a crowd of protesters to offer a police officer a can of the beverage. He accepts, takes a drink, and the diverse crowd cheers. 2017 has already been a year full of protests on emotionally, racially, and politically charged messages, but the scenes on the news looked nothing like this commercial. Critics said Pepsi was taking a serious subject and making a mockery of it.

    Response Grade: B+
    Pepsi released this statement following the incident: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize.” Although not the most genuine sounding, Pepsi pulled the advertisement swiftly and was soon out of the news cycle. Certain polls actually showed that people had a favorable view of Pepsi following the ad. The damage to their reputation shouldn’t be permanent.
  3. Sean Spicer
    The current White House press secretary has a tough job explaining and defending statements from Donald Trump that often cross the line. Last week, he crossed the line himself with his statements on the Holocaust. After reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used a chemical gas on his own people, Spicer said, “you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” The World War II blunders continued, as Spicer attempted to distinguish Hitler’s gas chambers with Assad’s chemical weapons, referring to Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers”. Needless to say, many were not happy about this disregard for history.

    Response Grade: C-
    This is not the first time the Donald Trump administration and Sean Spicer have come under fire for inappropriate and insensitive comments. The White House’s first response was to try to explain the comments further, trying to make clarification where an apology was desperately needed. Spicer himself said, “I made a mistake; there’s no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn’t have, and I screwed up. It really is painful to myself to know that I did something like that.” Careless comments about the Holocaust is not something taken lightly. Although Spicer seemed genuine, his office has a track record of mixing up important historical figures and events. An apology is not worth much if the behavior keeps happening.

Small missteps can come with a large price for public figures. Communicators need to be especially careful when crafting their apologies, or they risk ruining their reputation forever.

Where To Start With a Grant Proposal

Grant writing can seem like a daunting process at first, especially if you are working on your first project. All foundations and funders will have different processes for processing grant requests, but there are a few basic things that you can do to get started that will help put you ahead of the rest.

Find Foundations Whose Mission Matches Yours
A lot of funders are passionate about specific areas such as education or the environment. No matter what your proposal is, try to find a funder who will be interested and passionate about your cause. You will be able to elaborate on this connection in your grant proposal, which will make it more personal. For example, if you hope to start a community garden, searching the internet for “environmental grants” or “community grants” will show you foundations with an interest in projects like yours. You can also try search engines specifically for grants, such as Grant Watch.

Explore 990 Forms
Each year, nonprofits must file documents with the IRS outlining their financial information. This form, called a 990, is highly detailed and will give you some insight as to what a foundation has funded in the past. Guide Star is a great resource for finding nonprofit documents. Once you find a foundation that seems compatible with your project, seeing the average amount of grants that they award, how many projects they fund, and the exact nature of these projects will give you valuable insight.

Identify a Contact Person
Each foundation will have different steps for processing grant requests. Sometimes a project will be assigned one staff person as a point of contact, while other times you won’t ever see one person’s name on any correspondence. Before you even submit your request, try to identify someone within the foundation to form a relationship. If a website does not list a point of contact for grant proposals, give the foundation a call, describe your project, and see if there is someone available to be assigned to your case. Having a connection with someone will help to streamline correspondence.

Map Out a Story
Every project has a story. Listing facts tells what an organization does. Sharing someone’s experience shows what an organization does. By bringing a more human element into your proposal, you will make it much more memorable than a dry proposal that is driven only by data. Prior to writing the proposal, think about interesting angles you can take. Maybe there is an inspiring story from someone who benefitted from your service. Maybe someone on your staff has a personal connection to your chosen issue and can offer a unique take on it. Having a story in mind before writing your proposal will help to guide you in a more creative way as you put it all together.

By investing some time in some of these pre writing practices, you will be in a position to make the most out of your grant proposal. Making a connection with the mission of a foundation, their staff, and your own project will greatly benefit your chances of receiving funding.

Who Made The Most Out of Their 2017 Super Bowl Ad

When a 30 second television ad costs millions of dollars, companies must be mindful of their audiences and be strategic in their delivery in order to get the most for their money. The recent trend has been to take a stance on a debate topic or current event to get America talking. Here, Brett, Katie, and Terra weigh in on how some companies took advantage of their time during the 2017 Super Bowl:


84 Lumber

Terra: This ad felt much slower than most of the commercials as it showed one family’s journey to freedom in America. Without using many words, it told a powerful story. By ending their television spot with an invitation to visit the 84 Lumber website to see how the video ends, they are generating web traffic. This commercial caused quite a buzz and led to many people sharing the video in its entirety on social media.

Brett: I think the ad also is interesting as one thinks about their target audience and their end users. The ad speaks to (or for?) the latter, but ends the ad with a line from the former. Mexican immigrants make up a significant portion of the construction industry workforce, as has been reported in articles like this from the NYT. 84 Lumber is planting their flag on the issue and used a big stage to do it.

Katie: From a messaging standpoint, this one leaves me feeling a little yucky. It’s a message about inclusion, but the 84 Lumber folks are also very careful that they are advocating that these immigrants enter the country legally, in “the right way.” The online response to the ad was immediate and plentiful, and 84 Lumber countered negative responses with the defense that they aren’t advocating illegal immigration, only that they want to offer a place to those with grit and determination. It feels a little tone deaf and exploitive, but I think I’m in the minority here. It certainly did get folks talking about a lumber company; no easy task.



Terra: Like 84 Lumber, Budweiser took a stance on the hot topic of immigration. This was the most viewed Super Bowl ad on YouTube following its premiere. It shows what many consider to be an All-American brand with a mixed background. Taking a stance on a highly debated issue tends to isolate audiences, but with almost twice as many views as the second most popular ad, it paid off for Budweiser.

Brett: AB/InBev and the Budweiser brand have clung and doubled-down on the beer being the “American beer” (I mean, they renamed the beer “America” this past summer). One would think that the consumer may tend to lean to the anti-immigration side of the debate, making Budweiser’s stance in the ad quite a statement.

Katie: A lot of the anti-immigration folks take the stance that their ancestors, again, did it the “right way” and this ad does nothing to problematize that simplistic narrative. There does seem to be a tiny bit of a boycott brewing (puns!) but I think the positive reaction will be more dramatic: folks who would never consider drinking Bud might have a more friendly attitude toward the brand.


Coca-Cola aired an ad during the 2014 Super Bowl showing people of different nationalities singing “America The Beautiful” in their native language. The company got a lot of back lash with customers even calling for a boycott.

Terra: Coca Cola clearly saw another opportunity with current events to replay this ad. Unlike regular commercials, Super Bowl commercials tend to only air once, so it was interesting that Coca-Cola decided to repeat an ad three years later. The repeat created some extra conversation completely separate from the actual context of the ad, which may have been beneficial to the company.

Katie: Nothing about this strikes me as political or going against the Coca-Cola brand. Their reach is international, obviously. This year it feels political because of the immigration ban, which is interesting. It’s a reminder that messages are contextual.


The luxury car company decided to avoid the popular theme of immigration and ethnic diversity to advocate for equal pay for equal work. It shows a dad pondering how he will have tough talks with his daughter about adversity. As the young girl dominates the primarily male race she is competing in, the proud father thinks maybe he “won’t have to”.

Terra: I think it was great that Audi brought a male voice into the conversation of equality for women. Traditionally, it is women that speak out about not being paid as much as men who do the same job. This ad was a victory for advocates of equality for women.

Katie: I loved this one. It took a stance, not a quasi-stance (although it makes me wonder how many women work at Audi and how much they earn!) It highlighted a corporate value, not a product, but it was open about that. In an age of consumer-driven activism, this feels successful.

Brett: How many luxury cars (or luxury car brands) treat women as their core audience? It seems most are marketed to men. Through discussing the issue of pay equality, does this align Audi with marketing equality too, with Audi seeing both women and men equally likely to be customers? It would be interesting and refreshing to see how this would look carried out.


Readers: do you have any other thoughts on these ads, or ones we overlooked? Did we miss anything else with the ones mentioned? Let us know in the comments!

Social Media for Nonprofits: New and Innovative or Disruptive?

Nonprofits are using more digital means to reach out to the general public, but do they benefit from this outreach?

Recently, technology has facilitated easier online and text donations. Even virtual reality has been used to give donors a way to have more first-hand experience with a cause.  Many articles can be found that summarize the identifiable trends for nonprofit organizations utilizing social media to reach potential donors and current supporters.

To adjust for these trends, fundraisers must be aware of the challenges that technology brings and be able to navigate around them.

“The Digital Divide”
Amy Sample Ward warns that some Americans do not use the internet at home or do not have internet access at all. She encourages groups to examine the “Digital Divide” between generations and between demographics. When bridging this gap, entire communities can unite for a cause and become involved in their activities.

Nonprofit organizations can easily get retweets, likes, and use of their hashtags on social media, but support sometimes stops there. Recent years have shown many examples of people becoming aware of causes, spreading the word of them, but not moving toward any action. These groups are already clearly interested in the mission of the organization or support their movement, but the challenge becomes showing them the value in actually joining in.

Make it Personal
A way to make social media more than just a way to talk about causes is to make it more personal. Kevin Scaly, director of digital marketing for Smile Train, claims that individual interactions between and organization’s social media outlets and its followers can do wonders for its reputation. He thinks that by liking posts, responding to tweets, and sending personalized messages to followers, nonprofits are making a more special connection with their supporters. Engaging with them and putting more effort forth motivates interested and concerned people to join the movement.

Back to Basics
Interestingly enough, despite all of the social media and campaign strategists asked about trends in fundraising, Miriam Kagan has a slightly different idea. She noted that “less focus has been on the right ask at the right time to the right audience” because organizations are more concerned with keeping up with new technology. She believes that returning to basic storytelling and call to action is a refreshing way to make sure that the organization is staying true to its cause. Moving forward it would be helpful for organizations to work these basic strategies back into their digital efforts in order to blend traditional, tried and true methods with an evolving, technological world.

It is important for nonprofits to realize that technology affects the lives of their donors, and therefore also affects their strategies. Social media offers a unique way to connect with the public, but could also create new barriers. By assessing audiences and making appropriate choices in social media and technology, a nonprofit will be able to uniquely position itself as accessible while still staying true to traditional donation strategies.

Norris, Sean. “80 Nonprofit Trends for 2016.” NonProfit PRO. N.p., 09 Feb. 2016. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <>.