This article, ComNet15 Preview: You’ve Got the “Big Idea,” How the Hell Do You Execute It?, was originally published on The Communications Network and is a preview of ComNet15 Breakout Session You’ve Got the “Big Idea,” How the Hell Do You Execute It? sponsored by the Ad Council in partnership with NRDC, KaBoom!, and the Case Foundation.
How can foundations and nonprofits take really complicated issues and drill them down to actionable steps that drive action? That’s what we plan to discuss at our panel on “You’ve Got the Big Idea, How the Hell Do you Execute it?”
One of our panelists will be NRDC: They took the amorphous issue of food waste and figured out how to turn it into a relatable and bite-size effort to engage American families. Here’s a short Q&A with NRDC’s Alex Kennaugh (Senior Director of Program and Policy Communications) on how they did it.
Ad Council: Let’s start with the basics: what is food waste and why did NRDC decide to tackle it?
Alex Kennaugh: NRDC experts were crunching data about how much natural resources the agriculture sector was using. The numbers started pointing to waste not only on farms but all along the food supply chain. Our analysis demonstrated that this was a big chunk of the problem and so NRDC zeroed in on how to fix it.
AC: Food waste is such a complex issue–how and why did you make it so relatable to your average American?
AK: Our comms team distilled key stats from a dense report, developed simple but evocative talking points, and stuck to them. It made the issues salient and relevant. Sometimes we can cloud understanding by using lots of jargon or by talking only about the problem. But when we speak not only with authority but also clearly and concisely—and when we talk about solutions—people engage.
AC: To pull this off, your communications and policy team needed to work hand in hand. That sounds simple but those two departments don’t always work in sync, do they? How did you do this?
AK: When we are all working together from the get-go, we get the best work. We all want to achieve the same result, whether that’s less food wasted or more energy efficient appliances. Keeping that front of mind reminds everyone that we should be driven by our purpose first and foremost. And with that purpose front and center, each person on the team brings their expertise to the table and is heard. Not everyone can be an agricultural economist knee-deep in statistics. Likewise, not everyone can be a communications specialist knee-deep in market research and analytics.
AC: You’ve told me before that NRDC wanted to change people’s behavior on this topic, not necessarily their minds. Can you elaborate?
AK: Many solutions to our environmental challenges require convenient, easy behavior or purchasing choices by consumers. We don’t need to convince 99 percent of people what the best or worst agricultural policy is for America. Instead, we can provide the best-available information that’s relevant to people in their busy lives and let them make their own choices. By deciding to eat leftovers one day, it can make a big difference to a person by saving them money and by making them feel good about their actions to curb food waste. And that easy, money-saving decision sends a signal all the way up to the U.S. government, where NRDC can make a big difference.