Changing Perceptions Through Strategic Communications
Battery Council International (BCI) was faced with a unique concern that required changing hearts and minds, but one that couldn’t be addressed through traditional forms of advocacy. BCI—a trade association formed to promote the interests of the international battery industry—was battling misperceptions about lead batteries that traditional grassroots advocacy or legislative fly-ins couldn’t adequately remedy. That’s because there wasn’t a federal policy or legislative proposal that they were looking to thwart, or support. Consequently, BCI leaders came to the realization that the best way to clear up the misperceptions that were threatening the industry was through a strategic communication plan. The result is a terrific example of how associations can elevate their industries through a focused and targeted communications campaign.
The largest lead battery manufacturers and recyclers around the world noticed a change in the business climate for lead batteries a few years ago. With the emergence of electric vehicles, lead batteries were being seen by many as an outdated product. Not only that, policymakers in Europe and California were considering measures that would limit the use of lead batteries. For example, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, a part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, was considering adding lead batteries to its Priority Products list, which means they would suggest “safer alternatives.” This would be a major blow to the industry. Further, lead in general had received negative press related to the Flint, Mich. water crisis in 2014. In that scenario, lead in the water created the perception that this was caused, at least in part, by lead batteries. This was not the case, but the perception was out there.
So BCI, along with the U.K.-based International Lead Association, took action to clear up erroneous assumptions that were branding the industry as something it wasn’t. As a first step, the board approved a plan to contract with a public relations firm, Fleishman Hillard, to conduct research and hold focus groups to learn more about how the public perceived the industry. Their work revealed that their target audience saw it as an old, environmentally unfriendly industry that would soon be obsolete. This couldn’t have been farther from the truth, as lead batteries are safe, cost-effective, renewable, and generate billions in economic impact. But now BCI knew the hill it had to climb, so the board appointed a team to create a strategic communications campaign to help change the negative perceptions. The team includes marketing and public affairs representatives from BCI’s member companies and is spearheaded by Lisa Dry, director of strategic communications at BCI, who joined the organization last September. “Our main objective is to improve the overall perception of lead batteries,” said Dry. The team determined that the best way to correct false impressions and communicate the benefits of the industry was to focus the campaign not on the public at-large, but on a targeted list of policymakers including legislators and regulators at the state and federal level.
Info Hub: Essential Energy Everyday
A key part of the campaign involved the creation of an information hub, which would be located on a new website that BCI created called Essential Energy Everyday (www.essentialenergyeveryday.com). “Our research showed that the best way to reach our audience was through a digital program,” explained Dry. The mission of the website was to increase awareness among target audiences about the importance of lead batteries in powering our daily lives and future. The website, which launched in January, is packed with facts, news, research, studies, infographics, and videos. One of the key facts that BCI wanted to promote is that lead batteries are sustainable, as more than 99 percent of all lead batteries are recyclable. This is a much higher rate than so-called “safer alternatives” to lead batteries.
BCI also wanted it known that lead batteries help make renewable energy alternatives practical, as they are used to store power generated by wind and solar systems, and they are used in most electric and hybrid cars. Policymakers in Washington, D.C. and states throughout the U.S.—California in particular—needed to be aware of these and other facts. Through its research, the team identified about 1,500 individuals who needed to see the essential information on this website. “We work hard to drive policymakers to our website for more information,” said Dry. This target audience is primarily comprised of government officials working in the areas of transportation, healthcare, energy, labor, and any other departments that in some way relate to lead batteries.
“It is all about keeping people informed of our product’s recyclability and sustainability,” said Dry. “And there is also a lot of innovation in the industry. Lead batteries are not what many people think they are. That’s the story we’re trying to tell.”
The association aggressively promotes the website through Twitter and other social media and sends targeted emails to policymakers whenever a new article is posted. Further, they reach out to associations in related fields to promote the site through their social media accounts. In addition, they’ve been successful in getting op-eds published in both mainstream and policy-focused media.
“It’s the most sophisticated communications plan I’ve ever been closely involved with in my 20-plus years in Washington,” said Kevin Moran, executive vice president at BCI. “Lisa’s work has allowed BCI to build a foundation that we can fine tune as the need arises and it tells the industry’s story in a way that our target audience can quickly grasp.”
The campaign has already had an impact, based on the number of hits and click-throughs the website has logged since its official launch in January 2018. Now, BCI will track and analyze the data to see what people are reading and responding to, and then alter their content mix accordingly. For example, a post about a BCI economic impact study got 20,000 views in one day with people spending an average of six minutes reading it. In addition, the website metrics show that there’s been a lot of interest in the renewable aspect of lead batteries, so that will likely be an even greater focus of content going forward. The board receives progress reports a couple of times a year on how effective the program has been in reaching the targeted audience.
It’s still early, but in 2019, BCI plans to conduct research to better determine the program’s impact on changing perceptions. It will also continue to monitor the status of policy proposals, such as the California EPA’s Priority Products list. “It’s not going to be an overnight success,” said Dry. “Changing attitudes on issues does take time. But we are confident that we can make a real impact.”
MARCH 2018 EDITION
| Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for more than 60 years.