One Media Training Firm’s Approach To Climate Change

The conservative Washington Free Beacon recently profiled a “pair of Democratic operatives” who provided media training to a trade group about climate change.

My primary intent in this post is not to debate climate change science—the writer chose quotes favorable to his position but appeared to ignore evidence that provides a more balanced view—but rather to get a rare glimpse into another firm’s tactics.

The firm, KNP Communications, specializes in media and presentation training. According to the Free Beacon article:

A pair of top Democratic operatives advised business owners to avoid discussions of scientific fact and stick to personal stories when discussing climate change during a training webinar.

“If it’s just policy, if it’s just talking points, I can tear that apart if I’m a host” of a news program, explained Seth Pendleton, a partner at Democratic messaging firm KNP Communications. “I really can’t do that with a good story.”

Climate Change Smoke Stack iStockPhoto
Without having attended their webinar, I don’t know whether their advice was more specific—but even taken at face value, they have a point. Data alone doesn’t move minds.

That’s especially true in this case, as these trainers were working with business leaders, not scientists. If those business executives lead with science, they might quickly find themselves beyond their depth. A topic such as climate change has spokespeople operating on two fronts: scientists, who can talk about the science, and “ordinary people,” who can talk about how it affects them.

That said, a good host could pierce the “stories-only” approach by asking, “That’s one example. But what do the scientific data show about the global trend?” For that reason, the spokespersons should be at least conversant in the top-line scientific messages and learn how to handle questions that go beyond their expertise.

The Free Beacon also highlighted a suggestion the trainers made regarding one sound bite—one the writer notes has also been used by Democratic politicians:

“A host may say, ‘well are you saying that that event was caused by climate change?’ That’s one of those questions that we really can’t answer by saying yes or no,” Pendleton admitted. “You don’t want to get caught up in this or that event did or did not happen quantitatively because of climate change.”

“What you can say is … ‘The climate is on steroids. It’s like a baseball player on steroids. Now, is every home run they hit before or since then exactly because of steroids? No, but are we noticing that the ball sails out of the park a heck of a lot more than it used to, then the answer is absolutely.’”

First, that’s a terrific sound bite—easy to understand, colorful, and memorable.

Second, it appears to be hedged sufficiently to respect the science. Stating “yes” or “no” definitively would go beyond what the government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote in June. (They wrote that while it’s “premature” to conclude that human activities have had an impact on Atlantic hurricane activity, “There are better than even odds that anthropogenic warming over the next century will lead to an increase in the numbers of very intense hurricanes in some basins.”)

All in all, their advice appears sound, and I’d be comfortable using a similar approach with our clients—good training tactics are good training tactics, regardless of cause or ideology.

Along those lines, here’s a recent post about a Republican media training school, which I also evaluated favorably.

Don’t miss a thing! Click here to instantly join our mailing list and receive the best of the blog twice each month.