Motion for the Ocean’s PR Power Hour

February 14, 2022

Those who know me well will know marine conservation is my passion. As such, I jump at the chance to work on ocean-related campaigns. Actually, those who don’t know me that well have probably figured that out too. So, I was particularly excited by my first PR Power Hour of 2022. In this session I met with the fabulous Emily Cunningham. She is a marine and coastal specialist and leads the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group... just one of many strings to her bow.  Specifically, we were discussing how to raise the profile of Motion for the Ocean.

The Motion for the Ocean is a voluntary effort to help UK councils step up and play their part in tackling the ocean crisis. Emily has communications experience through previous roles but wanted guidance on how to drum up awareness of – and support for – the Motion for the Ocean in the press. I hope I also gave her a bit of a confidence boost. This movement has all the elements of a great press campaign!

Emily kindly agreed to let me share a snippet of our discussion with you. Which I’m particularly excited about as I really enjoyed our session. So, keep reading to find out more about the Motion for the Ocean and what you might see in future articles…

Meet Emily and Motion for the Ocean

The Motion for the Ocean is a voluntary endeavour developed by Emily, Plymouth City Councillor, Cllr Dr Pamela Buchan and Nicola Bridge of the Ocean Conservation Trust. It is a model motion – essentially a policy template – that any council can adapt to suit local circumstances. Once adapted, it can be taken to a council meeting and voted upon. If passed, it then becomes local policy.

At present, local and central government are not doing enough to tackle the ocean crisis nor the widening socio-economic inequality at the coast. The Motion for the Ocean will help councils to play their part in ocean recovery in a way that benefits local communities and nature alike. It will also provide evidence-based asks of central government to put the ocean in net recovery by 2030. So far, it has been passed by 3 councils (Plymouth,Falmouth and South Tyneside). It is also being considered by others from around England. However, the team want to see it passed across the whole of the UK. So how can PR help this mission? Keep reading to find out!

Where Emily needed guidance

The movement itself is well underway already having been passed by three councils already and with others debating it soon. To see it passed across the whole UK, the team need to bring it to the attention of Councillors nationwide. This includes raising awareness of the Motion for the Ocean so people contact their local Councillors and ask them to table the motion. But Emily wanted guidance on how to boost awareness as well as which publications to reach out to.

She also wanted to think about the tone of the messaging. Most people don’t know what a motion is or that they can influence policy by writing to their local Councillor. In fact, most people don’t know who their local Councillor is or what they do! Emily wants the movement to communicate its message in an exciting, engaging and positive way. Comms should help people understand the impact they can have and encourage them to write to their local Councillor.

Not only that but everyone involved in the movement is helping on a voluntary basis. So, plans need to be realistic and achievable when it comes to both the time and financial investment.

We had a lot to get through in an hour. However, I knew we could find some great solutions to maximise the future success of the Motion for the Ocean. I’m already excited to see the tangible impact this campaign will have on our seas as more councils are persuaded to pass this important motion!

What we love Motion for the Ocean

Honestly, what’s not to love? This movement is already having a tangible impact on protecting our ocean. Plus, there's scope for even more success as other councils around the country get involved. This is the type of project I absolutely love working on.  

What’s more, the Motion already has lots of the elements a journalist will look for in a story. In particular, the nature of the grassroots movement means there will be lots of ‘real people’ around the UK supporting and driving the campaign. Each of these ambassadors will have their own story behind why protecting the ocean is so important to them. Human interest stories are gold for the press so Emily has a huge resource here waiting to be tapped…

A snippet of our session

Emily and I had a lot to get through in our hour-long session but we made great progress. By the end of the 60 minutes, we’d: briefly covered her messaging concerns; talked about how to make the potentially epic workload manageable by encouraging ambassadors to spread the word rather than taking the whole workload on between herself and the other co-authors; and thought about the type of publications that could be good targets. As usual, I’ll only be sharing a brief glimpse into our discussion but I hope you find it interesting:

How can I keep the story from becoming too dry or sensationalist?

One of Emily’s concerns was around the movement coming across as too sensationalist or too dry and bureaucratic. While this is a risk (and, on the sensationalist front, one many campaigners take), it’s not something I’m too concerned about with the Motion for the Ocean.

That’s because the Motion’s greatest asset is its local supporters. These people give the movement authenticity and brilliant individual stories across the UK. The local, human element of this grassroots movement is what makes it so rich and engaging. Allowing the organic element to flourish is key. So, a lot of our discussion focused around how we can empower the individuals involved in the Motion to spread the word, share their own story and take some of the media spotlight.

How can I empower people to spread the word about the Motion for the Ocean?

While our overall focus was on the press element of the movement, we did talk about social media a little too. There are likely to be lots of different people involved in this campaign: e.g. council press teams, marine conservation charities and individuals. Many of them will want to support but might not have the time, around their other commitments, to spend a lot of time perfecting their outreach. For example, in-house PR teams are often really busy and will be working on several different stories at once.

So we talked about how we could make it easier for ambassadors and supporters to spread the word. Firstly, from a press perspective, we discussed the potential of creating a template press release that each council could adapt and distribute once the Motion is passed in their region. This could be supported by some high-quality imagery and relevant video footage that could be used by news outlets in their coverage.

This also led to a discussion on how we could support individuals with a similar pack. Having a Dropbox folder with sharable social media assets (such as infographics, pictures and suggested captions and hashtags) can be a great way of empowering people to spread the word without having to spend lots of time creating their own posts.

Where do I find the right publications and journalists to target?

By the time we got onto target media, we’d already talked a lot about regional publications – which is a bit of a no-brainer for this story. As each council passes the Motion, it’s a nice story for their local press.

But we also wanted to think about how we could break out of regional publications and drum up awareness across the UK. After all, members of Hastings Borough Council (for example) probably won’t be reading the Falmouth Packet. So, we need national exposure to get onto people’s radar around the country.

The great thing about Motion for the Ocean is its strong appeal to anyone who loves the ocean. Think wild swimmers, snorkellers, divers and boating enthusiasts. We chatted through how these niche magazines could be great targets for Emily and the Motion team. Not only are they likely to be interested in a story about protecting UK seas but they’re read specifically by people passionate about this cause. This means there’s a greater chance of people taking up the call to action and writing to their local Councillor in support.

We covered lots of other elements too but that’s all I have time for in today’s blog. I’m so grateful to Emily for her energy, ideas and enthusiasm during our session. I look forward to seeing some great press results soon.

A word from Emily

"Melissa's PR Power Hour is aptly named, I can't believe how much we got through in an hour! Melissa's advice was invaluable and has helped us hone our plans to achieve more for less effort. I came away from the PR Power Hour buzzing with ideas and armed with clear, realistic next steps. Melissa's passion for marine conservation shines through and it was a pleasure to work with someone who so obviously wants to use her skills for good. I highly recommend Melissa and we will be working with her again at the earliest opportunity."

Such kind words are making me blush a little but so pleased you enjoyed our session as much as I did, Emily!

Thank you… and good luck!

Thank you to Emily for letting me share a little bit of our Power Hour here. If you’re working on your own comms campaign, I hope you find some of these tips useful.

But, more importantly, I hope you’ve been inspired to support the Motion for the Ocean. Find out more about the movement here. Click on the ‘find your councillor’ button to contact your local councillor and ask them to table the motion. I’m confident this important movement will be causing great waves in the press very soon so keep your eyes peeled!

And, of course, if you think a PR Power Hour might be useful in fine-tuning your own press story, please do get in touch to find out more.

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