Charities, government institutions, industry sectors and healthcare bodies are all trying to make us listen. Some focus attention around a special day – National Curry Day – or a ‘week’, such as Fresh Breath Week. Others prolong their campaigning across the year. Such frenetic activity is centred on one principle: regular exposure is a good thing – if you’re trying to get across a message or influence the attitudes of the public.

How are we faring as an industry in the fight for the public’s attention? Wood for Good, now entering its second year, has received many thousands of enquiries resulting from its advertising, website and leaflets. Some 49% of those surveyed said the Wood for Good TV advertising ‘makes wood look desirable’, which bodes well for sales.

Negative image

In contrast, a recent survey of SCA Timber customers asked members of the trade for their experiences when dealing with the public. It revealed the most frequent accusation is still that ‘timber companies destroy rainforests’. Clearly the industry has some way to go in getting across its sustainable sourcing practices to the wider population.

Chemicals are also a target for bad press, but this attitude is being fought by the Royal Society of Chemistry, among others. The Society organises and supports many types of public awareness activities designed to promote a positive image. These include public lectures and symposia, exhibitions, posters, booklets, and National Chemistry Week. During this annual focus-point, local co-ordinators play an important role in organising public activities and gaining media coverage for them. The commitment of the industry’s own human resources plays a large part in the campaign’s success.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science also recognises the importance of communication. It brings ‘science communicators’ together twice a year to share knowledge and experiences of gaining public attention for the sciences. They also explore the role of science in society and how best to explain radical new developments to the public. In bringing together those who promote science, the association builds a strong outreach team, capable of spreading the word and presenting science to the wider community.

Addressing public misconceptions has become of key importance in the British meat industry in recent years. The Meat & Livestock Commission uses a range of promotional techniques but concentrates a proportion of its resources on education. Its British Meat Education Service aims to provide information on the role of red meat in a balanced diet. It does this through workshops and visits for teachers and through a website featuring downloadable educational materials, running right across the curriculum from literacy to food technology – and even geography!

Crisp approach

Top marks in the promotional stakes must surely go to the British Potato Council. It runs National Chip Week in February and two other major public relations campaigns extending across the year. Its real secret however is its mastery of linking together all elements in the business chain from spud producer to spud consumer. To ensure that the momentum created high up in the chain actually extends to individual store level, it has created an ‘adopt a store’ scheme. Open to everyone from growers to the public, it monitors the use of promotions by individual stores. This helps to maximise the effect of its national campaigns – and the use of its budgets.

To summarise, other industries bring together and use the knowledge contained regionally within their field; they support educational programmes; they set out to make their topic or product highly relevant to society, and to gain as much credible editorial coverage as they can throughout the year.

From Wood for Good to the Forest Education Initiative, from enthusiastic managing directors to professional PR people: the timber trade contains the necessary elements to match the best practice examples of other sectors. Yet who will bring them together as a cohesive fighting unit, capable of dispelling the public’s entrenched misconceptions on timber production and sourcing?