There are times when agencies have an opportunity to put aside their differences for the greater good, yet it doesn’t happen often. As science continues to portend a dismal climate future, 17 agencies have made the rare decision to join forces under a banner of environmental protection.
Potential Energy was built to motivate urgent action on climate change, with the goal of creating advocacy campaigns to not only educate the U.S. public on the issue but to encourage action. A 501(c)(3), the agencies on board are: Barton F. Graf, CAA, Digitas, Droga5, Hill Holiday, Lippincott, Maslansky+Partners, MRM//McCann, m ss ng p eces, Oberland, One Hundred, Possible, Purpose, R/GA, WME, Work&Co and Zenith.
“This effort is unique in the history of our industry,” says Lippincott Chief Strategy Officer John Marshall, president and primary architect of Potential Energy. “We’re mobilizing a previously untapped resource to take on what is arguably the greatest existential challenge we face as a society. From our vantage point as marketers, we believe America is close to a tipping point, and we want to do whatever we can to get the right message out there.”
Turning graduation speakers into messengers
In the first phase in building a multifaceted platform, the coalition created Donate:60, a movement that engaged valedictorians, class presidents and other student leaders to donate 60 seconds of their graduation speeches to share a pledge about the issues that matter most to them. More than 200 students in over 110 cities already joined the campaign and took the time in their speeches to read the pledge.
Droga5 hatched the original idea and provided creative leadership, Barton F. Graf created the Donate:60 brand and speaker recruitment video while Digitas led digital and social, m ss ng p eces creative production, and Zenith media.
“It was really powerful to work with students to make this campaign happen. This generation is so awake, so passionate, so brave,” says Casey Rand, Droga5 group creative director. “When we first pitched (graduates) the idea to hijack what was, for many of them, the most important moment of their lives, there was zero hesitation. Having all the agencies come together to execute the idea was also very inspiring. It’s nice when we can do work for the greater good.”
The younger generation, specifically Generation Z, appears to hold the key to moving a significant voting population forward, with an estimated 17 million having never voted before but citing a deep passion for the climate issue.
“It all started as a discussion about climate change. Unfortunately, there are many more things threatening the lives of young people today,” says Gerry Graf, founder and chief creative officer of Barton F. Graf.
These students are about to be the biggest voting bloc in history. We need them as much as they need us.
Gerry Graf, founder and chief creative officer of Barton F. Graf
Students weren’t just messengers for the movement, though. They also helped define its priorities.
Donate:60 began as an initiative focused specifically on climate change, but students told the coalition that two other core issues were also vitally important to them: gun safety and equality (encompassing race, gender and sexual orientation). Since the work was student-led, the coalition supported the idea to expand the scope.
“(The three issues) are highly correlated from our research, and young people care about them in a very analogous way,” Marshall says.
From foundation to the future
For now, Potential Energy’s work will primarily focus on climate change, which Marshall says is the most dire priority facing the world.
“We have to come at it in multiple and different ways,” he said. “If we don’t do this in the next six to 12 years, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands and millions of people displaced (due to climate change). We’re throwing in all the resources we possibly can.”
While there are already multiple ad industry groups supporting causes — the Ad Council, Civic Nation, Saturday Morning and many more — the organizers of Potential Energy believe they’re filling an important gap by focusing on climate change while other groups tackle social issues.
“Climate change is a unique and complex problem, which is why our working model has to be just as unique,” says Marshall, who incubated the idea with Dan Schrag, director of the Harvard Center for the Environment.
The model of agencies collaborating together is not necessarily new — for example, seven holding companies joined forces at the Cannes Lions in 2016 to form Common Ground, supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals — yet Potential Energy is a unique creative partnership that’s more focused than some global efforts while being more ambitious than many other cause marketing initiatives.
Additionally, instead of homing in on one individual behavior overall with one message, Potential Energy must navigate a polarized public through highly specific and targeted work, a task that Marshall says requires more than campaigns in what he calls “change management.”
“How do you get someone wearing a MAGA hat to think very differently about clean energy, American leadership and American power?” he asks. “The bigger mission of our organization is to get us out of this almost tragic, existential log jam we are in on climate change.”
Article written by Doug Zanger and originally published on Adweek on July 24, 2018.