Public Relations

How to Pitch Media for COP26

By Kari Hernandez


The UN climate change conference, COP26, kicks off in Glasgow Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 12. In that time, 20,000 attendees from around the globe will come together to drive the commitments necessary to secure global net-zero emissions by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. We expect the coverage of this event to extend far beyond the media attendees in Glasgow.

How will your brand contribute to this goal and the narrative surrounding COP26? And how will you break through the noise?

Our teams are in the throes of advanced pitching and news planning in and around the event. To increase your odds at meaningful coverage during COP26, I gathered the following advice from our ESG program manager Mallory Baker, and our wider energy-focused media relations teams. Here’s what they had to say:

Climate commitments are table stakes.

One-fifth of the world’s largest companies have signed various agreements stating their intent to reach net-zero emissions. These commitments are leaving audiences with net-zero fatigue – questioning if these goals and promises are spurring real change for the world and how companies operate.

Instead, zoom in on the specifics of your unique plan, lessons learned, challenges. Lead with the unexpected. Or zoom out on the part you are playing in a bigger industry shift or changing landscape. Focus on how your solution offers hope and signals change in an industry.

Pitch through a local lens.

Governments will be looking to step up climate-related regulation following COP26, regardless of agreed-upon global commitments (which are looking less likely by the day). Don’t overlook the value of communicating with media about how you are part of the solution locally. Think global, act local, as they say! This goes for all sizes of companies. Your local media or country-centric media will be interested in how COP26 themes translate to home, and what you’re doing in your home market to push that forward.

We are using this strategy for a client based in New England. While also pitching their action and perspective on a national level, we started with the local business journals and dailies to home in on how this affects the region and what’s at stake – and to reach current employees and future talent.

Embrace the messy middle.

Too often, climate goals are discussed only at commitment and once they are met. But the authentic stories and innovation lie somewhere in the messy middle. How is progress being made and what are the real-world roadblocks and trade-offs you are facing? Could this be an opportunity to persuade or educate a key stakeholder on what it will take to get there?

A good example of this is Nestlé’s recent campaign Beneath the Surface, an interactive video platform designed to shed light on the challenges Nestlé and other global companies face in sourcing deforestation-free palm oil. “As Nestlé admits [sic], the company pledged in 2010 to ensure deforestation-free palm oil supply chains; but only 70 percent met that standard as of December 2020.” The main challenge? Many small farmers who depend on these contracts do not meet standards.

Beneath the Surface asks the viewer to make a series of decisions to ensure a transparent and sustainable palm oil supply chain, gaining insight along the way on the trade-offs and unintended consequences. In trusting their audience with these choices and complexity, Nestlé generates understanding and support for their adapted goal: to engage more smallholders and suppliers to reach deforestation-free status by 2022 – which will then enable the initial goal – and to work to ensure full transparency.

Be honest about the challenges your company and industry face – this is not only newsworthy but also signals your industry leadership and integrity, and your respect for your customer.

Monitor trending topics at COP26 and act fast.

Lastly, live in the moment. Follow the event closely and when news starts to bubble on something your client is qualified to speak about, get those quotes out to media ASAP. If you didn’t gain traction on your news or pre-pitching, don’t give up. To get ahead of this, review the agenda and lead-up coverage – it’s not that hard to predict what might come up and be the hero to your media contacts who need smart perspective, stat.

Good luck!