Ecology is in full transition, that's good, communication is too! 🤓 Communicators, how to become aware and raise awareness of the challenges we face? How to engage around a constructive ecology? And more broadly, how to build a new reality in the face of current environmental issues ?
Hello Thierry, as an author who is an expert in organizational communication, can you tell us how communication is in the midst of a transition?
The communication transition is twofold. Firstly, the very structure of the communication function is constantly evolving. This is what makes all the difficulty and all the interest of the job. Current issues such as mistrust, misinformation, the constant renewal of tools digital, and the constant intensification of the rules of law, are all factors calling into question this function of communication.
On the other hand, communication participates in the ecological transition. The sector must now, and more than ever, take part in this environmental imperative.
You are an actor committed to ecological transition, what do you mean by "constructive ecology"?
Constructive ecology comes from questioning. Since the 2010s, we have been wondering about the role of advertising in the era of ecological transition, the role of responsible communication in the face of major challenges, such as climate change or deforestation. It seems to me that more and more communicators are wondering about the way in which they can take part in the evolutions of society.
I am convinced that the most effective way to raise awareness of current environmental issues, at the societal level, remains the positive approach. We must mobilize by making people want to, far from linear, alarmist, moralizing and incantatory speeches. Communicators today have a duty to offer new stories, to build a new imagination.
Communicators today have a duty to offer new stories, to build a new imagination.
How to ensure that communicators become aware of their responsibilities in the face of the challenges of climate change and the erosion of biodiversity?
First of all, I would say that this awareness goes through information. It is important to know and understand the state of things and the importance of the issues, in order to be able to go further in the commitment. This may seem trivial, yet access to this information is not so obvious. Communication and advertising schools should offer more modules on environmental issues. This is the challenge that the Association of Communication Consulting Agencies – AACC is trying to take up.
Communicators must also realize that they no longer have a choice. From now on, liability issues have become hard laws. In other words, with legislation constantly intensifying, professionals in the sector now have to deal with a multitude of new extra-financial regulations.
Finally, awareness must affect the very meaning of the communication professions, whose role is to provide a meaningful story to society. We must put an end to the paradigm of instrumental communication. More and more, communication must be predictive in nature!
We must put an end to the paradigm of instrumental communication.
What are the latest good practices that you have been able to observe in terms of responsible communication?
These last years, I was able to observe a very positive change in attitude around the subject of the responsibility of communication, whereas before it was very complicated to address these issues with the players in the sector. From a very lobbying, companies invariably felt under attack. Today, these interlocutors position themselves less on the defensive and dialogue is facilitated. They understood that communication had to evolve and adapt to the meaning of history and its challenges.
Generally, we also observe that responsible communication actions are more integrated into the overall strategies of organizations. The one-shot operation, which is somewhat isolated, fragmented and piecemeal, is no longer enough. From now on, environmental subjects are lived in the long term and really influence the strategic policies of companies.
Moreover, responsible communication is no longer just about avoiding greenwashing, which was a bit reductive. The vision of responsibility has broadened: environmental impact of communication actions, inclusion, diversity, fight against stereotypes, co-construction, partner relations, etc. A lot of work is being done to rethink the modes of communication, today communicators think in “impact” mode. This is what I call the "Extended Responsibility" of the Communicator.
Why in 85% of advertisements, expert figures are still men with graying temples? Exactly, it is by going beyond these stereotypes that the creation of new imaginations becomes possible. Many collectives and associations are working in this direction and encourage communicators to play this leading role for years to come.
From now on, environmental subjects are lived in the long term and really influence the strategic policies of companies.
Still in terms of commitment, you co-founded the Academy of Controversies and Sensitive Communication. How do you view the confrontation of communities? How can we fight against “fake news”?
The miracle recipe to fight against fake news does not exist, since they are in essence protean and mutant. The most effective strategy to adopt remains to isolate the irreducible, those for whom it would be futile to try to convince. When we look at the accounts that spread fake news the most, we find a conglomeration of pro-Russian, climate-skeptics and anti-vax, and lots of bots, let's not waste time.
Fighting misinformation is rather trying to convince the undecided, these people who are not rigid climate skeptics, but individuals who question the impact of the climate crisis on their lifestyles. Also, to convince them, it is essential to integrate the dimension of social justice into this fight, we must tackle inequalities, before tackling fake news. We must reassure the most disadvantaged, remind them that it is not up to them to toast.
Furthermore, it is important that opinion leaders, in terms of climate, are speaking out again and many are beginning to get actively involved. These experts have long been absent from Social Media. Yet this is also where they need to fight misinformation.
Finally, and this subject is much less known, we need to be extra vigilant when it comes to digital advertising. Indeed, 80% of this advertising is programmatic, ie it operates automatically, without human intervention. However, we realized that many of these advertising streams fed disinformation platforms, because who says controversy, says buzz. Fortunately, today, many associations carry out monitoring and warn companies if necessary. Despite everything, this subject of advertising purchases remains a problem.
What do you think organizational communication will look like in the years to come?
I have no idea, I always prefer to be wary of predictions. 😊
With regard to responsible communication, I would say that its future will lie in pedagogy. It will be necessary to explain in a very clear way the moving stakes and to show more proportionality between communication and real commitments. Tomorrow, responsible communication will also be communication of proximity, which will take place in the field, and a communication of itself, which will constantly justify itself to all of its stakeholders.
In other words, we will witness the emergence of a communication of the “5Ps”: Pedagogy, Proximity, Proportionality, Evidence and Stakeholders.
We will witness the emergence of a communication of the “5Ps”: Pedagogy, Proximity, Proportionality, Evidence and Stakeholders.
Finally, as an expert, do you have any last advice for more responsible communication to give to the communicators who read you?
Never forget that communication starts with listening. Dominique Wolton rightly states " If everyone speaks, who listens? ».
Pay more attention to Europe to anticipate changes in your business. For more than 12 years that I have been working at the European Economic and Social Committee, I have seen more communication topics appear in the last 2 years than during the 10 years that preceded.
Finally, communicate by making every effort to create dialogue. I regret to observe that very few debates relate to communication and bring together communicators, in particular advertisers facing consumer associations and environmental NGOs.
Don't be afraid of confrontation, you have nothing to lose by trying!
3 things to know about Thierry Libaert
His daily source of inspiration? Thierry is inspired by stepping out of his comfort zone. Regularly, he goes to a bookstore and randomly buys books and magazines that go beyond his areas of expertise, to open up to other worlds.
Her favorite communication campaign? He was touched by AXA France's “Les Français” eco-citizen campaign, during his experience as President of the Union des Marques Jury in April 2023. A campaign that was well relayed internally and which takes risks. We look !
His commitments? Thierry is involved with a dozen associations and think tanks. Regularly, he tries to renew his voluntary actions, by going to explore new associative grounds. His oldest commitment? That in favor of the Foundation for Nature and Man, of which he has been a member of the Scientific Council for 23 years.