Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Matt Bray is the founder of Art Disrupt and the Creative Director of Comms declare, an organisation of advertising, marketing, PR and media professionals who understand the power of communications to create a cleaner, safer climate. He talks about the role creativity plays in addressing the climate crisis and how Comms Declare is collaborating with other creative communities globally, including Clean Creative and Creative for Climate to address the climate crisis.

You can listen to the podcast here:

 

Follow Managing Marketing on SoundcloudPodbean, Google Podcasts, TuneInStitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcast and Amazon Podcasts.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with Matt Bray, who’s the founder of Art Disrupt, but is also the Creative Director at Comms Declare, an organization of advertising, marketing, PR and media professionals, who understand the power of communications to create a cleaner, safer climate. Welcome, Matt.

Matt:

Thanks, Darren. Lovely to be here.

Darren:

Matt, you’ve got fingers in quite a few pies. There’s Art Disrupt which is your own creative business. Well, what are some of the things that you do with Art Disrupt?

Matt:

Well, Art Disrupt was born from a need to kind of get involved in the climate conversation. And it’s also an avenue to have some fun when we’re trying to communicate a rather important problem that has been for the most part, ignored.

So, we would just take on creative projects if we feel there’s some juice in them, that they’re interesting and they are basically disruptive. That’s what we need more of.

So, we have done projects like producing playing cards that point the finger at the agencies in fossil fuel industry. Relationships, we’ve done little games, pop-up games that point the finger at the current government to say that they’re doing some pretty … they have a terrible record in the climate space.

So, we look for those kinds of things: interesting, disruptive, creative projects basically.

Darren:

Because obviously, you’ve been a creative person in the industry, you’ve had jobs on client side, in-house, you’ve worked at numerous agencies — where for you, was that sort of awakening of the idea of bringing creativity to help solve the climate crisis?

Matt:

The awakening really was at the end of 2019, the Extinction Rebellion were really quite noisy, around that time. Greta Thunberg was making headlines and it started to get me curious as to the actually, scale of the climate emergency. I’ve always been aware that the climate’s not heading in a really good direction, but it didn’t necessarily affect me.

But then just getting a feel for the information out there, I thought this is actually really quite big, this needs attention, and you’re not hearing enough noise about it. So, I looked for a way to get involved.

And what solidified that was the Black Summer bushfires, they were just devastating. And that made me think I’ve got to be in here, I’ve got to see where I can use my skills that I’ve developed in advertising to communicate the change required to try and turn this ship around.

Darren:

And what do you think it is about the creative process and creative thinking that’s really going to bring this forward? Because look, I have to say there are so many groups out there, all professing to be talking about lobbying, working towards bringing about a climate action.

What is it about creativity, because I have noticed there’s a few groups around the world of creative people like Extinction Rebellion that have really started to champion this?

Matt:

Yeah, I think really at the core, the climate crisis is a communications challenge and that’s where the advertising industry, it’s becoming more and more clear that the advertising industry is on the wrong side of the conversation.

When you need people’s support to make the changes you need when it’s governmental or whatever — if people don’t understand the scale of the problem, they need guidance to try and get the wheels turning to make that change happen.

And advertising is really doing itself a disservice by being on the wrong side of that conversation.

Darren:

Yeah, I know that one of the actions that Comms Declare has done was a survey of the marketplace, and starting to identify the agencies that were working with fossil fuel clients.

Now, what do you see the issue here about agencies continuing to work for fossil fuel clients? Because I know there are people in the industry that say if it’s legal to sell it, it’s legal to advertise it.

Matt:

Well, that’s basically the same conversation that the tobacco industry had banked on until it was turned around to say, “Well, no, this is hazardous to our health. You can’t keep letting people believe that it’s okay for them to use their product.”

It’s exactly the same with the advertising industry. And to say that you bring skills to the conversation to help kind of give them accountability to the industry, you’re telling porkies because at the core of it, there’s a lot of money to be made when you are manipulating the conversation in the favor of the fossil fuel industry. There’s no way you can turn that around to say, “Well, now, we’re partnering to try and make them do better.” That’s very disingenuous.

Darren:

Yeah. Well, and I have read, I think it was in the UK, this debate had been going on about six months ago. The side that was saying, well, we should work with fossil fuel your clients. We should embrace them and help them and educate them about what greenwashing looks like.

And then others saying, well, no, to your point, creativity in communications can make it incredibly powerful. How could we possibly bring that power to help miscommunicate to the general public?

Matt:

Well, yeah, it’s like really the only thing that could be offered to the fossil fuel industry is access to services to help them transition out. And that’s not a communications challenge, that’s an engineering challenge. It’s a business challenge.

And there’s no purpose for them to then be saying, “Well, we need advertising and PR as part of that journey.” It’s just like how do we get our out of fossil fuels? The science says we need to do it, and if the fossil fuel industry needs resources from anywhere, it’s the skills and knowledge to help them basically get out of the business.

They’ve had the lion’s share of the resources of the world for so long. And now, the gated community, there’s people knocking out the gate saying enough is enough.

Darren:

Okay, well, let’s look at some of the things that Comms Declare have been doing. So, what are some of the activities that you’re most proud of?

Matt:

Comms Declare started … we were quite open with trying to have conversations within the advertising community. And we found that we were having good conversations with the smaller players, like independent agencies. They’re not tied to multinationals, so they are in a position to where they can declare.

But then, we found when we started to build our voice that really, the big boys just weren’t opening the door at all. So, we found we needed to shift. We needed to agitate a bit.

And really, the highlight, one of the early highlights for me was when we put out our industry report last year and an opinion piece turned up in the Australian Financial Review from an agency head that was saying, basically, “You should stop pointing your finger at us. We should be at the table.”

And that was a good, like a point where we thought, okay, we’re on the playing field and we can make some moves. So, that was one of the highlights.

Darren:

That is where the tipping point comes, where the people that you’re trying to influence actually publicly acknowledge your existence, isn’t it?

Matt:

I think it was quite … and I wonder if, in hindsight, it was a misstep on their part. Because for the most part, we’ve been ignored for the best part of a year and a half. And I think that frustration that got them to produce, to write that piece, I think that was a as a bad chess move on their behalf. It kind of emboldened us to think we’re on the right track and we kept moving forward.

Darren:

Now, it’s not just Comms Declare, is it? You’ve actually being collaborating with other creative bodies? I know Clean Creatives is another group that you’re collaborating with.

Matt:

Clean Creatives are great. They’re basically the American equivalent of Comms Declare. They had been around a little bit longer than Comms Declare. And Belinda, the founder of Comms Declare had reached out to Clean Creatives. We’d started conversations.

And the good thing in this space is everybody wants everybody else to succeed. So, we’ve been sharing resources, swapping notes, and all of that kind of stuff. So, it’s been great to be able to know that this movement isn’t people working in silos, even though we’re still kind of … it’s very scattered.

Because of the urgency, everybody’s trying to move so fast and not necessarily always aligned. But Clean Creatives have been very great to work with. And another community that I’m quite heavily involved with — Creatives for Climate as well, which is purely creatives talking about how they’re working in their own space.

These communities have just been such a lifeline for me to feel that this is my tribe now. I can communicate to these people across the globe and we all have that common goal to turn this around.

Darren:

And is there any plans to extend that collaboration? I mean, I imagine there’s probably creative organizations around the world that are all looking at how they can influence the climate crisis.

Matt:

Yes, we are always on lookout for who’s doing what, who we might be able to learn from and we’ll reach out, and who can we help share resources and amplify each other’s voices.

So, it’s such a really nice community to be involved with because we are so collaborative and open which is nice to see. It’s very rare, especially in advertising and communications when everything’s protected and ideas are the ownership of one entity. Whereas, it’s not the case, we are finding, pretty much across the board.

Darren:

Now, you mentioned before that some of the big agencies were incredibly resistant to embracing this idea. I’m sure they were open to the concept at one level because almost every network agency and every holding company will point towards their 80-page manifesto about what they’re doing to contribute to solving the climate crisis.

Matt:

I think, and it’s quite cynical, I suppose, but I feel we’re seeing a new level of greenwashing where the greenwashes are greenwashing their services so that they can continue to work with the fossil fuel industry, because there’s still so much money there.

So, they need to put a really nice-looking like vanish on their work while they’re still behind closed doors, are still communicating for the wrong people. So, I’m not surprised at all that we’re still not having a lot of luck with any of the big agencies yet.

But there are some people that are in conversations with us, which is good. It’s whether that goes anywhere, whether they have the will within their agency to make it move, we’re yet to see.

Darren:

Yeah, it reminds me of that Bill Bernbach quote from DDB, he said “A principle is only a principle when it costs you money.” You know, perhaps the easiest thing in the world is to say, “Yes, we’re all here to take climate action, unless it costs us money,” in which case it’ll have to be the next person.

Matt:

Absolutely. And there’s just so much money there. And I definitely understand the point of view they have, that greed is just in control and we’ve got to try and fight that because this crisis is kind of accelerating at a pace that even shocks me, even though I’m kind of quite across what is going on globally.

Darren:

On that issue of greed, I was having a conversation with an investment fund manager who said … I was explaining how I decarbonized my small self-managed superfund.

And he looked at me and told me I was an idiot because there’s so much money to be gained between now and 2050, he said, because the price of carbon’s going to go through the roof and that everyone involved in it is going to make a lot of money, even as they’re pivoting away from fossil fuels. This is the type of thinking that you’re perhaps working against.

Matt:

Absolutely. Yeah, I do feel it’s like the last cash grab before the ship sinks basically. So, people, I feel are just raiding the coffers until there’s nothing left and then they’re okay, we’re all done. Shut shop.

Darren:

We’ve had some big headlines. Christian Juhl who’s the Global CEO of Group M has openly stated that they have a policy of ensuring that the media owners that they buy media from, get to zero net emissions or net zero emissions so that they’ll be able to trade with them.

What do you think of innovations like that, where they’re pushing down on their supply chain?

Matt:

Well, I think it can be there’s a lot of good intent in some of this stuff and a lot of it is just a story, I feel. Really, it’s pushing numbers around on a balance sheet when we need a systemic change.

The advertising industry itself really needs to have a self-reflection I don’t think it’s ready for, because the climate crisis is one thing and we can simplify it down to reducing emissions and it all being about CO2.

But really, this is a problem of this is the child of capitalism, and the earth cannot sustain it. And nobody really wants to have that uncomfortable conversation yet. And when we get to that point, it’s going to be too late. It kind of is too late in a lot of respects.

So, there’s a lot of delay tactics coming in when we’re talking about supply chain and all of that kind of stuff. That stuff is very important, but the scale of this is much bigger than that as well.

Darren:

Yeah, I’m not sure Matt, that it’s just capitalism. Because actually, I’m heartened by the fact that when capital and investment is put to solving the problem, as we’ve seen, sudden investments in all sorts of things: pump hydro, renewable energy sources — it’s amazing how quickly that investment, one, reduced costs and therefore, increases uptake.

So, I think the actual capital system, if it’s properly focused, it does a great job. I think you’re up against something much tougher, which is the status quo that human beings, invariably, don’t like change. And even in the face of catastrophic climate change, catastrophic climate crisis, that they’re inclined to stick with what they know, and that that’s probably an ideal place for creative communications to work.

Because isn’t it one of the key things that creative comms does is gets people to embrace change when they see a benefit for themselves?

Matt:

Absolutely. No, you are correct in that respect. People do want to know where they stand is safe, and the communication’s challenge is to show that it’s a difficult transition, but out the other side, there’s a lot of benefits. And so, it’s breaking down those walls. That is quite a big communications challenge when the whole industry itself is trying to keep people to thinking that the status quo is actually fine.

And when you’ve got a lot of money, communicating that that’s quite a big challenge when you’re under-resourced, small, like fractured community of organizations that are trying to change that conversation, and you don’t have the money to push out that media spend to get that message out there.

It is a challenge. And I think with the growth of these groups, Comms Declare, Clean Creatives, Creatives of Climate — as they scale up and get more and more creatives to join in that conversation, we’ve got to scale that up fast, but it’s really … that time when we are really running short to get that conversation started like quickly enough to be effective.

Darren:

I remember when we first met, you were very keen on the world clock that was counting down the change before it was irretrievable. Have you had a recent update? How long have we got?

Matt:

The last time I looked, the carbon clock basically is run by some scientists out of Germany and is based on IPCC reports, saying when the time, the approximate time when 1.5 degrees is no longer achievable to have it locked in under 1.5 degrees, taking into out that that’s not the actual time. There’s always lag with climate and all of that kind of stuff.

But at the moment, it’s about seven years and two months. I imagine at the next adjustment, that’s going to come down because emissions just keep going up.

Darren:

For all the talk about all the effort that’s going on to reduce them, they keep going up?

Matt:

Absolutely. Because money rules, there’s still a lot of money floating around. They’re digging it up.

Darren:

And clearly, there’s a lot of people spinning the story that … even the government has been accused of greenwashing with their advertising campaigns prior to the election that they were trying to make it look like we’re in better shape than we actually are.

Matt:

Totally. Yeah, the Positive Energy Campaign out of the government really — and we fact-checked, it was quite misleading. We complained about it and we found that really, the governing bodies that would rule on these types of advertising really don’t have any teeth either.

So, we were unsuccessful getting that campaign corrected or taken down. So, the fingers in this fossil fuel industry are everywhere. So, it’s quite a task to try and shift that conversation.

Darren:

Yeah. When you think about traditional advertising, it’s the space between the editorial, but even the editorial has been quite fossil fuel-friendly, hasn’t it?

Matt:

Absolutely. And we all know who owns that part of the market. And they’re doing a number on their electioneering as well. So, interesting times to see what happens from this election coming up very shortly.

Darren:

So, if there are people out there that are interested in participating in Comms Declare, what’s the process? What type of people do you welcome and what do they need to do to be part of the organization?

Matt:

Well, for Comms Declare at our core, and it’s where we started when Belinda launched at … Belinda and Kelly, the other founder, original founder, launched it in early 2020, is to declare for the climate.

So, you’d go to commsdeclare.org and you would declare that you will not work with fossil fuel clients. From there, you can then join a community of people that really are working with purpose, with clients that are more beneficial to society as a whole.

So, you’ll find that they’re a nice bunch. You’re in a community of good people that understand the gravity of what your communications are doing, so feel that we should do it to make the world better rather than go down the gurgler.

Darren:

Yeah, exactly. And so, apart from Comms Declare, what other activities are going on? You know, what are some of the things that you are up to at the moment?

Matt:

It’s been an exciting period of growth for Art Disrupt, which has been very good. For a couple of years there, I had some failed launches of projects, I was just kind of enthusiastic and a little bit naive as to the activity I was doing.

But now, over the time of connecting with networking with people, I have managed to start to get myself a good platform. We are hosting a month-long exhibition next month in a gallery in St Kilda that will focus on environmental art.

And we will be having workshops there to basically try and engage our local community and the climate conversation. I feel that I have pivoted Art Disrupt a little bit to where I’m more focused on local rather than trying to have those ideas that go out into the world and build me a platform outside on the internet.

And community action is really where I’m finding that I’m meeting a lot of lovely people. Community resilience is part of my focus now. So, this exhibition will be trying to connect with people in the community, help us all in our local area, find out how we can become more resilient to climate catastrophes.

We’ve seen in Australia, often, floods, fires, all sorts of devastations-

Darren:

Pestilence.

Matt:

So, we need our communities to be prepared because when a catastrophe happens and you’re not prepared and you’re looking to the government and they’re not really sending resources your way — well, we need to be preventative rather than triage.

Darren:

Yeah. And Matt, in that community that you’re building, these groups that you you’re finding yourself being part of, is there also people looking to perhaps create new products, new opportunities that are also very much environmentally-focused? Because I imagine that this is also a fantastic time for innovation as well.

Matt:

Yes, yes. And there’s so much innovation in this space. So, all of us basically are trying to find those ways to sustain our communications and efforts, but not rely on having to find grants and all of that kind of stuff to keep things going.

There’s a lot of innovation, I’m trying to see where I can land and get opportunities to take advantage of innovative products out there that are coming through innovative ways of looking at community and kind of reshaping communities.

So much innovation out there, it’s just quite underfunded, but the money is starting to come through and that’s going to be key to be able to help that conversation stay with the energy required without worrying too much about paying the bills at the same time. So, I’m looking for that balance as well, but there’s a lot of opportunities.

Darren:

Yeah, absolutely, because there’s definitely, there feels like we reached a tipping point. Perhaps, it was the pandemic. It could be, as you said, the consequences of the climate crisis, the bushfires, the floods that we’ve been through. But when you look at all the surveys, it’s a phenomenal number of Australians are demanding action, aren’t they?

Matt:

Absolutely. And for the most part, it’s being ignored by federal government. State governments are doing some good and councils are doing very good things. So, the will is there. And it’s whether the right leadership comes into play.

But very consistently now, and this has changed rather rapidly. When you hit 70% people saying climate is a priority, that’s good to know. I think the challenge is that the communications around it still don’t give people the hope that it can be addressed. And that’s why agencies can be a big part of that.

We basically steer the conversation. And for the most part, currently, it’s still been steered in the direction where you can still make a lot of money. They’re not steering it in the direction where like we know where we need to get to, how do we get there? That conversation isn’t being promoted enough.

Darren:

I don’t know, EVs seem to be an area that people are planning to make a lot of money in the future, electric vehicles. You know, I’m not sure if it’s a choice between making money or not making. It’s just whether you want to have a planet to be able to enjoy your money after you’ve made it all, isn’t it?

Matt:

Yeah, and I think it’s gonna be quite confronting when the reality sinks in as to how much your money’s not going to go when the planet’s on fire.

Darren:

You might be using the money to stoke it. You just, you reminded me when you said local government, because I remember reading a press release, I think it was from Comms Declare; Yarra Council of actually banned fossil fuel ads in Yarra Council down in Melbourne.

Matt:

Yes. It’s basically part of, we are planning a new campaign and it’s kind of launched a bit early because Yarra Council was very keen to hit the ground running and they submitted a motion to their council and they’re investigating banning fossil ads on their property.

So, it’s the great win. And that’s kind of a little bit of a teaser of our next campaign, the Fossil Ad Ban Campaign. And it’s really good to see. I think it’s a pivot for Comms Declare where we’ve been looking to have conversations within our industry, to now, where we’re looking to make the changes necessary to kind of lead the conversation rather than being on the wrong side of the table.

So, Yarra Council took to them. They’ve done really great to embrace what we have been talking to them about.

Darren:

Well, they have always been socially progressive, I think, no matter what issue you want to choose. They’re usually always early adopters. Often years before more conservative councils. So, it’s always a good starting point to be with the early adopters.

Matt:

Absolutely, and the thing that pushed us to start getting our efforts and our house in order before the campaign was to launch, was that the Herald Sun tried to put a hit piece on that announcement pre the announcement because they really, they got wind of this thing, of this this council meeting, and then tried to already put out negative like opinion pieces about it. So, the walls have ears.

Darren:

Exactly. Now, one of the things Matt, I’ve really enjoyed about this conversation is it keeps reminding me of Spiderman and the Peter Parker principle. You know, that idea that with great power comes great responsibility.

Has this whole experience, and your continued work in this space: has it reinforced for you the power of creative ideas in communications?

Matt:

Absolutely. For my 15-odd years working in advertising, it was a job I could do and you move product and I was just part of a cog in that machine. But when I started to get into this space, it was like you really started to look from the outside in to see how much we actually guide people’s opinions of everything.

And I mean, that’s our job, but that responsibility started to really set in and made me really kind of reflect on my participation and advertising, and how I needed to change it. But then also, the responsibility of being one of the creatives that seems to have starting to build quite a voice in this space. It’s like, I kind of don’t want that responsibility either.

Darren:

I come on with great power comes great responsibility. But yeah, it must be that if there are creatives out there that are feeling, let’s say, a little jaded by just coming up with creative ideas to just move more product, this must be a great opportunity.

Are you looking for creative talent to come and collaborate inside Comms Declare or as Creative Director, are you one of those old school creative directors that keep the best briefs for yourself?

Matt:

With my work with Creatives for Climate, it’s very much open door: who wants to work together? Who wants to solve some of these really challenging communication issues when you are underfunded and that kind of stuff?

And you do really have very open access to do whatever you like. It’s a fun place to work as a creative because you don’t have any KPIs or a client saying we need to reach these goals. It’s like you can experiment, you can iterate, and you can do things on the fly.

You don’t have to have everything a hundred percent perfect because you need to be constantly filling out how the best way to message works. And so, I’d love to pass the torch really. You know, I’d love to have access to more people that I can work with.

For the longest time for the first year of Comms Declare, I was the only creative working on the brand. And working in isolation doesn’t foster great ideas. You’ll get so far when you don’t have a good team to bounce off.

You don’t get the gold ideas out of that kind of scenario. So, now, that I can work with other creatives, I’m definitely a creative director that wants the best idea, not my idea.

Darren:

That’s good to hear Matt. Look, Matt, time’s got away from us. It’s been fantastic being able to have this chat. Love watching what you’re doing with Comms Declare and Clean Creatives. And what was the other one?

Matt:

Creatives for Climate.

Darren:

Creatives for Climate, lots of Cs there — C-C-C, C-C-C. Thank you for your time.

Matt:

Thank you.

Darren:

Just one last question before you go: if you’re going to point the finger, which agency do you think is really pushing the boundaries as far as greenwashing goes?