Putting the Personal Into Sustainability
So, the Guardian Sustainable Business site is no more. I don’t think I’m really going to miss it because I don’t think I ever read anything there that really made me stop and think. Most articles read like PR pieces, because that’s largely what they were – native advertising, advertorials, whatever you want to call them, businesses were paying to get their case studies up there. And of course, if they’re paying, they want to make everything sound fantastic, but end up sounding incredibly bland.
I came up across this when I was doing interviews for my second book, The Green Executive. The initial purpose of the interviews was to get fresh examples rather than rehashing the same old case studies as everybody else, but soon they took on a life of their own, telling the inspiring story of individuals doing great things, so I decided to insert one more or less verbatim after each chapter. In my view they are worth the cover price alone.
As I was attributing these stories to the individuals who were telling them, I thought it was only fair to let them see a draft to ensure there were no errors or potentially career-limiting revelations. One guy forwarded the text to his PR department for a once over and it came back rewritten in that strangely antiseptic language of the advertorial, with all the personal insights and gritty reality excised. It was sooooo boring. The PR contact couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand my repeated pleas for a simple gaffe-check, so I gave up and just published my original.
As I was explaining to one of my clients this week, nobody reads case studies unless they have to. But they do read personal stories – particularly the classic quest story where someone just like us takes on a challenge, faces down adversity and triumphs with great results. Think of all those Take-a-Break style magazines which clog up your newsagent shelves – full of personal stories about ordinary people bringing up a child with a disability or losing weight or fighting off a mugger. If the Guardian Sustainable Business had taken a leaf out of those publications, maybe I and others would have paid a bit more attention.