Media-Driven Conservation

An Interview with Jason Heller, SVP, Horizon Interactive, and Founder, “Profit the Earth”

With a personal passion for underwater photography, Jason Heller may sometimes think of himself more as an “underwater policeman” than as a director of a digital media agency. But, his real passion may lie at the intersection of the two.

Through his “Profit the Earth” initiative, Heller intends to secure funding from major corporations for marine conservation projects across the world. In return, Heller hopes to provide corporations with a positive ROI on their investment through a mix of traditional and non-traditional brand media including event sponsorships, naming rights, PR and buzz (e.g., consumer generated content in discussion forums and blogs. 

In fact, the value of the media generated from such a project may offer a significant return while doing good for marine conservation efforts, with a pilot generating potentially more than 3x in equivalent media value for the sponsor.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Heller this week. Here are his words:

MG: What is the origin of “Profit the Earth” and how does it reflect your core beliefs?

JH: “Profit the Earth” is a unique marine conservation company that seeks to bring corporate marketing dollars to under-funded or non-funded projects in the form of media and sponsorships.

Because I am an avid marine photographer, I am focused on marine conservation. I want to leverage my contacts and expertise to fund projects and return value in terms of PR and media. 

MG: Tell me about your current project to protect a reef off of Bali. What will it mean for the local economy and eco-system?

JH: Bali is considered a pilot project to prove the model out first. 

Bali is purely an environmental project that stems from the natural degradation of an artificial reef and turning it into a press event. The current reef is a wreck, the USS Liberty, a World War II warship. It serves multiple purposes: dive site, habitat for fish, support for local community, as divers come to dive the wreck and eat at local restaurants.

The idea came from Michael Cortenbach, founder of Bali Hai [Dive Adventure]: procure a boat and sink it so that when the old boat degrades, a new boat will be in place.

The dive industry has major events around sinking ships to create artificial reefs. One such event was the sinking of the USS Oriskany off Pensacola, Florida. [The Oriskany, an aircraft carrier that saw combat operations in Korea and Vietnam was sunk in May 2006, becoming the largest artificial reef in the world.] The sinking was a major event. To sink a ship in the US costs millions, in Asia it costs a few hundred thousand dollars.

[The artificial reef, including the sinking event, has received significant press coverage by major news organizations, dive organizations and bloggers alike. It also has generated significant ongoing brand awareness for the reef off the Florida coast. For example, a search on Google under “USS Oriskany” and “reef” generates 21,300 results.]

MG: What are the specific media tactics planned for the event? What is the media worth? Will the event generate a positive ROI?

JH: Procure a ship, bring it to Bali, and create a press event out of the sinking. The project requires securing a sponsor with naming rights to the wreck. PR will be generated from the event and generate residual value over time for the sponsor. It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to sink the wreck but generate a million in PR.

The event itself will be covered extensively by dive magazines, travel magazines and environmental publications. This generates immediate PR, let alone residual PR. For the sponsor, naming rights for the artificial reef have ongoing value: dive operators take out Google ads with the name of the site and consumers generate media by discussing the reef [by name] in chat rooms. [The current dive site off Bali] is one of the best sites so dive magazines write stories about it every year.

MG: And your plans longer-term?

JH: A project on the Galapagos Islands will have larger, global impact. I consult companies in the dive industry on the side, including one of the largest operators of land and diving tours in Galapagos, where there is much concern about illegal fishing. My goal is to help get corporate dollars to help save these areas. The goal is to raise $1MM per year over 5 years to enforce illegal fishing and generate media by exposing tourists that visit the Galapagos to the sponsor.

MG: Does this model scale?

JH: Scalability is not the number of projects, but the size of projects that have larger impact on marine conservation. I am trying to create the infrastructure so that a handful of marine projects can find funding. My goal is to do 3 to 4 large [marine conservation] projects per year. It is only newsworthy if there are a few projects per year, as there is overlap in coverage by publications.

Sustainable by Design

An Interview with Ian Yolles, VP of Marketing, Nau

What if you could build a company from the ground up, where every decision was based on the principles of sustainability? Nau is an emerging outdoor apparel company that is trying to do just that. In fact, even its corporate bylaws state that fiduciary responsibility to shareholders must be balanced by the needs of the environment.

In doing so, it is going to market with a three point differentiation strategy:

  • Sell high-performance, high-design apparel made solely using sustainable sources and practices
  • Transform the traditional retail concept into a physical “Webfront“. In this setting, consumers can browse and try on the apparel in a gallery-like setting, but are provided with an incentive to order through kiosks and have merchandise shipped to them – much like an e-commerce experience. This allows the store to have a smaller footprint, carry fewer inventories, and reduce operating costs and the overall impact on the environment.
  • Engage consumers in the brand through active dialogue (e.g., blog) and philanthropic giving (5% of sales donated to one of a list of charities)

Sustainability is often viewed as a competitive handicap. Few companies have been successful in building their brand while adhering to such principles. Nau’s plans to revolutionize the product, the retail space and consumer experience simultaneously are ambitious and will test the size and loyalty of the emerging eco-friendly consumer segment. This is a brand to watch as we move forward toward a more sustainable world.

I recently spoke with Ian Yolles, Nau’s VP of Marketing. Here’s what he had to say:

MG: What are your key brand attributes?

IY: Performance, sustainability and beauty.

MG: Will your brand resonate with eco-conscious and not so eco-conscious consumers?

IY: Absolutely. I do not believe we will be successful solely on the basis of sustainability; the product has to do a lot more. If you look at our product, for anyone who leads an active life…if you look at it visually, you will see performance cues and design cues…and have a differentiated point of view to make it successful on those two attributes alone.

MG: Is a business that sells sustainable products itself sustainable?

IY: We get asked that a lot. “Isn’t this a passing fade or trend”? Our point of view: Interest in sustainability reflects a much deeper and much longer shift and does not reflect a passing trend. Evidence to suggest this? Look at GE. Last year they announced ‘ecoimagination’. One effect is that it impacts [GE’s] marketing. It also reflects a shift in thinking at GE. This was not driven by purely an idealistic view but rather because it’s good for business.

MG: How will you revolutionize the retail environment?

IY: [Nau’s point of view] comes from a broader perspective about consumer shopping behavior. In 2006, we see that the Internet has influenced how people are learning, getting information. It also has influenced shopping behavior: People often start online by doing research; particularly in the case of an apparel product, they want to try it on and then go home and find it online for the lowest possible cost. In e-commerce and traditional channels, no one has connect the dots to reflect changing behavior of consumers. We are connecting the dots for them.

MG: How does it work?

IY: “Webfronts” integrate the website shopping experience with the storefront shopping one. If you want to buy it [at the store], you can do it. There will be sales reps there and POS terminals there. But, we will incentivise you to make a different choice: Purchase at an [in-store] interactive display. Shipping is at no extra cost, and we will offer you a 10% discount.

The outdoor and broader sports industry is structured as a wholesale model. With “webfronts”, we are taking out the middle man. Webfront efficiencies [such as smaller store footprints, centralized inventory, fewer inventories] and flexibilities change what you can do with the business model. [For example], we will engage every one of our customers directly and experientially in the giving process with a direct donation [via 5% of sales to the philanthropy] of their choice. The current benchmark is Patagonia at 1% of sales. 5% is well beyond what corporate America is doing.

MG: How else will you interact with your consumers?

IY: Through participation, dialogue and engagement. The brand has to have one identify and clear point of view. But the world is changing, and the idea is to have a brand that invites dialogue, engagement. We launched through ‘The Thought Kitchen’ (blog). It is the location where people engage in ideas. We aspire to be very authentic, transparent in how we communicate with them.

MG: Will competitors follow your lead?

IY: It will be very hard for competitors to adapt. We are a direct business; other companies are tethered to a wholesale model. Any change will cause conflict between the channels. Transition for them would be very difficult. It also takes a different mindset to operate a direct business versus a wholesale model.