How to build a local environmental campaign - strategy & story

What we learned from a Facebook-led environmental campaign that reached over 100 000 people

August 1, 2017

In May 2017 I worked on local campaign to halt the building of a block of flats in Dorset, UK, that will destroy the local environment and put half of the peninsula in the shade.

This is the story of how we launched a campaign to rally the local community against greedy development plans, file an unprecedented number of objections with the local government, and eventually crash their website under the weight of responses.

In the first part we'll be talking about the planning phase, and how to craft a focused goal and strategy.

In this post we will discuss how to:

  • Set an initial goal
  • Formulate a strategy to achieve that goal
  • Craft a powerful narrative
  • Design your website for maximum effectiveness
Developer's impression of flats shows how the building would dominate the area
Developer's impression shows how the building would dominate the area 😰

HAVE A SINGULAR GOAL

From the outset of your campaign, decide what action will have the most effect, and then set this as your immediate goal for the project. You must have one objective on which to focus every part of your strategy.

Our objective for the initial stage of the campaign was simple:

  • Get as many people as possible to register objections online with the local council.

Our reasoning was that generating a lot of public attention would make it very difficult for the powers-that-be to make any decisions without the necessary consultations.

As a side note, though you could also phone and write in, we focused on online the keep our message as simple as possible.

Kinda nice huh? 🏖

Fashion a coherent, compelling story, supported by three key arguments

To underpin your whole campaign, you must decide on one very central message or mantra. This is the message that you drive home at every opportunity, for example: "Make America Great Again".

We decided that our main narrative was that Sandbanks is there to be enjoyed by everyone: residents and visitors alike.

We then used the power of three to form three arguments for our campaign.

These are our three main arguments to support that narrative so that we had a coherent story to tell the press and general public:

  1. Oppressive scale of building is totally out of character with the area.
  2. Loss of hotel has an adverse affect on local tourism.
  3. The building will destroy local flora and fauna.
 

Anticipate counter-narratives

Important to a strong narrative is its ability to anticipate and address any counter-narratives that your opponents might come up with to weaken your position.

These counters will seek to isolate the people affected to just a small community.

It all comes down to who can tell the story that resonates with the most people.

Some anticipated counter-narratives:

  • The campaign is NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) from people who don't like change.
  • Rich people want to keep their gilded paradise for themselves.
  • It's just old people with nothing better to do.

To counter these narratives, you must make sure your story is inclusive of the people you hope to influence.

One well-known formula for a persuasive story is:

  • The story of me - Sandbanks and the environment will be permanently worsened by a huge, oppressive block of flats.
  • The story of us - many people from all over the UK and abroad, who come to enjoy Sandbanks every year, will be affected.
  • The story of now - we have only three weeks to act against the plans.
Photo showing my black labrador Max on Sandbanks Beach
Couldn't pass up an opportunity to show Max enjoying Sandbanks Beach 😍

Give your web design a purpose

Your website will be the focus of your converting supporters into taking relevant action.

It can do this effectively by providing relevant - but not too much - information about the campaign and what action people can take to support it.

If you’re making the site yourself, I recommend using something like the Protect Sandbanks Group website structure:

  • Landing image
  • Video explainer
  • News logos & links
  • Overview
  • Images
  • Three key arguments
  • Detailed arguments (could be on a different page or presented in slides)
  • Call to action
  • Contact & social links

I wonder what this website wants you to do?.. 🤔

CONCLUSION

If you're going to launch a compelling campaign, it is of the utmost importance to create a clear goal, solid plan and simple yet coherent narrative.

Now that we've laid the foundations, head to part two, where we'll dive into how we spread the message and incited the local community to action.

If you have any questions, head to the contact section below and get in touch!

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I design & build web solutions where quality is a necessity, not a luxury.

Based in 🇳🇱 Amsterdam.

I'm based in Amsterdam, NL & available internationally.