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Spreading the ‘Green Is Good Business’ Message

Jun 25, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Ever notice how the guy with the accent always sounds like the smartest guy in the room?
“Every marketing agency in New York needs to have a strategist with a British accent, and I am MPG’s,” quips Guy Forestier-Walker, senior VP for strategic planning at the agency since 2002. “It’s a sort of a mascot job. Also, occasionally I have good ideas.”
And big ideas. Mr. Forestier-Walker is acting as Havas Media’s North American point man on its global study ofwhat consumers think about climate change.
“We fielded a large piece of research a few months ago covering nine different countries and interviewing 11,000 broadly middle-class consumers specifically on the subject of climate change and what they thought about it, and what people were prepared to do about it and who they thought was responsible and who they thought would solve it,” he said.
While there has been much research in this area, relatively few studies this broad-based have emphasized corporations and their marketing efforts tied to the environment.
This study was designed to figure out how companies should communicate on climate change this year and why it’s an important issue for them to be heard talking about.
“Although myself and many, if not most, of my colleagues believe that there’s such a thing as global warming and it’s man-made and we need to do something about it otherwise we’re all in deep trouble, that wasn’t our motivation as a company footing the research,” Mr.
Forestier-Walker said. “Our motivation as a company was to improve the marketing solutions that we can offer to our clients. We have to remember who we are and what we do here.”
He called most of the study results “less of an ‘aha’ and more of a ‘hmm.’”
For example, when respondents were asked what they were prepared to do about global warming personally, the two things at the top of the list were to try to buy products from companies that have sustainability as one of their major goals and not to buy products from companies that are seen as doing the opposite or ignoring the issue, he said.
With 31% of consumers saying they intend to stop buying products from companies that don’t have a green agenda, “That’s a big chunk of business that’s suddenly put at risk,” Mr. Forestier-Walker said. “And I say suddenly because, if you asked people in the country that same question five years ago, everybody would have just shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘What are you talking about?’”
On top of that, there was a significant number of consumers who said they were willing to pay more—not a lot more, but a bit more—for greener goods.
“In business, ‘a bit more’ can make a very large difference,” he said. “We’re talking about price elasticity as a big issue. And we call this thing ‘eco-lasticity,’ rather cornily, I’m afraid.”
That means that for a marketer, communicating a progressive stance on global warming can be critical.
“If you have sustainability or a non-polluting or an environmentally friendly story to tell, there’s a very sound business reason for telling it. And it’s not about being more warm and fuzzy. It’s about selling more stuff,” he said.
Mr. Forestier-Walker’s accent is legit. He was born just outside of London, the city where his grandfather had been in what sounded like the glamorous advertising business. Because of that, his grandmother and mother steered him into teaching.
“I decided I was never going to get rich doing that,” he said, and got into the business with Grey Advertising in London. “The business was indeed fun then, with 15% commissions and lunches that meant several bottles of wine and little productive getting done in the afternoon.
“That’s all over,”’ he said. “Now, of course, we all have to work to earn our money.”
He stayed with Grey and its media spinoff MediaCom for 13 years, including a stint in Germany, setting up the agency’s office in Prague and running its Asia-Pacific division.
He came to the U.S. to work on global clients in the advertising business in New York, then stepped out to work at a dot-com called Beyond Interactive before that bubble burst.
He then joined MPG, where he’s been since.
In his spare time, Mr. Forestier-Walker is learning the cello as a way to ease a midlife crisis.
He’s been taking weekly lessons for four years. He claims he’s not very good, but at least “it’s not something I think I’m going to get bored with,” he said.
His teacher organizes recitals from time to time. “It’s voluntary,” he said. “We all sort of scrape
through our little pieces and applaud politely even when it’s dreadful.”
He recently bought a condo in a Harlem building that used to be a fairly notorious women’s prison. He wants to put a roof garden on his terrace with a table, some chairs and a pergola so he can grow climbing yellow roses.
Mr. Forestier-Walker has been planning this for about a year, although “I’m going to be lazy. I’m going to get a landscaper in,” he said.
Mr. Forestier-Walker also reads and tries to keep abreast of politics.
“I think one should know exactly what’s going on in the world,” he said. “I’m a seeker after facts and the truth, and I’m somewhat known around here for being very outspoken and saying what I really think, even when it’s not exactly the most politic thing to do. Short-term, it’s a pain.
Long-term, it’s probably not such a bad thing.”
Who knew: Mr. Forestier-Walker provided the voice of King George III and other Englishmen in a History Channel documentary on the Revolutionary War a few years ago. “Only one of my friends actually spotted it without having to be told,” he said. “It’s possible she is the only one who was watching without having to be told as well,” he said, adding he hasn’t worked in voice-over since.

16 Comments

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