FIVE MINUTES WITH HOLLY MCKINLAY
As the head of strategic communications at the WWF UK, Holly McKinlay has the daunting task of uniting science communications with an activism and conservation model to effect change in the world. She discusses the challenging brief the WWF UK put to this year's Young Lions at the Cannes Lions festival
How do you approach communications at the WWF UK?
What I do in my role is to ensure that our external communications add up to our big strategic goals and that all of the external comms that we’re doing – whether that’s with our external partners on our advocacy and campaigns, in our media or across our social channels – are all on message and that we’re tracking to our main conservation goals.
We’re working across three pillars: tackling the food system, the climate crisis and the decline in nature, globally. My job is to make sure our communications team are working to those pillars but to make sure that we’re communicating in a bold and clear and human way so that our audiences can really understand what the issues are facing our planet and do something about it.
What are the challenges you face with regards to achieving those objectives?
The issues are so huge and so complex and when we’re talking about global systematic change, it’s quite difficult for people to wraps their heads around it. From a brand language point of view and from a communications point of view, we have to be really clear and take our scientific information and make it digestible for the everyday person, without losing the facts. I think that’s the thing about WWF, there are some people that are quite bold in their statements, but are not necessarily based in scientific fact. Our mission is that we’re always based in science. We’re not going to make claims that we can’t back up with evidence but it’s challenging.
Last year we produced our biannual report called the Living Planet Report. It’s a hefty document that’s about all the systematic drivers we find in nature. That was a communications challenge. At the same time, we were launching a new brand attitude, ‘Fight for your world,’ so we had to marry the two. This scientific report and saying, ‘We are the last generation that can do something about this, that can save the planet.’ There’s been a 60% decline in wildlife populations since the 1970s, really stark stats formed the headline for our communications, but underneath that we wanted to layer our messages about we’re the first generation to know we’re destroying the planet, the last one that can do anything about it. But then also give people some hope. We can do this if we come together and raise our voices.
How can science work hand in hand with campaigning and advocacy?
The biggest challenge is the complexity of the science and the challenges that the planet’s facing. It’s often quite dense information and very difficult to explain. That’s the biggest challenge. There are a number of different scientists out there and a number of different scientific reports. It’s making sure that our science is 100% credible and being able to translate that for a public audience or even if it’s a campaigning audience.
We work really closely with our science team, they’re all embedded into our communications. So our first port of call is always to sit down with them and talk through the science and we’re lucky we’ve got communications savvy scientists and conservationists working inside the organisation.
What is the WWF UK doing in its work with partners?
Working in partnerships is very different than in traditional funding models. We work together to create sectoral and systematic change.
We’ve got our big partnerships with Sky and Tesco, and we’re working together to tackle the issues across the sector. Working with the whole food sector on food supply chains. Our approach to partnerships is more in the strategic way, bringing that partner on board; how do we tackle this big issue? Communications will come into that and staff engagement and stakeholder engagement. But it’s working on a big picture level, which is quite a shift from traditional partnership models. That is the way the world is going. So many corporate businesses have that built in.
For the most part it’s built into corporate missions from the start, it’s integral. Often the big partners that we work with will have experts in house that work on those environmental issues. For us it’s about taking it up a level and asking what are the big changes that we need to make to save the world and then doing that together. Always part of our goal is to fund our conservation work on the ground. That’s the result that we can’t do without.
How can the WWF UK achieve its goals through communications?
We need to make it socially, politically and economically unacceptable to destroy nature, which is a huge goal, but entirely possible. I think that the world is already awake to the issues. We’ve seen in the last year with the climate crisis, the UK has already declared a climate emergency. That’s a huge mission and we need to do that through putting the issues on the map, which I think we’ve been quite successful at doing. Raise the issues, raise the urgency. 2020 is the year for the planet, those are where there will be key meetings happening that will change history and will change the face of the planet. We’re working hard to secure a deal for nature and people that will put into action tackling climate change, fixing the food system, halting biodiversity loss. That’s the big mission.
Also it’s growing support for our organisation globally. Without the numbers of people and the funding and the supporters, we can’t make the change that we need to make. We need to fund that advocacy work, fund our campaigns and we also need a groundswell of people to take action. However big or small that is, not making a choice is a choice.
Why is the Young Lions competition important to the WWF UK?
We have five briefs in Cannes Young Lions, which is the first time in history [that has been done]. It shows the scale of the issue and that people recognise that and also that young people are going to be the generation that are going to be able to make the change. They are the first generation that can and will change the course of history for our planet.