Case Study: Nature Conservancy, Seeking Renewed Relevance, Focuses on Environment’s Benefits to Human Health Video on Medical Value of Coral Reefs Resonates Ocean Lifesaver

It’s tough going these days for environmental and green organizations. As traditional donors to the environmental sector skew older (Caucasian men and women now well into their sixties), the green movement is losing momentum. With the tough economy on people’s minds, attitudes about the environment are currently 85% negative and 55% positive, according to Pew Research.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which launched in 1951 and now has more than one million members, grappled with these statistics as the organization’s communications team met during a planning retreat in 2011.


When Kerry Crisley, associate director of strategic communications at The Nature Conservancy, first came up with the idea to marry coral reef protection with life-saving cancer drugs in 2011, little did the organization know that the campaign built around that story would still have some pop two years later. But a story must have the right components to make a long-term play with the media and the public. Here’s four tips from Crisley on creating a story that resonates:

1. Meet people where they are: “Everyone appreciates conservation, but that’s not the first thing that comes to mind for people who are busy,” Crisley says. “We considered the earth in terms of how it can improve lives, making the message more personal.”

2. Add a face to the message: “Find a person who exemplifies your story, and get that person on camera,” she says. In TNC’s case, it was Arden O’Connor, a woman battling cancer, who was being treated with a drug derived from coral reefs.

3. When an idea takes off, don’t hesitate to go big: “The videos we made were just the beginning. Media relations, our website and social media all have played a part in getting this message across,” Crisley says.

4. The more evergreen the story the better: “When we find new spokespeople, or if a new drug from coral reefs comes on the market, we’ll have this story to tell once again,” she says.