IPBES’ communication strategy – central role of stakeholders but without permission to use branding

At the stakeholder day of the 5th plenary IPBES’ head of communication Robert Spaull presented the outreach plan for the rest of the current work program. It proclaims a strong role of stakeholders but inhibits their efforts by a restrictive branding policy.  

The first topic of Spaull’s presentation was the description of the branding of IPBES by its logo and four new icons representing the three different scales of biodiversity (ecosystems, species and genomes) plus a fingerprint representing the human impact factor on biodiversity. The IPBES style guide is available as official IPBES5 Information Document (see IPBES/5/INF/15). Spaull also presented a proposal for a common pronunciation of the platform’s acronym, as previously about “eight different ways” existed. Following  the phonetic rule that pronounceable abbreviations should be pronounced as a normal word, the IPBES acronym should be officially pronounced as “ip-bes” – “ip” as in “hip” and “bes” as in “best”.  This new practice now results in the amusing phenomenon of nearly everybody, including the IPBES-Chair Robert Watson, correcting themselves when using the acronym.

The core-issues of IPBES’ communication will be the launches of its Assessments. This will follow the very successful communication plans of the pollination assessment and start at an early stage to prepare the ground for the launch. The real IPBES media push will begin in the 3rd quarter of 2017. Then “key media outlets” and “opinion-shapers” will be briefed about the regional, land degradation and restoration assessments in all four assessment regions (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe/Central Asia and the Americas). This briefing aims to build awareness of the importance of the assessments with a view towards generating a “buzz” ahead of the approvals at IPBES-6. The experiences around launching the first two assessments revealed the importance of explaining the context of the platform’s results (SDGs, AICHI-Goals). Therefore opinion pieces are planned on “key global issues and discussions”. They are to be written by the IPBES Chair, the Executive Secretary, Bureau members and selected IPBES experts. To “maintain the momentum” of the launches, the reports will be regularly promoted at appropriate conferences etc.

In addition to the importance of a closer cooperation with the Media networks of the “UN-Family”, Spaull also stressed the essential role of the stakeholders in spreading the findings of the assessments and evaluating and reporting the media coverage back to the secretariat as the secretariat cannot be everywhere and all regions have their own communication rules and habits that need to be taken into account. He presented the opportunity to become a so-called ‘volunteer regional communication partner’ of IPBES.

One aspect constitutes a huge hurdle for this stakeholder engagement in communication issues: Generally only IPBES itself is allowed to use the corporate design promoted at the beginning of Spaull’s presentation. The Secretariat’s approach relates to a decision of the IPBES bureau. Exceptions can be made for single products after requesting a permit. This rule dampens the enthusiasm many stakeholders have shown in the past to bring IPBES forward and undermines the aim IPBES Chair Robert Watson proclaimed: to make the platform relevant and expand it as quickly as possible.

The explanation for this rule is the lack of capacity to control all stakeholder outreach activities and the fear of abuse of the brand. This sounds reasonable; nevertheless a solution should be found for this dilemma. One example could be a special IPBES stakeholder network Logo - derived from the original but distinguishable from it. Without branding activities and rules, it is difficult to build up brand.

This issue was also taken up by the Stakeholder’s Statement to the plenary and should be discussed again by the plenary as soon as possible.

The full communication plan can be downloaded as Plenary Document IPBES/5/9