Interview with Opportunity Green 2009 Speaker, Freya Williams, co-founder of Ogilvy Earth

Posted on 20. Nov, 2009 by in Design & Culture, Interviews

Freya Williams


Freya Williams is the Planning Director of OgilvyEarth, Ogilvy’s Sustainability Consultancy. OgilvyEarth is also responsible for the strategy and executions of the Hopenhagen campaign, a pro-bono project designed to raise public awareness of the upcoming Cop15 Conference.

OG: So you started The Greenery (now called OgilvyEarth) while at Ogilvy. How did you get buy-in to do that?

Freya: While I was on maternity leave I spent some time thinking about what I really wanted to do. I saw a business opportunity to help our clients in a more focused way around sustainability. I also wanted to bring my personal values to work. Management was actually very supportive, and put me in touch with my partner, Seth Farbman. Then the new global CEO reached out to us, so we had a lot of support from the top. It was a grassroots initiative with a lot of top-down support.

OG: There seems to be almost a trend in advertising companies opening sustainability consulting practices, as Ogilvy has done through your influence, and Saatchi has done by acquiring Act Now (now Saatchi S). How deep into your clients’ operations and supply chain strategies do you go?

Freya: We begin by working to understand what the client has already done, what they need to do more of. What’s different with us from Saatchi S is that our expertise lies in communications, while Adam Werbach (CEO of Saatchi S) is a sustainability expert. So we’ve created a global advisory panel who advise us on sustainability issues. We work with the client to figure out what the client needs to do, but most of our clients have internal experts who know much more about supply chain or sustainability as it pertains to their company. We’re very clear with our clients that we won’t be helping them greenwash, we help them expose what they’re actually doing around sustainability.

Thus, we mainly focus on helping the client figure out how to communicate what they’re already doing, figure out what else they could be doing, and what their core message should be. Most companies are dong something around sustainability, and quite often many things, but they don’t know how to even begin communicating what they’re doing.

OG: That sounds exactly like what Kellie McElhaney taught us in her Strategic CSR class, and in her bookJust Good Business. She explained that the most successful CSR initiatives are ones which naturally fit with a company’s core business.

Freya: Exactly, in the framework we use with our clients, one of the more critical components is synergy. The company’s sustainability initiatives should be very consistent with what the brand already stands for.

OG: Ogilvy’s White Paper, 2009: A Pivotal Year and the Dawn of the Age of Sustainability, states: “…the deepening crisis is bringing thought-leaders and consumers alike to the realization that the financial model we’ve been working with is unsustainable.”  Do your CPG clients see this as an opportunity to redefine success, or are they trying to apply sustainability to the old model of “growth=success”?

Freya: It varies- some clients are shifting to service based models, but  most are trying to make what they’re currently doing much more sustainable. A really good example is our client Siemens, as they are finding huge opportunities for leadership in transition to a sustainable economy, particularly in serving their manufacturing customers.

OG: I discovered just how far ahead of the competition Siemens is when I consulted one of their competitors. The firm was trying to figure out how to communicate to their customers that their products are also environmentally responsible. I was very impressed with how well Siemens is communicating their leadership in sustainable manufacturing technology.

OG: Some might say that Advertising is one of the most powerful forces in the world today. Do you think that adequate change can be affected through communication, particularly to consumers? Or would changes in business operations be more likely to impact the future of the planet?

Freya: It has to be all of the above, we can’t just do one or the other. We’re too far into this and need to work on all fronts- government regulation, business leadership, as well as marketing to drive consumer demand. As culture makers, marketers have a real opportunity to drive forward change. Hopenhagen is trying to change the dialogue to make it more relevant to people, to make climate change about people, prosperity, and hope. The apocalyptic messages of the past have not been helpful, they disempower people, creating a sense of apathy. So we’re trying to make this more about hope and opportunity. We’re also trying to bring it home to people. This isn’t just about the polar bears, or some strangers in a strange land, we want everyone to feel connected to the Copenhagen Resolution.

OG: What sort of metrics do you use to measure impact of a campaign like Hopenhagen? The same as brand perception for other clients? How would Ogilvy measure success internally for this campaign?

Freya: That’s a difficult question because of course we only have a limited amount of control over the outcome of the talks. We’re measuring our success by measuring word of mouth buzz, online mentions, signatures on the Hopenhagenwebsite, press mentions, etc. If we feel it’s raised the dialogue, and made people feel a part of the event, then we’ve done well.

OG: Given that it sometimes seems the climate change deniers are louder than those who embrace innovation and change, do you feel you need to expand the Hopenhagen message beyond the internet, onto prime time TV, for example?

Freya: Because this is a pro bono project, we need to rely on free media. Our PR team is trying to get it into more mainstream publications. Some things are in the pipeline that I can’t talk about now, but will mention in my presentation at the conference.

We won’t go hard against climate change deniers, they represent about 1/3rd of the population that are too hard to convert. Instead we focus on activating the ones who are already receptive, and are willing to learn how they can help.

OG: Thanks so much for your time Freya! I am really looking forward to your presentation at the conference.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply