Claire Maloney: communicating change
Like many people drawn to sustainability and environmental sectors, Claire Maloney grew up in the country. While her parents were both professionals, the family lived on a small farm – and had a larger property where they bred cattle, near Bungendore,around 45 minutes’ drive from Canberra.
“I watched all the things we did on the farm – a vegetable garden, herb garden, compost, conserving water through many droughts. We didn’t waste anything – not even the food scraps. I’ve been living
in cities now for over 20 years and it’s surprising how influential that was.”
Maloney is co-founder and director of The Bravery, a specialist communications firm with a remit to foster positive social and environmental change, working with such major clients as MobileMuster and Veolia. She says the hands-on nature of farm life gave her a passion to know how things worked.
Moving to Melbourne in 2005, Maloney started a degree in public relations at RMIT University. “I started doing some minor PR work for small businesses, mostly in fashion. If half the things that are happening now in the fashion industry were happening back then, I might have continued. Things that are about consumption for consumption’s sake aren’t what get me jumping out of bed in the morning. When I began working at a multinational PR agency, I discovered that if the work had a higher purpose or value set, then I was hooked.”
Another trait imbued at childhood particularly by her mother – an academic in the medical field – was the need for promotion of women’s rights, leading to a role with Marie Stopes. As a result, Maloney was approached to sit on the board of One Girl, a charity devoted to girls’ education in Sierra Leone, and she is now deputy chair.
“Both Marie Stopes and One Girl showed me the right way to approach difficult, complex and – sometimes – taboo issues. For example, One Girl has an amazing program called Launch Pad, which is providing sanitary items through a peer-to- peer social enterprise model, which is where a lot of the not-for-profit sector needs to be heading to create sustainable change.”
Towards the end of her tenure at Marie Stopes, Maloney was approached by long- time friend Valentina Zarew to start up The Bravery. “We could see environmental, sustainability, social and community issues around us all the time; we were passionate about the work and we thought we could create a place that would draw in other like-minded people and clients, to make a real difference.”
Maloney considers B2B communications to be increasingly valuable. “There is a huge appetite for best practice approaches and learnings, as well as more opportunity for business to talk with specific groups – whether they’re influencers, other businesses or government.
“The golden rule is to listen. We can be in such a mad rush to talk, to get it out there.
It sounds simple, but the most successful campaigns happen when a balance is found between what we want to talk about and what people want to know.
“It can throw up a lot of challenges within the waste sector. Businesses sometimes have a lot of downward pressures and complex, often highly regulated stakeholder relationships – members, employees, clients, government.
“We’ve been lucky to work with businesses that are happy to go on the journey to find the right approach for the content. Mainstream media for this sector remains a challenge. Some journalists still tell us any story mentioning ‘sustainability’ makes people’s eyes glaze over.
“So we’ve had to change the way we present content. A recent example was with Veolia on managing food waste with the largest food market in Australia. Food waste is a hot topic and we know that organic waste-producing businesses are constantly trying to improve their outputs. But it’s still
a little on the outer circle though, in terms of being able to get the message across. We were telling a story about closed loop and circular economy practices, but we deliberately didn’t mention any of those terms in our approach.
“We simply unpacked it – we said the market makes organic waste, Veolia works with them to collect it, turning it into fertiliser and energy, and that goes on to grow more food. The waste and sustainability sector need to be careful about using overly technical and alienating language or otherwise we’re only going to be good at talking to ourselves, which isn’t going to generate the change we want to see across this sector and others.
“Our rule of thumb is, does the content meet the criteria of being new, interesting? Can it be contextualised? Can it be explained simply or visually? Does it have scale? Can others access this sort of technology? If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to most of these questions, it often means going back to the drawing board on your communications strategy.”
Now based in Sydney, Maloney tries to return to her ‘roots’ as often as she can. “My partner and I love going off-road, into the bush. The moment I walk into nature, I feel like I’m home. It’s a beautiful corrective thing.
“Most of the time perhaps people see a fairly corporate person, but I love getting my hands dirty. My dad still has a farm and we head down there and do crazy things with him, such as fencing during a rainstorm in the middle of winter in minus degrees – just because it’s the one weekend that we’re there together, which is the most important thing.”
This article originally appeared in issue 5 of CWS magazine. Get your free, obligation-free trial to the mag here.