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A Hard Sell to Rescue Planet Earth

October 26, 1989|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Early in November, East Coast fund-raiser Roger Craver will dispatch a direct mailing to 100,000 environmentalists nationwide, a glossy packet inviting them to become co-sponsors of Earth Day 1990 by committing time and money to the cause.

Although it may appear to be a routine solicitation, the packet is more: It represents a media-savvy, marketing campaign that is a first for the environmental movement, traditionally more reflective of Woodstock than Madison Avenue.

The strategy is being planned as carefully as a presidential campaign, says Craver, whose 20 years of success with Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co. has earned him the title of "fund-raising czar." And he's only one of a handful of top consultants, many of them veterans of Earth Day I, working on Earth Day's 20th anniversary plans for minimal fees because they believe in the magnitude of the environmental crisis.

Proclaims Los Angeles public relations consultant Josh Baran: "We're trying to organize this like the movie 'Batman' so that when Earth Day arrives on April 22, everybody will know about it. We believe the environmental situation is so important that we really want to turn it around. Earth Day can be the booster rocket for the next 10 years in making people more receptive in terms of changing behavior."

The Earth Day 1990 campaign, now being geared up, includes focus groups, questionnaires, videos, a national broadcast and print advertising campaign, logos, prototype T-shirts--all the essentials for the marketing of a commercial product or a political candidate.

All this and more is being coordinated out of official Earth Day 1990 headquarters, a donated storefront in downtown Palo Alto.

"We've got the best people in the country," says Earth Day executive director Chris Desser, "and they are working for significantly reduced rates. . . . I called them up and said 'Earth Day and I need your help.' They said 'We will do it for cheap and we won't hourly-rate you to death.' They've been fantastic."

She dismisses suggestions that sophisticated marketing strategies will produce nothing more than a media event. "This issue is so important," says Desser, "that if we don't do something about it, nothing else will matter."

Indeed, the Earth Day goal, in the words of chairman Denis Hayes, is nothing less than a full-scale revamping of society's behavior. "We want to change the world," says Hayes who, as a law student, organized the first Earth Day in 1970.

Hayes, now on leave from a San Francisco law firm, spoke recently by phone from London, in the midst of a two-week trip enlisting environmentalists and other activists on a sweep of six European countries: "We're getting a huge amount of enthusiasm. 'These are global issues and we're trying to create a situation in which there is mass public involvement. . . . If it works, we'll have 50 (million) to 100 million people around the world participating."

This advance drum-beating is a far cry from the original Earth Day in 1970. Coordinated by Hayes and a groundswell of student activists essentially to protest air pollution, that event rallied more than 20 million people nationwide and surprised almost everybody with its scope.

"It came like a shot out of the dark," recalls Craver. "Citizen action in those days had been focused on the Vietnam War. People had to go look up the word ecology ."

Says Desser: "The challenge in 1970 was educating people that the environment was an issue. The first Earth Day really did give birth to the environmental movement. The challenge now is: What are we going to do about it? How can I change my behavior? How can I get corporations, the government, to change their behavior?"

While Hayes is mobilizing the world, Desser, a lawyer and seasoned political organizer, is concentrating on America. Using phones, faxes and computer networks, she oversees a paid staff of 18 and several hundred volunteers: "We've raised close to $1 million from foundations and individuals and will be seeking $2 million more from individuals and corporations."

For an operation of its scope, $3 million is modest, Earth Day sponsors say, noting that Hollywood routinely spends $5 million to $6 million to market a humdrum movie.

And this is not a humdrum issue. If Earth Day succeeds, sponsors say, the April 22 outpouring of rallies, official proclamations, nature walks, pickets, tree-plantings, trash-ins and teach-ins, will bequeath a permanent change in collective behavior.

It will sensitize consumers to the importance of buying an energy-efficient refrigerator, a fuel-efficient car, of protesting excessive plastic packaging, of putting pressure on politicians and corporations to respond to environmental needs. "We are trying to generate as much interest as we can for people to start doing things immediately--at home, at work and at school," says Diana Aldridge, Earth Day communications director.

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