Style Guide to Maximize PolyMet Public Involvement
Here’s a brief style guide to use when communicating with the public about the PolyMet proposal. The goal is to be simple, active, and positive. This project and the environmental review process are complex, and our desire to be honest sometimes compels us to try to educate people about the complexity of both of them. Resist the temptation!
Keep in mind that these are recommendations for communicating with the public, not with legal or regulatory audiences. Think of yourself as a translator of legalese to plain language.
Keep it simple
Don’t talk about how complicated the EIS is. Talk about the simple choices for Minnesotans.
Use the language of values
Talk about the shared values we hold as Minnesotans, like clean air and water, fairness, commitment to our state. Avoid getting bogged down in debating details.
Avoid jargon and specialized language
For example, use “the PolyMet mine plan” not the “PolyMet supplemental draft environmental impact statement”
Avoid acronyms whenever possible
“EIS” means something to an advocate, it means very little to a member of the general public. There are exceptions to this rule - for example, “DNR” is widely recognized.
Use active words to generate action
Encourage people to “tell the DNR what you think,” “have your say,” “speak,” “call on,” and “vote.” Don’t tell them to “comment.” Commenting sounds detached, passive, and something that an expert would do.
Use concrete language
This is especially true when talking about big numbers. Use analogies whenever possible. For example, instead of saying that “21 gallons of polluted water will seep from PolyMet’s tailings basin per minute,” say that “every year, enough polluted water will escape from PolyMet to fill sixteen olympic-sized swimming pools.”
Avoid verb tenses and words that connote inevitability
Don’t say “the project will create 360 jobs” say “the project could/would/might create 360 jobs.”
Avoid talking about process and focus on substance
Focus on the impacts of the proposal if it were approved, avoid criticizing the mine plan’s deficiencies and omissions.
Avoid public disagreements about message with other PolyMet opponents
If you have a disagreement about message with another person or group working on PolyMet comments, talk to them directly about it. Don’t air differences through the media.
Focus on PolyMet, not the regulators
The DNR is relatively popular, the company is not. It’s their mine, not the regulators.
Stay as visual as possible in your public communication
This is especially true in social media, where images are far more likely to be shared and consumed than links or text.
Maintain a narrative about momentum throughout the comment period
Set internal goals for number of comments filed and celebrate meeting them, highlight positive media coverage, and create milestone events.
Remember, nobody will read the full document except for the most deeply involved
Stick to the headline issues and the big picture.