Confessions of a communicator

15 October 2009. Le Nouvel Observateur headline: “Nuclear incident – escaping plutonium at Cadarache storage site”. “Enough to produce five nuclear bombs”, Greenpeace rages. The reality is far more trivial. But it does raise questions as to how information is relayed to the general public. Before any analysis of its effects, a nuclear incident arouses indignation, anxiety, even panic. And it is the facts themselves that stimulate our emotions and fix in our memories.

What can be done? It is impossible, we observe, to discuss rationally with the general public on a subject it has not rationally taken on board. In other words, while it is still useful to continue efforts to provide well-documented information, this approach will reach only the most interested. It remains to convince the great mass of indifferent citizens that weighs heavily on the political environment.

Cicero taught Roman orators that, to be heard, they must first seduce, then move and, finally, convince. The nuclear environment has never respected this order: it has wished first to convince, has not seduced the majority of the general public, and the emotion it has raised has been mostly negative. But how indeed could nuclear energy seduce the general public?

We must meet this public on its home ground, and not seek to attract it to our own. Where is this public the most available? In the evenings, in front of the TV, watching its favourite soap. It is there that it needs to be shown nuclear activities, and the competence and dedication of those working in this field. It is there that one can gradually – and this will take years – rebuild confidence through the regular presence of characters that become familiar figures. But this ‘nuclear’ TV series needs above everything to be fun, in order to attract a major audience over a period of years and so gradually improve the image of this energy. This project is beyond the dreaming stage: such a series is under study.

Alain Michel
Communication strategy consultant (nuclear field)