The balloon release was once a part of the tool kit of the PR team. But increasingly this has become a thing of the past as pressure groups mobilise online.
by Dan Slee
If you think of involving a balloon release as part of your comms activity you’re either stupid, enjoy littering, killing animals or think it’s still 1986.
That's the view of a number of animal charities and it is hard to think otherwise.
Back in the day the sight of helium-filled baloons drifting towards the sky was an impressive one.
A lovely splash of red against a clear blue sky was an impressive way to round-off an event and look for the ‘ooooh’ factor.
Balloon industry body NABAS say that they use biodegradable latex and issue guidance for people thinking of a balloon release suggesting that releases of less than 5,000 mean you don’t have to contact the Civil Aviation Authority.
But increasingly organisations seeking to make that splash have been under fire from environmental groups for the damage they do. What goes up must inevitably come down.
Do they have a point?
The Marine Conservation Society say:
Intentional outdoor releases of balloons and sky lanterns are an act of littering and should be classified as such. What goes up must eventually fall back down to earth and/or sea, where it can either entangle wildlife, or be ingested if certain species confuse balloons/balloon fragments for food such as endangered marine turtles.
We are against any forms of litter entering the sea – either directly or indirectly – and, we do not distinguish between differing types of balloon material, the main types of which are latex (rubber) and foil (also known as mylar). Latex balloons, whilst biodegradable, may still persist in the marine environment for up to four years.
So, how does this clash between environmental groups and the balloon industry play out?
On environmental matters when it becomes a straight fight between a respected animal charity and the balloon industry’s trade body in the eyes of the public there is only going to be one winner.
All too often of late it has played out by pressure groups targeting individual balloon release online and offline.
So, if the event you are planning gets targeted by groups such as the RSPB and others who ask you politely not to do it your event is going to be in the cross hairs.
Organisations that oppose balloon releases include Marine Conservation Society, the RSPB, the RSPCA, the National Farmers' Union, the Shark Trust, the Tidy Britain Group, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Scottish Natural Heritage, Tidy Wales, Tidy Northern Ireland, The Country Land and Business Association, Surfers Against Sewage, Clean Cornwall, county bird clubs, various Wildlife Trusts, the Bumblebee Trust, The Soil Association, and The Waterways Trust.
Organisations who ask their staff and supporters not to do them include The British Legion, The Terence Higgins Trust, The Alzheimer's Society, and more, plus companies including Sainsbury's, Aviva, TGI Fridays, M&S and Barclays.
The Guinness Book of World Records no longer recognize balloon release records "precisely because of environmental concerns".
The conclusion for PR people looking to safeguard reputation is that balloon releases belong in the past. Don’t inflate to celebrate.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.