Whitehouse Communications’ Director of Public Affairs, Max Wilson, explains to PR Week the short-term success that might be wrought from Greenpeace’s protest during Liz Truss’s Conference speech, but also the need to develop that success into a longer term public affairs strategy.
Greenpeace protest during Truss speech was an opportunity missed
This week, Liz Truss made clear that accelerating economic growth is the driving ambition of her new government. Leaving aside the economics and the politics of focusing your administration on this objective, a key moment in Truss’ speech was when two Greenpeace activists unveiled a banner and began protesting against fracking. Shortly after being ejected from the conference hall, it became clear that one of the protestors was Greenpeace’s head of politics.
There are strong arguments to be made against fracking, but is a disruptive protest the best way to prosecute an argument – especially if your strategic objective is to change or influence government policy?
To Greenpeace’s credit, the protest/PR stunt raised the profile of the organisation and the fracking issue, as well as generating widespread media coverage both inside the hall and through a series of media interviews afterwards. But short-term media coverage is only a tactical intervention that should form part of a broader public affairs strategy tied to clear objectives. The protesters need to ask themselves if their stunt will change or influence government policy – and if not, was it really worth it?
First, the protest barely disrupted Truss’ speech. If anything, it seemed to energise her and galvanise the audience in the hall, uniting attendees in joint annoyance. Despite the new Conservative Government lifting the ban on fracking, it will only go ahead with local consent.
The conference hall was filled with Tory activists and councillors, many of whom would have been sympathetic to legitimate environmental arguments, but the protest is only likely to have alienated them further.
Second, the protest might have provided the sugar-rush of immediate media coverage, but it didn’t move Greenpeace any closer to meeting its strategic policy objectives. Effective public affairs can change minds and change policy, but only with a clear strategy comprised of multiple strands of activity all focused on meeting key objectives.
It takes discipline and stamina to commit to a long-term public affairs strategy that goes beyond short-term tactical hits. An effective campaign to influence policy includes narrative development, gathering evidence, creating a broad movement, engaging with decision-makers, prosecuting an argument, convincing supporters and framing your message to be politically relevant to your target audience. And yes, comms and PR has a vital role to play in all this too.
Assessment can only be done when measuring against agreed objectives. If Greenpeace wanted to raise its profile and generate media coverage, then mission accomplished. But if it wanted to force the government to U-turn on allowing fracking and get Truss to commit to the environmental promises contained in the 2019 Tory manifesto, then there is still work to be done.
The Whitehouse Communications team are expert political consultants providing public relations and public affairs consulting and political analysis to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union and beyond. For more information, please contact Whitehouse Communications Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at email@example.com.