How would you deal with an assault from UK Uncut on your clients?

Leading PROs share their advice on how to handle protest activity.

UK Uncut protesting outside Fortnum & Mason. Credit: Rex Features
UK Uncut protesting outside Fortnum & Mason. Credit: Rex Features

Internal comms is a critical element of managing any activist attack. It was apparent when UK Uncut staged a sit-in at Fortnum & Mason in April 2011 that staff had not been briefed on how to deal with this kind of situation. As a result, its customers were also left in the dark.

Ros Hunt, director of corporate affairs, Cohn & Wolfe

 

Ensure understanding of the UK Uncut perspective so the right issues are addressed. Acknowledge the complexity of the issues, avoid any arrogance or frustration, and employ some humility if appropriate, without caving into unreasonable demands. Emphasise the contribution the business makes to UK plc.

Julia King, managing director, Context Europe

 

We'd hope clients would have advance notice of direct action from the webscans we do. We'd look to investigate the disconnects blocking dialogue at least, and the common ground at best, so the client could reach resolution.

Sandra Macleod, group CEO Echo Research

 

Be clear about the facts and formulate a response that explains the position simply. A face to the brand in such a situation is often much better than hiding behind a statement. It's important not to get into a war of words with the organisation, or to find yourself defending standard business practices.

Caroline Weber, director of corporate reputation, Fleishman-Hillard

 

If it is a consumer or service-focused organisation, the message should be about action being taken to protect customers. An otherwise negative 'anti-cuts story' becomes a 'lengths the client will go to for their customers' story.

Gavin Megaw, director, Hanover

 

Clear, honest, open comms and a genuine CSR programme to 'give back' to the community in which a company operates should minimise the risk.

Mark Jackson, group head of corporate, Lucre

 

Defensive responses play into protesters' hands. Use the media scrutiny to explain your side of the story, buy key search words relating to the assault and create content online to ensure social media searches include your position.

Iain Bundred, director of strategic media, Ogilvy

 

Avoid anything heavy-handed. Protect customers and staff. Both tone and messaging matter. Companies shoulder a significant tax obligation in National Insurance, corporation tax, duties and excise on top of capital investment. Deploy social media to make these arguments, merchandise the client's position and publicly debate it.

John Mahony, CEO, ReputationInc

 

Consumers' expectations will increase, as will their capacity to make an impact and even set an agenda. Businesses have to pre-empt issues by changing their behaviours. If the corporate position is reasonable they must take the debate to their critics - challenge them to a live debate, for example.

Malcolm Gooderham, managing director, TLG Communications

 

Read more in September's Corporate Reputation supplement

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