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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Clear, honest, open comms and a genuine CSR programme to 'give back' to the community in which a company operates should minimise the risk.
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.
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.
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.
Read more in September's Corporate Reputation supplement