St Paul's and City of London 'found wanting' over Occupy London protests

Occupy London's communications have left St Paul's, the Church, City of London Corporation, the London Mayor and City and financial PROs all 'found wanting', according to priest and comms adviser George Pitcher.

Protest PR: George Pitcher (left) and Ronan McNern
Protest PR: George Pitcher (left) and Ronan McNern

As the Occupy London protests near a month camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the movement’s press team members Ronan McNern and Pitcher debated how the protests have highlight bad comms practices.

‘We’re being portrayed as the villains - health and safety was portrayed as the issue,’ said McNern in PRWeek’s latest podcast.

The Occupy London tented protest has been camped outside St Paul’s since 15 October when its plans to protest outside the London Stock Exchange were blocked.

Both NcNern and Pitcher were critical of the church’s handling of the situation.

Pitcher believes that St Paul’s PR errors in the early stages were ‘more cock-up than conspiracy’ and that through ‘naivety and negligence’ the church squandered the opportunity for great comms.

He went as far as to say that St Paul’s actions were ‘embarrassing’.

He said: ‘It was an opportunity to welcome and to minister to people and to communicate with people – and the church’s response was to slam its doors and that is the real failure of perception and communication… which is disgraceful. And to be a priest in the Church of England, as I am, it was embarrassing.’

McNern said the camp was shocked by the church’s u-turn and felt its actions were like ‘a slap in the face’ when it decided to close the church on health and safety grounds.

At this time St Pauls’ was in danger of ‘ruining the reputation of the church for a generation’, said Pitcher. He warned that if the church decided on a forced eviction, those images would ‘be sent around the world… and be tragic in many ways’.

McNern recognised that the conflict with the church had overshadowed Occupy London’s message of ‘creating a more just society, one that tackles social and economic injustice’.

He said: ‘I understand that this is the world we live in and the news go where they are sent and that the tension with the church provided a very interesting news agenda.’

He said that ‘things are changing now with the City of London, Canary Wharf and Broadgate all getting involved’. He also revealed that Occupy London operatea through assemblies and that the media messages that come out of the movement all come from decisions made in those assemblies.

'We're in a situation where we have to be open and transparent about what we do... the church or the City of London don't operate under the same scrutiny – we explain that when we talk to them it will go out into the public. So, it's a new experience for the City of London to be put under that kind of scrutiny.'

Pitcher believes that under this scrutiny 'those that are not the camp have been found wanting'.

He said: ‘The City of London had some dreadful communications messages coming out of it – language of sweeping away these camps as if out of sight out of mind – we must stop these camps popping up like "boils across our city". And the Mayor of London Boris Johnson addressing the protesters and saying: "In the name of God and Mammon, go" – that is just dreadful and just not good enough.’

Watch the full podcast here

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