ANALYSIS: Client Profile - Dogged determination helps PETA in PR jungle - For 20 years, PETA has fought against the cruel treatment of animals - Julia Hood reports on how, through persistence and aggressive PR, their message is making a major impact

In August 2000, McDonald's announced it would no longer do business with farmers who mistreat chickens by denying them water and feed, a practice that supposedly increases egg production. In September, the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suspended its 11-month campaign against the fast-food giant and claimed credit for forcing the company into making the policy change.

In August 2000, McDonald's announced it would no longer do business with farmers who mistreat chickens by denying them water and feed, a practice that supposedly increases egg production. In September, the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suspended its 11-month campaign against the fast-food giant and claimed credit for forcing the company into making the policy change.

In August 2000, McDonald's announced it would no longer do business with farmers who mistreat chickens by denying them water and feed, a practice that supposedly increases egg production. In September, the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suspended its 11-month campaign against the fast-food giant and claimed credit for forcing the company into making the policy change.

Not true, says McDonald's. 'PETA had nothing to do with any of this,' says Walt Riker, corporate spokesman. 'They took themselves out of the discussion two years ago and we have moved away from PETA.'

Tracy Reiman, PETA's director of international grassroots campaigns, said negotiations with McDonald's took place over a two-year period. 'We wrote to them and outlined specific things they needed to do to eliminate suffering. But it became clear it was all talk and no action. So we decided to cut all communications and start campaigning against McDonald's.'

More than 400 demonstrations were held worldwide. Graphic ads were created depicting slaughtered cows and reading, 'McCruelty to go: would you like fries with that?'

Whatever the reasons for McDonald's change of policy, all agree that the 20-year-old PETA organization is very good at getting publicity. Its ultimate goal is ending the use of animals for food, clothing and paid-for entertainment, and it constantly takes the fight to the media.

PETA's media and campaigns office is staffed by 23 people, most of whom are based at the headquarters in Norfolk, VA. Each department holds a weekly brainstorming session to review the status of current campaigns and draw the next battle plan. PETA has an activist network of 13,000 who can be called on to stage a protest, throw a pie at a politician, or strip down to nothing for the cause. Current membership stands at 700,000.

The fur trade, the beef industry, the dairy farmers and the healthcare industry have all learned the hard way that PETA will sooner resort to a controversial PR stunt than let go of an issue it truly believes in.



Outrageous stunts

PETA maintains that it always tries to work with companies before launching a full-scale campaign. It also says that its trademark stunts are always the last resort, and the least preferred tactic.

Naked campaigners holding signs reading, 'Animal skin out, human skin in,' are one of the signature stunts that give PETA its reputation for shameless promotion.

PETA says it simply can't get the media to listen the old-fashioned way.

'We have to embarrass ourselves sometimes in order to bring attention to animal suffering,' Reiman says. 'Certainly we would prefer not to do that. We are forced to pull outrageous stunts to get attention.'

When it issues a standard press release or holds a press conference detailing the results of undercover investigations of animal cruelty, PETA says the media just isn't interested. Dan Matthews, director of campaigns says, 'Undercover exposes, pitching to media, pounding the pavement in New York, and we get nothing. Then you have one person taking off their clothes in a small town and everyone covers it.'

Calculated nudity is not the only method that grabs attention, or criticism.

The group recently launched a program to try and prevent kids from drinking milk. Trading cards entitled 'Milk Suckers' were created, depicting characters like 'Chubby Charlie' and 'Loogie Louis,' tying milk consumption together with obesity and acne.

PETA's direct approach to youngsters is an area that its critics want to combat. 'PETA has a strategy that if they get them while they are young, they're theirs forever,' says Steve Kopperud, president of the Animal Industry Foundation, a group that advocates for the livestock industry.

According to its annual report, PETA reached 1.4 million students with informational materials last year.

However, the group earned the wrath of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) when it ran 'Got Beer' ads on college campuses in yet another attempt to bring attention to the dangers of milk. MADD got mad and the ads got canned.

PETA has backed down on occasion. When New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was diagnosed with prostate cancer, PETA was harshly criticized for creating a send-up of the famous milk moustache ad to publicize the supposed link between consumption of dairy products and the disease.

PETA later apologized for the ad, but appears unrepentant.

'What was successful about the Giuliani ad and the 'Got Beer?' campaign was that, up until then, most people didn't realize there was anything wrong with milk and that PETA was opposed to milk,' Reiman says.



More conventional means

PETA can also tap herds of celebrities to fight the cause. Pamela Anderson appeared recently with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show and showed a PETA video made by Saatchi & Saatchi. 'It was a really riveting ad.





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