PAUL HOLMES: If KFC wants to combat PETA, using similar over-the-top rhetoric isn't the best method

I have a friend in Washington, DC, who is a gentleman farmer as well as a first-rate public affairs executive, so he's very fond of livestock metaphors. One of his favorites: "Never wrestle in the mud with a pig. You'll both end up dirty, and sooner or later you'll realize that the pig enjoys it."

I have a friend in Washington, DC, who is a gentleman farmer as well as a first-rate public affairs executive, so he's very fond of livestock metaphors. One of his favorites: "Never wrestle in the mud with a pig. You'll both end up dirty, and sooner or later you'll realize that the pig enjoys it."

I was reminded of that wisdom when I read a KFC spokesperson's response to news that PETA planned to demonstrate outside its restaurants. The first thing I should mention is that PETA is not among my favorite activist groups. It's not just the extremity of its positions; it's the fanaticism of its rhetoric. A few years ago, for example, it embarked on a campaign that compared the treatment of animals raised for food to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. To suggest there's some sort of moral equivalency between Hitler and McDonald's struck most people as grotesque, and was an insult to those who died in the gas chambers. Having said that, PETA has a right to its opinions and to express them in a law-abiding manner, even if that expression isn't always tasteful. So I have no philosophical objection if its members want to stand outside KFC handing out "Buckets of Blood," shaped like KFC's own famous buckets, containing a bag of fake blood and bones, a bloodied plastic chicken, and a cardboard cutout of a blood-spattered Colonel Sanders holding a butcher knife toward a terrified-looking chicken. It's a little theatrical for my taste, but this is America. Obviously, however, the folks at KFC are taking the protests personally. "We don't comment on the corporate terrorist activities of PETA," KFC spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer told reporters. "They are corporate terrorists and just like the US government, we will not negotiate with corporate terrorists. PETA has totally crossed the line of free speech and acceptable behavior." If comparing chickens to Holocaust victims is in bad taste, comparing a group of consumers who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights to the fanatics who killed 3,000 people is a little over the top too. And the thing is, KFC has a positive story to tell. The company has taken numerous steps to improve the conditions on its suppliers' farms, creating an animal welfare advisory council that includes prominent academics as well as industry representatives. According to Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, "KFC and its Animal Welfare Council are establishing very specific, quantifiable broiler processing facility guidelines." In other words, the company had a chance to talk about something positive, but its spokeswoman decided to get down in the mud with the pigs.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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