Editorial: Brute force isn’t the way to win.

The end of the marathon ’McLibel’ trial last week will have come as a relief to McDonald’s for whom the case had become a running sore in public relations terms.

The end of the marathon ’McLibel’ trial last week will have come as

a relief to McDonald’s for whom the case had become a running sore in

public relations terms.



Much has been written about the folly of pursuing such determined

defendants with no assets and plenty of time on their hands. But few

could have predicted that it would develop into a cause celebre which

would gain worldwide publicity.



McDonald’s made a stand on principle not only to disprove a particular

set of damaging allegations, but also to deter others in future. To the

extent that the judgment has nailed most of the allegations contained in

David Morris and Helen Steel’s leaflets, their strategy must be

considered to be a success.



But it was a success achieved at a high cost - and not just

financially.



Some of the allegations were upheld by the court, and the length of the

case meant that even those that were disproved were hanging unresolved

over the company for two years.



Even now, it seems unlikely that this ruling will finally draw a line

under the matter. Morris and Steel, high on the oxygen of publicity,

grandly announced that they may pursue the matter in a higher court. And

on the day the judgment was announced other leafleters were out in force

outside McDonald’s HQ, while the stateless refuge of the Internet

continues to provide a haven for its enemies.



Furthermore, and to the protesters’ glee, this episode has reinforced

the unfortunate impression the giant McDonald’s is prepared to flatten

anyone in its path, including penniless postmen and gardeners.



As crisis expert John Stonborough pointed out this week there are times

when companies have to stand up to this kind of attack. Yet the

inevitable conclusion is that McDonald’s misjudged its response by

wheeling out a howitzer to slay a gnat.



The relationship between giant corporations and protest groups has

changed.



It is no longer viable for companies to retire behind the walls of their

fortresses and drop boiling oil on the pickets outside. Far better to

use your own PR skills to rebut allegations, and defuse protesters’

attacks by being seen to address their concerns.



When Greenpeace forced Shell to turn the Brent Spar platform around and

abandon plans for dumping it at sea, the fact that the protesters’ facts

were later revealed to be inaccurate was largely irrelevant. Brent Spar

proved that companies cannot ignore protesters who now have the PR

capability to force them off course. McLibel has shown that they cannot

expect to deal with such protests by brute force.



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