Client: PETA (Norfolk, VA)
PR Team: In-house
Time Frame: November
This past Thanksgiving marked the first holiday season that People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) debuted a kinder, gentler
approach to activism. Long known for its media-savvy stunts (such as
Macy's 1995 Thanksgiving parade, when four PETA members were arrested
for streaking), the organization made the decision that its trademark
in-your-face tactics wouldn't be well received after September 11. So in
one of the group's most radical management actions, 2001's turkey day
saw legions of calm, consumer-friendly PETA reps engaging in the kind of
dignified, low-key PR that would be more expected from the PTA than the
country's most outspoken leftist vegetarians.
According to Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vegan campaign coordinator,the
group's number-one goal has always been to spark interpersonal
relations. Out-rageous methods (such as naked women painted as leopards
to protest circuses) seemed to be the quickest and most effective means
of grabbing the attention of the average American, and getting them to
ask questions - or at least listen. "We've never been focused on winning
popularity contests," says Freidrich. "We've always had as a primary
goal raising the issue of animal suffering. It has been our experience
that it's the titillation and the confrontation that allows us to reach
into the homes in rural Montana."
That goal of raising awareness remains firmly in place, despite a new
focus on methods that "unite and educate, rather than divide and
cajole," says Friedrich.
PETA has about 10,000 volunteers across the country. For the first time,
PETA leaders asked activists to take to the streets with nothing more
shocking than leaflets. Five hundred volunteers passed out 50,000
informational brochures during the holiday weekend, far exceeding
expectations. Those grassroots workers also "talked about the way
turkeys are treated today, and that these animals are abused from the
moment they are born to the moment they are killed," explains
The organization also sent a letter of protest to George Bush regarding
the traditional Presidential pardon of two turkeys, along with a
"Tofurky," a veggie alternative. That letter asked the President to be
honest about the fate of the spared turkeys - which, apparently, rarely
live more than a few months due to commercial growing methods that
disproportionally increase the birds' body weight, causing the heart and
lungs to collapse.
PETA also contacted 400 homeless shelters, offering to donate vegetarian
turkeys provided by Native Foods and Tofurky. Martin Sheen spearheaded
that portion of the campaign, giving it a celebrity edge - a longtime
On the war front, PETA sent 5,000 packages of vegetarian jerky to the
aircraft carrier USS Teddy Roosevelt. Finally, PETA sponsored an essay
contest, which was advertised via its website and e-mail lists. Twenty
winners each received vegetarian holiday entrees.
"It's too early to say for sure," admits Friedrich, "but we've been
pleased with the results." However, Friedrich notes that the new methods
have garnered less press coverage. For example, PETA recently filed a
shareholder resolution against McDonald's. But because there were no
noisy activists protesting on the streets, that tactic got very little
press. However, the attention PETA has gotten is positive and to the
The AP ran a story mentioning the vegetarian jerky, and ABC's John
Stossel did a piece on the fate of the Presidentially pardoned turkeys.
The essay contest received more than 1,100 entries, and about 50
homeless shelters accepted the food donations.
PETA is sticking by its new image for the near future, but Friedrich
says the key to success is more time to plan. The Thanksgiving changes
were implemented on the fly, so upcoming campaigns will be backed by
more preparation. But PETA is happy with its new direction. "If things
keep going as they've been going," vows Friedrich, "I would see this as
our new modus operandi."