THE BIG PITCH: How should the British government handle the Foot &Mouth epidemic?

PETER HIRSCH, EVP, Director of Corporate Practice, Porter


Vaccinate or not, but don't vacillate. You cannot influence people's

thinking on how the British government has acted up to now. Focus on the

future. Don't postpone elections further if you can avoid it

Paradoxically, it makes it look like you care more, not less, about

politics. Focus on the damage to the whole British economy, not just

agriculture. Get the tourist destinations open quickly without risking

further spread of the disease. Don't send emissaries abroad to tell the

world Britain is 'open for business.' Bring visitors in to send their

positive stories back. Lay out your plan and offer a sense of what

'recovery' looks like for the whole economy, and for agriculture and

tourism in particular. Watch out for mounting anti-EU sentiment. Act

Churchillian without sounding like it. Good luck.

JAMIE MOELLER, Global Director, Public Affairs, Ogilvy Public Relations


Prime Minister Blair has a challenge on his hands. He needs to control

the foot and mouth virus (this is best done - apparently - by limiting

the movement of animals, people and vehicles in infectious areas) and

yet protect the UK's tourist industry (that is suffering already and the

busy Easter break is days away). Blair's team is experiencing a case of

classic miscommunication. His ministers are insisting that the British

countryside is open for business, yet people all over the world are

seeing photos of 'Danger: Keep Out' posters. Blair is also saying that

he has now taken 'personal control' of the situation - a brave thing for

a politician to admit - and yet it continues to worsen. What should he

do? Follow the golden crisis rule: explain rather than defend the

situation. In addition, he should admit that it is more serious than

originally thought; decide on a clear strategy (i.e. either do vaccinate

the animals or don't); be honest about parts of the country literally

being closed down but not others; set up a Web site with the latest

information available. The foot and mouth crisis is not one of Blair's

making and no rational person will blame him for it. However, they will

judge the way he and his team have handled it - and, right now, the jury

is out.

MARK ELLWOOD, Vice president, PR21

As a Briton watching Tony Blair's government from afar, it seems that

everything done to control the foot and mouth outbreak up to now has

been reactive to general alarm, rather than proactive to potential

problems. Take mass vaccination (still no decision either way) or the

election (moved only after mounting public criticism of its original May

3 date). Blair's media interviews have come under fire in Britain, with

time spent talking with US journalists to emphasize that Britain is open

for business rather than focusing on his local audience. In general,

instead of wait-and-see, it should be do-and-talk. Decisive action

should be taken quickly so the media can write about what Blair is

doing, rather than what he's not. Right now, he's perceived to be

holding back until media pressure forces him to act. Daily briefings

from Blair himself would also show that it's at the top of his agenda.

As for criticism that his government is lacking understanding for the

farmers: personal, high-profile and immediate meetings with farming

leaders would demonstrate that he does indeed understand the issues they


KIM KUMIEGA, EVP & GM, Crisis & Issues Management Practice, Edelman

Public Relations Worldwide

Beyond the disease, the British government faces two challenges - a

crisis in confidence and a fractured populace. As a first step, the

country needs to speak with one voice that is committed to doing what is

right, instead of what might be politically correct. In addition, they

should infuse the management of the situation with credibility by

establishing an advisory panel, including farmers, infectious disease

experts, veterinarians and agricultural thought leaders from around the

globe, who could lend insight to the single point of contact. Next, they

must tell their story at the local level by hosting town hall meetings

in every county to educate the community and answer questions and

concerns. Finally, they should establish a Pride in British Farmers Fund

as a rallying point for the country. Right now, the nation is pulling in

opposite directions. The fund will offer government, the average citizen

and business a reason to come together to save their country's farms.

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