PR for protesters: activists learn media smarts at GOP convention

PHILADELPHIA: The horde of activists who descended upon the Republican National Convention last week may bring to mind images of protesters from the 1960s, but there is at least one marked difference: the new guys have PR reps.

PHILADELPHIA: The horde of activists who descended upon the Republican National Convention last week may bring to mind images of protesters from the 1960s, but there is at least one marked difference: the new guys have PR reps.

PHILADELPHIA: The horde of activists who descended upon the

Republican National Convention last week may bring to mind images of

protesters from the 1960s, but there is at least one marked difference:

the new guys have PR reps.



Celia Alairo, a media trainer and press liaison for the Berkeley,

CA-based Ruckus Society, was one of many activist PR pros in

Philadelphia last week with cell phone in hand, fielding calls from the

press and advising marchers on how best to deal with the media.



In preparing the activists for last week’s events - which included

marches, puppet shows and costumed performances - Alairo acknowledged

that the advice she gave was not all that different from what might be

said to a CEO prepping for a 60 Minutes appearance: ’This is your one

chance to get into the living rooms of the people you are trying to

reach. So stay on message regardless of where they try to lead you with

the questions.’



The Ruckus Society was far from alone in its quest to inject protesters

with a shot of media savvy. Boston-based United for a Fair Economy, a

nonprofit organization fighting for fairer distribution of wealth, held

on-site media training classes for GOP convention activists.



’The newspapers make economic issues really hard to understand,’ said

Dara Silverman, who was one of the facilitators of the classes. ’We try

to formulate a message to demystify that.’ She advised protesters to ’be

clear and think ahead of time what your message is going to be - and be

friendly to reporters.’



Founded in 1995 to organize activists and train them in the ways of

civil disobedience, The Ruckus Society played a large part in last

year’s WTO protests in Seattle. The group even has its own media

training manual, which is available online at www.ruckus.org. Hints

include the most media-friendly times to stage a protest and how to

alert the media about an event without tipping off the police.



While these efforts may surprise those who see the activists as little

more than an unruly mob, Spaeth Communications president Merrie Spaeth

had a different take after reviewing the Ruckus Society’s media-training

manual. But though conceding that the tactics displayed an impressive

level of sophistication, she said, ’Attention and influence are very

different things. Do these people really have influence? Absolutely

not.’



’Of course,’ she continued, ’they would consider me the enemy. I’m

pro-globalization.’



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