RNC Q&A: Shonna Carter, Riptide Communications publicist

Riptide Communication publicist Shonna Carter handles the firm's United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) account.

Riptide Communication publicist Shonna Carter handles the firm's United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) account.

UFPJ was the main organizer for yesterday's RNC protest march in New York that attracted hundreds of thousands of marchers. She talked to PRWeek.com about the planning behind the event and how the organizers and the PR firm managed to get groups with disparate missions to unite under one message. Q. What was the target message you were looking to showcase yesterday, and do you feel you accomplished it? The target was to provide an opportunity to give voice to what a lot of people are feeling, which is that the Bush agenda is one that has put a lot of communities in jeopardy and has sacrificed millions of dollars. People are upset and want a change. I think that was adequately expressed. In the media, there was consistent messaging from [the UFPJ] spokespeople, who I thought were excellent. Q. What's the most difficult challenge when there's a protest that has people with disparate ideologies outside of their objection to President Bush? A. Doing the PR for coalition work is always hard because of that. The groups [protesting] come up with [their own] message, so it's important to come up with a common ground that exists among [all of] them in order to represent to the media what is most important about why they are there, not just a particular issue like we need to get a particular law off the books. You have immigrant- and poverty-focused groups that all fold into each other under the rubric of peace groups. The groups themselves do a lot of work in understanding each other's message pushed together to make something accessible for the media. Q. Were you happy with the media's focus? A. Pre-march, it was a little bit tough because we were battling against officials spreading to the press misguided information regarding what was going to happen. The same thing happened in Boston - where they spread reports that this anarchist group was going to plan this destructive act. That's very hard to get away from. But rather than going down the path of arguing with the police's misinformation, the groups realized they had to continue with their messaging and put out [statements] about what they were doing and why they were doing it. Q. How many spokespeople were there? And when did training begin? A. There were about six that were really most recognizable in the press. The message training began way before this PR firm was on board. Groups are becoming savvier about how to translate their message to the media. Fortunately for us, many of the spokespeople were veteran organizers and understood how important it was to make people aware of, and be consistent with, their message. As media has become increasingly more important in spreading political messages, organizers have understood how to extract catch phrases and lines that they use to motivate and inspire people to rephrase it in a way to reach out to the press. They give us [PR professionals] their rhetorical line, and we give them a way to shape it so that it translates to the press. Q. Is there a fear that the press will just gets quips from the crowd that will detract from the overall message? A. The point of the media coverage from the spokespeople is to hopefully influence the understanding of what the objective of the march or protest is. Clearly organizers don't have any influence over what regular folks say in the crowd - and don't intend to. They know that folks are coming from all walks of life. Why that even is happening is one issue. But why the individual is marching and why they think it's important to be a part of the event is clearly up to the person. But organizers definitely get out there and attempt to get that message of why the organization is organizing the event out there. Q. What messaging did you have in place if a fringe group broke out and caused mayhem or damage during the march? A. Part of that is about what the coalition work is about. We did not intend to set up a situation in the press where the UFPJ was saying bad protestors/good protesters. Depending on the particular incident, we would respond depending on what the coalition would have decided. The was a plan in place to develop the message [based on unpredictable events]. Q. What's coming up next? A. The next step is to reconvene and think about the next step. The group is clearly going to deal with some fallout with some of the events that might have occurred, but those next steps will [revolve around] what they politically believe is needed next.

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