PROFILE: PETA PR man Friedrich practices what he preaches

Bruce Friedrich is the man behind PETA's attention-grabbing PR activities. But his ultimate objective is to change the way companies like Burger King and KFC do business.

Bruce Friedrich is the man behind PETA's attention-grabbing PR activities. But his ultimate objective is to change the way companies like Burger King and KFC do business.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is known for outlandish PR stunts and tenacious campaigns against some of the world's most well-known corporations. To some, the group's tactics are extreme, even dubbed "terrorism" by detractors. To supporters, the organization's fight to change the way society views animals is a moral imperative. No matter where you fall on the political scale, most people are aware of PETA's efforts, due in large part to its innovative and relentless public relations. The man orchestrating those headline-grabbing initiatives - from naked celebrities to one-on-one chats with the neighbors of targeted corporate executives - is PETA's director of vegan outreach Bruce Friedrich. Managing a department of seven full-time staffers and one full-time volunteer, Friedrich's job is to make sure that PETA's fights do not go unnoticed. But more importantly, he says, his goal is to highlight the facts about how animals are raised, treated, and killed, as well as to advocate veganism, or at least more humane conditions for animals that are destined to wind up on the dinner table. "Animals are the most abused and least considered beings, and consequently I decided that's where I wanted to put my effort," Friedrich explains of joining PETA more than seven years ago. "I believe that animals have an equal right with human beings to be free from exploitation. Tolstoy said that the taproot of humanitarianism is vegetarianism. If we can treat animals better, then we can treat humans better." A self-described "type-A personality," and a vegan since 1987, Friedrich, 33, is known for being a workaholic who is dedicated not only to his job, but also to PETA's cause. "He's deeply devoted to his work. It drives him," says Friedrich's boss, PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk. "He wants a better world. I don't care how trite that sounds - that is Bruce." Friedrich's involvement in social and political causes began at an early age. Growing up in Minnesota and Oklahoma, his parents often included him in their own activism. "They took me along to volunteer for political candidates, knocking on doors and going to rallies," he recalls. "I have memories of meeting with political candidates and volunteering for them from the age of 12." Friedrich continued that tradition while at Grinnell College in Iowa, where he began to form his opinions on animal rights by organizing debates on the topic. But three credits shy of graduation, he dropped out for a year to do volunteer work, fearing that he would have to focus on building a career after completing school. He spent the next six years working at a homeless shelter, but eventually returned to finish his degree. When he graduated, he joined PETA in his first foray into PR. "Although I didn't have any formal training in PR and hadn't been doing animal advocacy professionally, I still had honed what I considered to be the strongest argument," he says. "I also do have a background in advocacy, and I had been on my own advocating vegetarianism and veganism, and speaking in churches for almost 10 years." His lack of formal PR training manifests itself most in the way he speaks to the press. Friedrich is not prone to sugarcoating his positions, and isn't afraid to make controversial statements. "I believe that how we present animal rights and veganism to journalists or civic leaders should not differ in any substantial way from how we would present it to our friends," he says of his approach. "I try to apply the golden rule beyond the species barrier. I think the chickens would want us to not worry about winning popularity contests, but rather to worry about what we can do to alleviate their suffering. We at PETA have an attitude that we would rather go too far than not far enough." His take-no-prisoners approach has helped PETA wage some high-profile battles. While many targets of PETA campaigns say that the group's efforts did not impact their business plans, companies including Safeway, Burger King, Wendy's, and McDonald's have all implemented new animal-treatment standards after being targeted by Friedrich's publicity machine. Friedrich seems to share with PETA an unrelenting tenacity that is indicative of a strong belief that their position is right, and will ultimately prevail. For him, part of that surety is based in religion. A devout Catholic, he says he believes that cruelty to animals is against his faith. "People who take their Catholicism seriously have to be vegetarian if they examine the issue," he says. "The catechism is very clear that it is not just wrong, but a sin to cause animals to suffer needlessly. What it means to lead an ethical life, what it means to have integrity is that we do not pay other people to do things that we would not do personally, or could not even watch. If we wouldn't personally mutilate these animals, if we wouldn't personally slit open their throats on these slaughter lines, then we shouldn't pay other people to do it." That conviction, says Newkirk, enables Friedrich to maintain his composure and diligence when waging campaigns that often turn adversarial very quickly. "They slam the door and he knocks again," says Newkirk. "The man has endless patience, and he's not put off by things personally. At the bottom line, he doesn't understand why they are angry, because to him, he's just telling them what's going on, advising them how to fix it, and urging them in a very big way to look inside their hearts and conscience. He just knows that his message is true and honest." ----- Bruce Friedrich 1996-2003 PETA, director of vegan outreach 1990-1996 Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, part of the Catholic Worker movement, and the Zacchaeus Soup Kitchen, out of the First Congregational at 10th and G, Washington, DC

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