'Climate strike messaging risks being hijacked by hard left groups' - agency boss

The global climate strike runs the risk of being hijacked by hard left groups and anti-capitalist messaging, turning a protest about climate change into something far more convoluted and less effective.

Ready made Socialist Worker placards were in abundance at last week's climate strike. Photo: A Hickman.
Ready made Socialist Worker placards were in abundance at last week's climate strike. Photo: A Hickman.

That’s the verdict of an agency boss who attended last week’s march in London and has urged the PR industry to do much more to support climate change action.

Taylor Herring CEO James Herring was a driving force behind last week’s pledge by agency bosses to support the climate strike. He attended the main protest in London and said there was an "amazingly good-spirited vibe amongst the crowd".

However, he added: "There seemed to be a lot of anti-capitalists, sort of hard-left messaging, which didn’t seem completely joined up to why everybody had signed up to go to the protest. It was apparent the moment you left Westminster tube station that you were being heavily leafleted and offered up ready-made placards from various different hard-left groups.

"It felt like they were there – dare I say – to hijack a conversation about the climate and turn that into something more political. I think the debate is clunky enough without trying to divide the crowd in that fashion."

Herring observes that at the top end of the climate strike movement, led by Greta Thunberg and followed by school children across the world, the messaging is really clear and "pretty spot on".

"But as it cascades down," Herring added, "there are many different splinter groups, and while they are trying to do the right thing, [the message] does become less clear.

"It doesn’t have the rigour of messaging that you’d get from a big joined-up international campaign from a Greenpeace or an Amnesty." 

Herring said that it doesn’t make the movement less valid, but perhaps less effective than a campaign that is more focused on one major issue of the day – which on the day was coined as ‘climate justice’.

Herring wasn’t the only PR pro to notice multiple messaging. The Manifest crew, including group CEO Alex Myers and London managing partner Ali Maynard James – both were perched near the main stage of the protest – also commented about the broad range of subjects being discussed on the day, which included de-forestation in the Amazon, women’s rights in Africa and range of other geopolitical issues.

Giles Gibbons, co-founder and CEO of sustainability consultancy Good Business, believes the PR industry can serve as an accelerator for the next era of climate action.

"The biggest contribution the PR industry can make is by taking on the challenge of getting more brands to get involved and take transformative action – by showing them the dynamite PR they can get if they take big, bold steps – it’s the best path to strengthening a positive reputation that bolsters a business’s value," he said.

The comms industry may also have a role to play in helping the ‘climate justice’ movement better sharpen messaging at major events.

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