Three pieces of friendly comms advice for Extinction Rebellion

During the past 10 days Extinction Rebellion has taken over our capital city and conducted a sustained, high-profile, high-impact campaign, that I think few of us have ever seen in London before (apart from the last one!).

Recruit a 'face', keep messaging simple and educate from the grass-roots, advises Frankie Oliver
Recruit a 'face', keep messaging simple and educate from the grass-roots, advises Frankie Oliver

We know activism has the power to change the world. Emily Pankhurst’s selfless act won women the vote.  Rosa Parks' refusal to leave her bus seat successfully challenged American segregation. 

So will Extinction Rebellion achieve its aims?  

I don’t know if the Government will commit to zero emissions by 2025. What I do know, is that the impact on the general public hasn’t been entirely positive.

The message they want to deliver has often been lost in media coverage about disruption in our city, which has resulted in people not getting to work, ambulances not getting to patients, and our police services being immeasurably strained.   

This reached crisis levels yesterday morning, when protesters jumped on top of a tube at Canning Town. 

A YouGov survey showed most people supported the commuters vs the protesters and Extinction Rebellion soon apologised on Facebook.

So, to sway public opinion, what do I think Extinction Rebellion should do?  

The brand has done an incredible job recruiting an audience, especially the youth, very quickly on social media, but it now needs to show its public face to the people.  

Appoint a spokesperson or recruit a trusted face

The image of ‘hippies and hemp’ has not helped them and I think they need to have a more regular spokesperson, especially on breakfast TV, which is currently dominated by the Met Police.

Or they need to recruit a face we all trust to help deliver that message. David Attenborough, Emma Thompson, Bob Geldof. And, of course, Greta.

These are voices we need to hear from right now and we need them to go beyond a tweet and a signature.  

Yesterday’s coverage also saw Extinction Rebellion trying to profile lawyers, teachers and doctors. I definitely agree that they need to professionalise their voice.

Simplify the messaging

I think the messaging about why 2025 is the goal is still too much about science and uses un-relatable language like ‘food systems’ and ‘bio-diversity’.  

The effect of climate change needs to be put into clear, relatable messages that connect.  

I stopped in my tracks when I heard that the world was potentially uninsurable by the end of the century. I felt sick for my son. 

These are the messages I think people need to hear.  

Tell us when the Great Barrier Reef will be no more. Tell us when the penguins will be gone. Tell us what is going to hurt. Tell us when it’s going to happen. 

Keep it short. Keep it simple.

Grass-roots education

And finally, I think a grass-roots education campaign would have helped a wider range of audiences better understand and support the anarchy when it hit.  

The headlines can often make people feel helpless, and ‘numb’ them out. But come to their schools. Come to their churches. Host events with friends they know and love. Help them understand. Create social proof in their peer groups. Empower them. 

Then, I think Extinction Rebellion will significantly grow its support and we might just see the cultural shift that Sweden has so successfully achieved.

Frankie Oliver is head of consumer brands, UK and Ireland, at Grayling 

Thumbnail pic credit: @mahatir_pasha/ITV News/Twitter

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