Platform: Learning to apply the appropriate PR pressure - PR professionals can take lessons from the way that pressure groups put their messages forward, says Peter Hamilton

People trust pressure groups more than they trust business, according to Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth, speaking at a recent conference in Brussels. ’Pressure groups aim for the moral high ground and know how to stay there. That’s why we continue to be so successful,’ he said.

People trust pressure groups more than they trust business,

according to Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth, speaking at a recent

conference in Brussels. ’Pressure groups aim for the moral high ground

and know how to stay there. That’s why we continue to be so successful,’

he said.



For the PR executive, there are important lessons to be learnt from

these words and from the unrelenting growth of pressure group power.

Pressure groups easily see through glossy PR responses. Increasingly, to

meet the challenge of today’s activists, you need serious answers to

serious questions.



Ironically, pressure groups admit they frequently use simplistic

arguments to get their message across in a populist way - knowing full

well that the truth is far more complex. Do not fall into this PR

trap!



Pressure groups derive their strength by tapping into people’s worries

and fears and promoting grass roots issues that strike deep chords in

many of us. As a result, more and more ordinary people have themselves

learnt that it is often quicker and more effective to take their

concerns and grievances direct to the world at large, by-passing

conventional channels.



They have learnt about creating and refining messages that can make

media headlines and dressing and speaking according to their cause. They

often have a good, instinctive feel for that moral high ground.



We’re all at it. In every field of human activity you can think of:

business, the environment, healthcare, the elderly ... everyone has an

agenda.



If a village is threatened by a new road a ’hands off our homes’ group

is formed. Financial institutions, like any other populist cause,

publicly call for the resignation of a chief executive who makes one

mistake too many.



Many pressure groups pose an escalating challenge, especially to

business.



We call them pressure groups, but above all they are people with new

power - with access to a global media and the internet, it is formidable

power indeed.



And herein lies the rub: at what point does legitimate activism descend

into screaming abuse, bullying and harassment? Many pressure groups

believe that the end justifies the means. The danger of propaganda is

that it can lead to bigotry. Are we moving towards a sort of global

court of public opinion, where we’ll all speak out more loudly on behalf

of our causes, demanding action? If so, who sets the rules? And who’s

the judge?



For those in PR faced with dealing with pressure groups, steady nerves

and a clear head are essential. There may be no easy answers - there

probably aren’t. You must understand that. So must your shareholders,

management and staff.



The issues must be addressed as far as they can, and if necessary

changes must be made in the way you do things. But faced with a barrage

of damaging publicity, one thing is vital - you must steal the Emperor’s

clothes.



You manage pressure group power by anticipating it. You find your own

high ground. You find friends for your cause and vigorously and

courageously take your case to the court of public opinion. You’ll get a

fair hearing.



But the last thing you want to do is to lie, prevaricate or become a

bigot. Do not create a vacuum into which your opponents will spill

poison.



Cast the shadow of bedlam aside for an honest, balanced argument. Do not

give up, fight back and become a responsible pressure group

yourself.



You’ll find it works surprisingly well.



Peter Hamilton is group managing director of The Communication Group.



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