Two sets of research this week highlighted the dilemma facing
environmental pressure groups The first, an exclusive poll conducted by
NOP for PR Week on the effectiveness of the protests against the
building of the A30 at Fairmile in Devon. The second, research
commissioned by Greenpeace into attitudes towards the environment and
environmental pressure groups among the public and opinion leaders.
Both have important lessons. From PR Week’s own survey, it is clear that
the anti-road protesters have been very effective in gaining
Fifty nine per cent of those familiar with the road protesters’
activities at Fairmile said they thought the protesters were doing a
good job in raising awareness of the environmental arguments against
more roads. Particularly telling is that 45 per cent thought this kind
of protest was a legitimate tactic for pressure groups, compared to 50
per cent who disagreed. It suggests that while many are uncomfortable
with direct action, a surprisingly large minority support its use - a
worrying result for traditional politicians.
Where the road protesters have scored is in making an abstract issue
real to many people by tackling it at a local level. It is a point that
came out very clearly from Opinion Leader Research’s report for
Greenpeace, which states: ’Opinion leaders, like the public as a whole,
are intimidated by abstract, global issues, often refocusing on more
manageable local concerns’. The problem is how to turn that concern into
a genuine political force.
When it comes to actually shaping opinion the results of our poll
suggest this is where Swampy and his pals have so far failed: 71 per
cent said their views on new roads were unchanged. The poll also
suggests that protesters are failing to influence the wider debate about
transport. When citing what they remembered as the reasons behind the
protest, few chose the more complex issues such as the argument that new
roads encourage more traffic and add to pollution compared to the more
’touchy, feely’ destruction of the environment line (99 per cent).
Perhaps the real problem is that while Swampy and co have been very good
at raising awareness of the problems they have so far offered little in
the way of solutions to the wider problem of how to deal with the
congestion on our roads, satisfy the demands of the increasing numbers
of drivers, and at the same time protect the environment.
As the Greenpeace report states the role of the campaigning group ’is no
longer about simply raising public awareness as in the 1980s. It is also
about offering solutions ... Brent Spar highlighted the need for well
Good PR should be about both.