Taking the PR out of protest

Protests in Britain are nothing new. They have long been used as a way to show unified public objection to official policies, laws and government actions. But as well as a method of campaigning for change, protests are also inseparable from a brand or group’s public image and offer an opportunity to garner mass public attention and gain stature.

You don’t have to live in London to know that this is what environmental activists Extinction Rebellion have been doing for weeks. Protesting in the capital and beyond, the group represent an extreme end of the scale whose goal is to reach governments, but their protests also aim to get the wider public talking about important climate change issues.

From a PR perspective though, has their activity worked?

Well, they’ve timed it right. With the BBC producing more programmes like this week’s Panorama episode on climate change, and Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg taking the media by storm, sustainability is a hot topic. People are engaged and ready to listen.

And they are gaining plenty of coverage. #ExtinctionRebellion is trending on Twitter virtually 24/7, and a breaking news story about the activist group seems to crop up every other day. But, as every good PR person knows, the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity just isn’t true.

While their message is ethically sound and resonates with many, some feel their method misses the mark. Causing traffic delays, blocking main roads and gluing themselves to public transport – along with their defiant residence of Trafalgar Square and over 1,500 arrests – does nothing to engage the wider public with their cause.

In fact, the protests appear to be doing their reputation more harm than good, as a YouGov poll this week revealed that while 36% of people support their actions, the majority at 54% oppose them – and the public’s annoyance towards the disruptive group just keeps growing.

A good PR stunt should get a message across clearly, the negativity and chaos surrounding much of Extinction Rebellion’s activity means theirs is getting lost.  We all know climate change is hugely important and needs to be addressed, but if by trying to get that message across you hugely inconvenience normal people trying to go about their daily lives, the focus will always be lost.

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