ernie yacub on Mon, 22 Jul 2002 16:11:13 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> how to defeat activism

Remember the Nestle boycott?  Ever wonder what happened to it?

"...activist efforts are being deliberately targeted for defeat by corporate 
funding, partnership and co-optation. "


------- Forwarded message follows -------
Subject:                [DAN] Managing Activism: PR Advice for 
"Neutralizing" Democracy
Date sent:              Fri, 19 Jul 2002 20:26:24 GMT
Send reply to:

The Second Quarter 2002 issue of PR Watch

Managing Activism: PR Advice for "Neutralizing" Democracy

Book Review by John Stauber

When I first picked up Denise Deegan's book, Managing Activism: A
Guide to Dealing with Activists and Pressure Groups, I imagined a
roomful of uniformed pest applicators at the Orkin company, sitting
on benches like military aviators before a bombing mission, being
briefed on the best tools available for eradicating cockroaches. I
was a spy for the roaches--the pesty "activists" that Deegan works to
"manage." Roaches don't generally read the "how to" manuals written
by their would-be exterminators, but activists certainly should.

As someone who has spent the last decade investigating the seamy side
of the "perceptions management" industry, I wish I could tell you
that this book is a gold mine of revelation, but for me it is not.
Still, I recommend that my fellow citizens read this book. It is
written in classroom text-like fashion, and the author is careful to
put the best face on her profession and not include advice that might
offend the atypical reader. Nevertheless, it can help people working
for democratic social change to understand the often successful ways
in which we are targeted for defeat, especially the "good cop/bad
cop" tactic for dividing and conquering activists through
"partnering" and co-optation by industry. For activists, Deegan's
book provides a primer on how to recognize these traps and hopefully
avoid them.

Managing Activism is written for PR practitioners whose clients
engage in risky businesses (fossil fuels, pesticides, genetically
engineered foods, nuclear waste, toxic dumps, animal testing) and who
therefore become the targets of "activist groups" including
"environmentalists, workers' rights activists, animal rights groups
and human rights campaigners." Don't expect much sympathy for the
activists. Deegan is a battle-hardened PR veteran and a committed
soldier in the war against activists who "in an increasingly
pluralistic society" present what she calls "a growing threat to
organizations of all shapes and sizes. And because activists employ a
wide range of aggressive tactics such as generating bad publicity,
seeking government and legislative intervention, encouraging
boycotts, etc., they can cause severe disruption, including damage to
reputation, sales, profitability, employee satisfaction and, of
course, share price."

The picture that Deegan paints is undoubtedly a chilling scenario if
you are an executive or major share holder in companies like Monsanto
or DuPont that have long histories of worldwide trade in everything
from nuclear weapon components to pesticides and genetically modified
crops. What's a besieged CEO to do?

"Fortunately, if dealt with in the right manner, activists have been
shown to change their approach from aggressively confrontational to
cooperative," Deegan promises. "Learning to manage activists involves
learning about activists. Who are they? What do they want? What will
they do to achieve their objectives? And most importantly, what is
the best way to deal with them?"

Deegan's recommendations are similar to the advice which comes from
Peter Sandman, E. Bruce Harrison, James Lukaszewski, Paul Gilding and
other "crisis management" experts whom Sheldon Rampton and I cover in
our work for PR Watch.Unfortunately, this entire area of PR--how to
defeat activism--is insufficiently scrutinized by the citizens who
need most to be aware of it, the activists themselves. Until we
"cockroaches" understand the strategies of the "exterminators," the
PR roach hotels built by corporate crisis management practitioners
will continue to entrap movements for democracy, ecological
sustainability, fair trade, human rights, social justice, and all
those other extreme threats to the corporate bottom-line. Social
activists like to believe that we are too committed to our causes,
too worldly and aware to be sweet-talked into unwitting submission by
sitting down and partnering with the enemy. As Deegan reiterates,
however, industry continues to regard this sort of "dialogue" as its
most effective method for managing activists.

Deegan's book tries to put the best face on the practice of "managing
activism," which may explain why she avoids mentioning the
Washington-based PR firm of Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin (MBD), one of
the worldwide leaders in this particular PR subspecialty. As we have
documented previously, MBD grew out of the successful effort by one
of its founders, Jack Mongoven, to defeat the large religious-lead
boycott campaign aimed at the Nestlé corporation for its deadly
promotion of infant formula in the third world. In activist lore this
boycott is touted as a major victory, but in the corporate world it
is understood that industry really won the day by pulling the rug out
from the campaign. By making selective concessions to the activists,
Nestlé succeeded in negotiating an end to the boycott. Later,
activists were dismayed to discover that its infant formula marketing
practices are continuing with only token changes. Third world
children continue to die, but today their plight receives little
attention, and activists have found that a boycott, once terminated,
is not easily turned back on.

MBD is a sort of spy operation. Its dozens of employees relentlessly
compile dossiers on activists of all sizes and shapes the world over,
advising industry how to defeat them. Their favorite method is a
"divide and conquer" strategy heavily dependent on co-optation: First
identify the "radicals" who are unwilling to compromise and who are
demanding fundamental changes to redress the problem at hand. Then,
identify the "realists"--typically, organizations with significant
budgets and staffs working in the same relative area of public
concern as the radicals. Then, approach these realists, often through
a friendly third party, start a dialogue and eventually cut a deal, a
"win win" solution that marginalizes and excludes the radicals and
their demands. Next, go with the realists to the "idealists" who have
learned about the problem through the work of the radicals. Convince
the idealists that a "win-win" solution endorsed by the realists is
best for the community as a whole. Once this has been accomplished,
the "radicals" can be shut out as extremists, the PR fix is in, and
the deal can be touted in the media to make the corporation and its
"moderate" nonprofit partners look heroic for solving the problem.
Result: industry may have to make some small or temporary
concessions, but the fundamental concerns raised by the "radicals"
are swept aside.

This, in a nutshell, is the strategy that Deegan recommends in what
she calls "one of the first books to offer a 'how to . . .' format to
help people cope with the threat of activism." I especially recommend
her chapters on "relationship building, negotiation and conflict
resolution" and "media relations." Reading these chapters should help
drive home the realization that activist efforts are being
deliberately targeted for defeat by corporate funding, partnership
and co-optation. These may seem like unusual weapons, but PR crisis
managers have taken to heart the advice of military strategist Carl
Von Clausewitz: "We see then that there are many ways to one's object
in War; that the complete subjugation of the enemy is not essential
in every case."

Activist readers should remember that Deegan's book only offers part
of the story, the sanitized version. It does not go into all the
real-world ways in which nasty, smear attacks against activists are
waged and funded by the same corporations and industries offering the
outstretched hand of partnership. For the "rest of the story," also
read Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR
Campaign, by Nicky Hager and Bob Burton. Secrets and Lies is included
in Deegan's "recommended reading" list. Based on a mother lode of
leaked documents, its revelations of anti-environmental dirty tricks
in New Zealand proved so shocking to citizens there that its
publication contributed to the political downfall of the head of
The laws of ecology: "All things are interconnected. Everything goes
somewhere. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Nature bats last."
by Ernest Callenbach

Radio4All -

The A-Infos Radio Project -

Unwelcome Guests -

Anarchism In Action -

" Social and economic well-being will become a reality only through the
zeal, courage, the non-compromising determination of intelligent
minorities, and not through the mass."  Emma Goldman

To SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE to the emmasdance list send email to
with the message subscribe/unsubscribe emmasdance. [No subject is

"If I can not dance, I want no part in your revolution."  Emma Goldman


#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: