December 17, 2014 By FTI Consulting
The rise of corporate and environmental activism in Australia is now at a level not seen before.
Well funded, ambitious, skilled at the exploitation of digital media and random in their attacks, activists present a challenge to corporate communication and response procedures and are changing the way companies manage reputation and measure community values.
Having learnt from activists’ tactics in the United States and Europe, a myriad of groups in Australia are following the same story line and procedures.
This new wave of Australian activism – masquerading as environmental concern – has at its centre a mantra to diminish corporate value.
In the case of the resources sector, this social, environmental and commercial activism manifests itself in an intent to shut-down fossil fuel development.
The activism also aims to directly penalise any company which it deems (by its own opaque measures) to support fossil fuel activities.
The penalty campaign even applies to passive investment funds which include fossil fuel companies in their portfolios.
The new wave of activism is well resourced and coordinated. It attracts funding from overseas, particularly the USA.
And it operates in many arenas:
This web of activism has become much more sophisticated in its organisation and bolder in its intentions. It has found a platform which marks it as different to all previous protest actions: An internationally funded and operated political movement intent on imposing its will by forcing its way into every tier of Government in every State and Territory.
There is now a great deal more collaboration between activist groups.
More likely than not, a protest will start from a keyboard, spread on social media, and appear in person on a site very distant from the organisational base.
How you prepare to build, protect and defend your corporate reputation in the face of an audacious, fast moving, well-resourced activist movement is critical.
In 2014 FTI Consulting worked with clients to understand the motivations and the tactics of environmental activists.
We advised companies on how to engage with local communities, how to manage the wave of online criticism levelled at project developments, and how to get on the front foot in developing public affairs strategies that are adaptable to the changing landscape of environmental activism.
With industry support we took a major step forward in providing a platform for industry advocacy in the natural gas sector. The Energy Resource Information Centre is an education, advocacy and outreach program, representing and defending the industry, challenging activists and responding quickly to correct the public record, sometimes in ways which companies find awkward to do themselves.
A feature of the new activist movement is its readiness to directly attack individual companies and individual company leaders, as well as the historically familiar targets of politicians. It is often considered unproductive to directly respond to such attacks, even where they are based on mistruths.
The Centre can – and does – respond quickly based on facts and evidence without being reduced to the level of the activist critic.
The Energy Resource Information Centre also runs its own program of proactive stakeholder educational briefings, at private and public events, and participates in open forums and media discussions.
It is a model which is not confined to resources.
There is direct relevance for just about every industry and company wanting to show sector-wide support, along with a need to have a structured basis for helping the public to understand the true facts of any development and defend against activist campaigns.