Book proposal by Eveline Lubbers
Last changed in November 2000
Today corporate identity determines the value of the company, over its actual products or services. The more companies shift to being all about brand meaning and brand image, the more vulnerable they are to attacks on the image. At the same time, corporations are becoming as powerful as governments - and have to expect to be treated as such. People demand accountability and transparency. It's not so much about buying the company's products, but whether their policies are going to be subject to the will of the citizens.
The telecommunication revolution provides an entirely new battlefield strengthening the position of pressure groups - at least temporarily. There has been a shift in the balance of power with activists no longer entirely dependent on the existing media. This proved very useful recently, both in organizing gatherings such as the Battle of Seattle and in reaching new audiences. "Their agile use of global tools such as the Internet reduces the advantage that corporate budgets once provided," a PR-consultant had to conclude with regret. But some corporations learn fast, incorporating strategies developed by their critics not only on the Internet but also in the old media and, of course, in real life.
Tactical Tools vs. Corporate Counterstrategies is a twenty-five-chapter book revealing how corporate giants attempt to control their "enemies". Composed by Eveline Lubbers, with contributions from eight countries exposing corporate counterstrategies used by multinational corporations to squelch grassroots opposition to their business practices, this book is a compendium of useful information for the activist.
Understanding corporate counter strategies can help any kind of pressure group recognise manipulative strategies and organise effectively against them. Although the tactics and strategies applied in European countries might differ from those in the United States or elsewhere in the world, grassroots movements - from NGO to NIMBY-group, concerned citizen to radical reformers - must become aware of the fact that they could be the next target.
The best way to take action against these major powers is to first unravel the corporate counterstrategies and then expose them to the public. Only by spreading the word and by sharing information can the effects of these tactics be diminished. A full understanding of the weak spots can only be found by exploring the big picture. The awareness of the mere existence of counterstrategies should make people more conscious - without driving them into complete paranoia.
The origins of this book can be traced back to the Next 5 Minutes conference held in Amsterdam, March 1999. I brought together various involved specialists to discuss Corporate Counterstrategies. An hour-long panel revealed for the first time the range and insidious nature of some of the tactics used by corporations in their fight to control the media and consumers. At a meeting afterwards I introduced the idea to compose a practical guide on the subject. Since then, through a dedicated mailing list and website, the idea has grown into the book described here.
Part One of this book presents eighteen recent case studies which analyze a wide range of Corporate Counterstrategies. These strategies vary from relatively innocent PR measures to complete intelligence operations. Shell Oil, attempting to rebuild their image "favouring openness and responsibility" drove the greenwash concept just one step too far by claiming their newest petrol, Pura, is good for the environment. This book goes beyond the story of how McDonald's got tangled up in a lawsuit after suing London activists for libel and describes the not so well publicized case of censorship with Chiquita crushing the research journalism of a small American newspaper. The power of the PR companies in designing corporate counterstratagies can hardly be over emphasized. This book dedicates several chapters to the tangles of the reputation managers. A special chapter is included about the joint forces behind the scenes regrouping to fight the recent successes of the anti-globalisation campaigns. The new media is playing a role in most case studies but the development of web intelligence is getting special attention. Part One ends at the other side of the spectrum, dealing with the use of violence against grassroots groups and against native people in the Southern Hemisphere.
The various authors, specialists in their field, do not stop after drawing a detailed picture. I've asked them to delve deeper, questioning the way pressure groups chose to deal with corporate counterstrategies. Why do environmentalists in the UK sit down with companies for a stakeholder dialogue? How to separate a code of conduct from a PR stunt? What lessons can be learned for an organisation that was successfully infiltrated? How to handle suspected infiltration and raise security awareness without stifling creativity, frightening activists or creating paranoia will be discussed. A synopsis with a summary of all the chapters is included.
Part Two of this practical guide offers Tactical Tools. Knowledge of corporate counter strategies may help activists and concerned citizens recognise manipulative strategies. This goal could be reached by tenacious investigative journalism, analyzing and publishing leaked documents for instance while building an accessible databank of corporate strategies. Unraveling corporate tactics will inspire trust in alternatives and the power of creativity or by using the new media tools to the max. Keywords: being original, playful, unexpected, small, fast, irresistable,unexpected, but also decisive, clear and unstoppable. The Tactical Tools section also offers a wide range of media strategies, from the Adbusters to Communication Guerilla. The success of the Battle of Seattle will be analyzed to be used for future reference.
The composer. My name is Eveline Lubbers and I am an investigative reporter and specialized activist living in Amsterdam. After finishing university (political science) fifteen years ago I co-founded the Jansen & Janssen Bureau, a spin-off from the powerful squatters movement of the eighties. We have been monitoring police and secret services since, supporting social activist groups against oppressive surveillance tactics of authorities. I have been publishing in both activist and mainstream media, on the Internet and have been producing books on related subjects mainly in Dutch. The past few years I specialized in corporate intelligence and PR-strategies of multinationals against their critics- including net-activists. My works can be found at Evel's Writing The work of the Bureau at Jansen & Janssen.
In my work supporting grassroots activists, too often, I encounter people who got in to problems because they are unaware of the strategies corporate executives use. Whether from denial, arrogance or a simple lack of time, activists just refuse to see that their campaign could be a target too. The best way to explain these risks, is by sharing the experiences of others. I initiated this book to create the necessairy awareness, hoping to inspire campaigners to find their strongest points. By inviting fellow specialists in the field to contribute chapters that detail a part of the bigger picture, I intend to compose a practical guide, written by involved activists, for peers.
Tactical Tools vs. Corporate Counterstrategies
a reference guide for campaigners.
Why do companies employ counterstrategies against campaigners? Because today's corporate identity determines the value of the company, over its actual products or services. The virtualization of the economy and the society accelerates this proces. Branding now is the Achilles' heel of the corporate world. The more these companies shift to being all about brand meaning and brand image, the more vulnerable they are to attacks on the image.
3. Codes of Conduct
Introducing a code of conduct in response to public pressure may take away the heat for companies, but usually only temporarily. The Clean Cloth Campaign would rather keep up the pressure to make sure the development of a code is not a mere PR stunt. This chapter is about the difficulties of controlling promises made by corporations, independent monitoring of the implementation, and, the sleazy role of PR consultancy institutions as social audits on working conditions.
4. Agressive PR
Monsanto's European PR effort is a good example of becoming a spectacular failure in public health and environmental campaigns, underestimating the European resistance against the introduction of genetically engineered products. If this PR campaign has in many ways helped to expose the corporation as a profit and power hungry giant, a more subtle and more 'successful' media campaign by corporations who have learnt lessons from Monsanto will be more difficult to deal with.
5. Big Money
Philip Morris strives to polish its image with investors, and launches a global lobbying effort to undermine a World Health Organization treaty on tobacco control. Just now Corporate watchdog INFACT is biting at its heels. The documentairy film Making a Killing reveals the ugly truth behind Philip Morris's feel-good advertisements-a $62 billion corporation that uses outrageous tactics to promote tobacco to young people. INFACT, the corporate watchdog behind the film explains how Philip Morris hired PR consultant Burson Marsteller to counter the effects of the boycot campaign.
6. Revolving doors
The PR advisor and former staff member of Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) was simultaneously the coordinator of Monsanto's PR campaign to sell genetically engineered soya to the Dutch public. After exposing the conflict of interest in 1999 in the Milieudefensie magazine, the co-operation ended - both ways. Cross-breeding and confusion of appointed tasks seems to be the perfect strategy to set secret agendas. Searching for more revolving doors in the Netherlands, where avoiding confrontations determines the politics.
Bogus environmental organisations present themselves as concerned citizens, while carrying out the corporate agenda. This use of front groups - called Astroturf, as opposed to grassroots movements - is making its way into Europe. In Germany the conventional and nuclear power industries were exposed orchestrating a series of local campaigns against windmills. A biotech giant paid people who suffered from rare genetic disorders to campaign for new medication and patents. What about Astroturf in the Netherlands? How to expose front groups?
9. Joint Forces
After successful campaigns and rallies against the MAI and WTO, disgruntled companies began to work in coalitions in order to quash these unwelcome threats to their economic interests. Bodies such the US Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce joined forces with the PR industry to pick up the pieces. This chapter will analyze the panic that broke out after successful Internet campaigns and real life rallies at the turn of the century.
10. Giving in
What happens when the targeted company gives in to your demands relatively soon after the start of a campaign? In their lobby for conflict free diamonds, the Fatal Transactions campain found South African diamond giant De Beers agreeing to implement a independent diamond verification commission within a few month of campaigning. A succes of the lobby or rather a smart PR-move of the diamond industry? Global Wittnes evaluates their own campgain and explains how to generate the energy to continue the monitoring of the promisses made.
11. Silencing the Critics, legal threats
Long before the McLibel court case McDonald's has been willing to use the British libel laws to censor the media in Great Britain. Major media players chose to give in after just one threatening letter from the hamburger giant. Even after the McLibel trial exposed this, the makers of a documentary about McLibel faced fear at major broadcasting corporations when trying to have the film aired on national TV.
12. Silencing the Critics, legal steps
Chiquita sued the Cincinnati Enquirer and two of its reporters after publication of an extensive background report on everything that's wrong with Chiquita. The reporter was accused of accessing corporate voice mail, admitted it, and was fired. The Cincinnati Enquirer agreed to pay millions of dollars before any court decision was made. The stories were removed from the web and are very hard to find now. Documenting a scary example of how investigative journalism was crushed by big powers, asking why this did not cause a row.
A self proclaimed activist collected wastepaper at about 30 addresses in Third world and activist movement offices in the Netherlands. Careful research revealed in 1994 how a private security firm recycled the failed copies and Xerox originals into documented files on campaigners and their organisations. Content filtered from the wastepaper surfaced at strategic moments in right-wing newspapers or at a multinationals desk. How did the people involved evaluate the damage that could have been caused by this informal information leak? Why didn't this affair affect the security codes of the organisations involved?
Corporate Counter Strategies - some conclusions
Reviewing the various counterstrategies that are being presented in Part One of the book, these conclusions will draw the wider perspective. How can one and the same company use relatively friendly methods in one country, ensure themselves of the support of armed forces in another, and continue to treat the situations as a mere PR-problem? Who are the spin-doctors conducting corporate counterstrategies? What is the role of intelligence gathering - either from open sources or from covert operations - on the battlefield of the information war? How to deal with the blurring boundaries between state- and corporate interests in this age of globalisation?
19. Common Sense Security
Ignorance of the strategies and tactics of the private sector -often in collusion with the state - creates vulnerability where none need exist. Activists get hurt, energy is wasted and programs are derailed because many activists are not aware of how easily they could protect themselves and their projects if they follow some simple guidelines. How to raise security awareness, deal with basic security measures, whether and how to screen new members, where to put waste paper. are a few of the issues that will be discussed.
20. Investigating & exposing
A day in the life of the investigative reporter in his quest for whistleblowers by the writer of Secrets & Lies, The anatomy of an anti-environmental PR campaign. This book exposes the campaign in favour of rainforest logging, run by the British based public relations company Shandwick, at the behest of the New Zealand government. The campaign backfired with the publication of hundreds of leaked documents showing that the aim was to 'neutralise' environmentalists opposed to logging. This chapter will be a more personalized report of the research Nicky Hager did without endangering the whistleblowers). From cups of coffee in the diner next door, to nightly shifts of copying, the excitement, the waiting, the patience, the boredom, the stamina.
Including: A brief guide to leaking, the How To- chapter from the Secret & Lies book.
21. Do it the Norwegian way
NorWatch pays field visits to subsidiaries of Norwegian companies in developing coutries. Armed with a lot of knowledge and a handycam, they investigate the impact these companies have on their environment in terms of pollution, deforestation or any other damage. They examine working conditions and wages, the issue of child labour and possible conflicts with indigenous people's rights. This chapter will evaluate the strategy of exposing these findings backhome, in both populair media and well documented reports, and will explore the possiblities of exporting these tactics to other countries.
24. The future of Netactivism
Core netactivists will be confronted with key issues. How can the net be used best for campaigning? Focus on spreading counterinformation or rather on founding alternative networks? Should it be aimed at spreading content or rather contect itself to confrontations on streetlevel? What is the eventual lifetime of the IMC, the event driven websites, dictated by the agenda of Meetings of the Powers That Be? Or should we concentrate on developing software, to hijack sites (remember S26 & Nike), to keep exploring the backway alleys of the Net. And how much do we have to worry about consolidation of freezones in the eye of the potential rize of the dotcoms?
25. Opening Pandora's Box
The making of this book will unearth a lot of material, sources, book, articles and websites on Corporate Counterstrategies. In order to expand the reach of the book, we intend to make much of the research done for it available. This idea started off as an initiative to put a spotlight on the public relation industry: opening Pandora's Box, at http://www.xs4all.nl/~evel/pandora. The main goal of The Pandora Project is to compose an on-line accessible database of corporate PR strategies, or, from now on, extended to Corporate Counterstrategies.
Pandora, being too curious for her own good,
opens a forbidden box, and all the Evils of mankind fly out...
Similarly, the Pandora Project intends to crack open the PR industry
and spread its noxious secrets to people everywhere.