Losing consent loses the PR battle: why demonstrators need consent

When demonstrators lose the consent of the majority of their supporters their movements suffer. No matter the cause, demonstrations have to remain peaceful and, almost as importantly, the demonstrators actions have to make sense. 

In this post I wanted to look at how easy it is to lose the public relations battle but also to highlight how you can keep the good fight going.

Events in Europe in a tumultuous October

It has been a monumental few weeks in Europe. In two cities where I have called home, and one in which I currently live, a huge number of demonstrators have taken to the streets to highlight their particular causes.

Barcelona, Edinburgh and London have all seen huge demonstrations in the last few weeks.

In Barcelona demonstrations started after the extraordinary, and widely condemned, sentencing of seven Catalan politicians and two civic leaders.

The two civic leaders, or you could call them event professionals like you and I, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, have been sentenced to nine years for taking part in and promoting demonstrations.

I want to say this again: a European country has jailed the heads of two civic organisations for organising and promoting demonstrations. Now I don’t know about you, but I feel that is something to demonstrate against.

In Edinburgh at the start of October 200,000 people marched in support of Scottish independence.

Scotland’s governing party have a strong mandate to call another referendum. Despite the defeat of Scottish independence in a 2014 referendum, many Scots feel Scottish independence is a sane step away from the madness of an England (outside of London) driven Brexit.

In London, Extinction Rebellion (the global climate activists) have organised a campaign that has brought thousands of people on the streets to protest against the destruction of the natural world.

2019 another monumental year for events

With huge rallies and public demonstrations across the globe, 2019 is set to rival the monumental year of 1968, when events helped shape the rest of the twentieth century. 

Among those events were demonstrations and rallies.

Both those types of events have the same DNA as a conference, a concert or an exhibition. Their objective is to make things happen: events are the best change makers in existence.

Events are a crucial part of every PR campaign

If you want to change people’s views and opinions you have to win the argument. To do this we have to be on point with our “messaging” This idea finds a home in the world of communications and public relations.

Events are a huge part of any campaign to change people’s behaviour: be that their buying or voting intentions, or how they act at work or at home.

Every movement needs to win the PR battle and events can help win, or can help lose that fight.

In many cities across the globe we have movements fighting to, not only be heard, but to have the right message vibrate across the airways.

If you lose consent then you have already lost the war

Extinction Rebellion have been active on a greater scale in London in October. From guerrilla Yoga sessions on London’s bridges, to dressing up as vegetables, there has been a playfulness to their campaign so far.

Things turned sour this week. For some reason ER decided to try and hold up public transport in London. And it turned pretty nasty.

Now, if you do live in London, or have ever been to London, you will know the relationship that most Londoners have with the “Tube”.

It is a daily battle.

Love it or loath it, you are beside yourself with happiness when it arrives on time and there is a seat (this happens as often as an event manager has an onsite lunch break).

So can you imagine the scene if anyone decided to jump on top of one, to stop it pulling out of the station?

I am sure you can. So why ER decided to this I will never know.

In this action they have lost the consent of those they are protecting.  Here are the reactions of three people who undoubtably support ER’s cause:

Can you see how easy it is to lose consent?

Demonstrations and rallies have to make sense. When you target something that seems, well, weird, your message falters.

ER want their message to be “this is a rebellion and you face extinction: we have to get your attention” but the message that is being received is: “people using trains are the good guys”

It is not the message you give that is important but the one that is received.

It is a hard lesson to learn.

Another way to lose support is for your event to turn violent.

In Barcelona after dusk, things have been turning nasty. The 10,000s who demonstrate by signing and throwing toilet rolls and paper airplanes disperse with the fading light.

They are replaced with demonstrators with a darker character. And it is in that moment of quickening darkness that the PR battle can be lost.

Violence removes consent

Modern movements seldom want to be seen as violent. This one report shows you how easy it is to lose the Public Relations battle.

Below is the type of image that the movement wants to push.

1000s of people are marching from five towns and cities (around 100 KM away) to meet in Barcelona.

It is a quite incredible series of marches, and of course, no mean feet of organising prowess! Yes, the organisers, the ANC, have organised accommodation, food and support for ALL OF THE MARCHERS!

The message is: this is a peaceful, determined, planned and professional movement. “Of course these people could run their own country!” 

However, there are different events taking place as part of the movement. For three of the last four nights mobs have taken over the streets in the Catalan capital, as well as in those same cities that have dispatched locals on a march to Barcelona.

This is the dark, desperate and destructive undercurrent of many movements and it is clearly being displayed in Catalonia. “Seriously you want to have these people in charge of Catalonia?”

The images of the peaceful marches is the face of the movement that its leaders want to display to the world. The other face of the movement is the one that those who wish Catalonia to remain part of Spain want to highlight.

The battle is a Public Relations one and it is much harder for the organisers to win that battle when events turn too hot to handle.

And now to Edinburgh.

How not to muddy the water and have a clear and consistent message

The objective of the rally is to counter a strong and consistent narrative among those who oppose Scottish independence, that there , “Isn’t a demand” for Scottish independence. There is a PR battle going on. And events are the movement’s most powerful weapon.

“Maybe there isn’t a majority, but there clearly is a demand” says this picture. This is the nationalists demonstrating the nation that they want to create. Open, inclusive, friendly and welcoming to everyone.

There are no other “nationalist” events taking place that can muddy the PR message. There is no violence, not even a hint of the possibility. This is how events make a difference.

This type of event maintains the consent of those it represents and crucially, those who it wishes to attract.

Demonstrate without consent at your peril.