I went to a seminar this morning put on by Ross Irvine, a Canadian-based public relations consultant. I dressed all nice and respectable and donned my “activist” badges for a neat contrast.
I found his presentation to be fairly bland, unconvincing and absolutely dripping with bias. I had already read the presentation online a few weeks ago and it didn’t differ much from that at all, so it was a bit disappointing in that respect – especially being that I paid $66 to attend.
I could’ve successfully refuted every slide he put up as his presentation was packed with generalisations about this threatening bunch of socially-aware, community-minded people lumped under the label of ‘activist’.
Ross said in his presentation: “To succeed against activists, you must talk about values and vision. You must assume a position of moral leadership.”
He said (and this comes from the online version of his presentation): Business leaders, particularly corporate PR executives, often claim that they want to empower others – most often employees — to be spokemen and representatives for their businesses. That’s understandable because employees are a specialized target audience with specialized knowledge and experiences. But when push comes to shove, corporate communicators often admit they fear a bunch of employees going off willy-nilly talking about the company. They fear that “the corporate message” will be distorted. They fear people will not be reading from the same page. They fear that the corporate message will be misinterpreted. To allay these fears, corporate communicators often severely limit the ability and capacity of employee to speak.
He said: Activists take the opposite approach. They encourage, educate and train every activist to be a spokesman. Every activist is truly empowered to be a spokesman anywhere, at anytime in any forum. Every activist has a tremendous amount of information at his or her disposal.
That he was encouraging business to start participating in open dialogue with the media and the public was a delight to me! This seemed to totally sit in opposition to one of his earlier throw-away remarks that activists didn’t like capitalism and democracy as it is today and were wanting to change it. Woh. How progressive of “activists” to want to take democracy away from the power of companies and give it back to the people. Oh hang on, that’s not progressive, that’s in fact quite a backward notion!
Anyway … Question time. I was the only one with a question.
I stood up and introduced myself as a media and PR professional and human rights and environmental activist. I said “If big business starts participating in democracy and its employees start openly communicating with the government and the public, I believe that would be the biggest win for someone like me who’s an advocate of grassroots democracy.” I asked “Are you here today encouraging business to participate in democracy?”
Of course, this was clearly too “radical” a concept for him to grasp being that I was inviting him to agree with me. I mean, that’s how I interpreted what he said. Unfortunately his response left a lot to be desired. He instead answered by saying how non-government organisations must be as transparent as business. I mean, that’s fine by me – I agree. However, he didn’t answer my question and I was a bit disappointed at that.
While refuting me Mr Irvine even had the gumption to say ‘I don’t know where these activists find the time to do what they do!’ Well look at the time, Mr Irvine – it’s 10.37am on a Tuesday night and I’m online doing what activists apparently do best, using the Internet to express my view. I sacrifice sleep for that.
I managed to find the opportunity to say how wonderful it was when Dick Smith, one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs, used his position of power to question Australia’s policy of long-term mandatory detention of asylum seekers. I welcomed others in business to also take moral stands. I spoke quite a bit – it was unlike me, but no-one else was saying anything!
He concluded saying we all have different ideas which I thought was strange because he still, to me, didn’t tell me how he disagreed with my view. I mean, he was the one advocating for business to stand up and be heard. And I agreed.