NEWS19 March 2014

Staying one step ahead of the weather makers

From Fair Trade, to the US Tea Party, to organic foodies and the Occupy Movement – activism is all around us, said Graeme Trayner, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner vice-president.


L to R: Mark Flanagan, Portland Communications; Jodie Ginsberg, Demos Finance; Robert Blood, SIGWATCH; and Graeme Trayner, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner

But how should corporates respond to these and other examples of people power? That was the question Trayner posed to his panel this morning at MRS Annual Conference.

There was broad consensus that it wasn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. “It’s a bad time to be a corporation or a government,” said Mark Flanagan, a partner with Portland Communications. “The financial crash and the emergence of social media has put business and government on the back foot.”

Technology has been an enabler of change, said Flanagan. “Social media has given people the tools to mobilise,” he said – while Demos Finance deputy director Jodie Ginsberg made the point that these same tools have enabled ideas to “move much more quickly” than companies are able to respond.

But “don’t panic”, said Robert Blood, the founder and managing director of SIGWATCH, a firm dedicated to tracking and analysing the issues that are of interest to non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“NGOs make the weather,” Blood said. “They set the agenda.” By tracking them, companies can improve their chances of staying one step ahead. Recent concerns around fracking where detected by SIGWATCH more than six months before the mainstream media started reporting on them, he added.

Monitoring, then, is crucial, said Flanagan. But before companies can monitor and respond correctly, they need to “create a better platform” to live and act from. Businesses “need to change their priorities, not just their communications,” he said.

But how? One way is to engage with stakeholders – real stakeholders, said Blood. Some companies perceive NGOs as stakeholders, but that is true only in the sense that “they are holding a stake to the corporate heart”. Instead, companies should speak to their staff, their investors, to set standards of behaviour and make sure they are practicing what they preach.