Protect Your Company from Activists

    June 6, 2003

If you are an executive inside a U.S. corporation of any significant size, then you have better keep an eye on the ongoing battle between Exxon Mobil and Greenpeace.

Activists are creating the template for waging all-out war on the corporations they deem evil. And your company could be next.

You may have chuckled at the sight of Greenpeace activists, dressed in tiger costumes, running around Exxon Mobil’s Irving headquarters on May 27. But those guys belong to Greenpeace’s “Global Warming Crimes Unit.” And, according to them, Exxon Mobil stands charged as the “world’s No. 1 climate criminal.”

Take a moment to consider their rhetoric.

Exxon Mobil is not a company with which Greenpeace simply disagrees. It is a criminal. Company executives, from CEO Lee Raymond on down, are committing crimes against humanity.

This is not the rhetoric of politics. It is the rhetoric of war.

Ponder this quote from a Greenpeace activist identified only as “Gary,” who participated in the May 27 invasion of Exxon Mobil:

“The actions of these executives are among the worst crimes being committed against the planet. I am here today to serve them notice and to remind the rest of the world: This cannot continue.”

Activists like “Gary” are attacking Exxon Mobil from the inside. Greenpeace convinced 22 percent of Exxon Mobil shareholders to call upon the company to do more about ending global warming. Those shareholders represent about $42.34 billion in Exxon Mobil stock.

The activists are attacking from the outside. They have set up a Web site – — that will email your outrage directly to CEO Raymond, will give you evidence of Exxon Mobil’s “crimes,” will allow you to download protest leaflets and will even locate the nearest Exxon Mobil station, just in case you want to organize your own stunt.

The activists are attacking nationally. More than 500 Exxon Mobil stakeholders recently received a “revised annual report” in the mail with charts that track the alleged “rise” in global warming. Greenpeace authored the satire.

The activists are attacking globally. While the guys in the tiger costumers were camping out on Exxon Mobil’s roof, their brethren were performing high-profile protests in Paris and Tokyo. A few days before, activists put together Exxon Mobil protests of various sizes in 44 towns in the United Kingdom.

Why should you care? Because your company could be next.

Do you deal in fast food, pre-packaged food, agribusiness or anything that smacks of animal testing? You may receive attention from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Are you involved in any way with the construction of homes or office buildings? Then you may hear from the Earth Liberation Front, an activist group dedicating to ending human “sprawl” by any means necessary.

Do you market any products that come out of the ocean? Then you may be forced to deal with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a “policing” group that attacks ships with water cannons, battering rams and a device known as a “can opener,” which can actually rip apart the hull.

For virtually any commercial product or service, you can find an activist group that opposes it.

What should your company do?

First, bring aboard a crisis news specialist to keep a close eye on the Internet, searching for any mentions of your company.

This is crucial. The World Wide Web is the staging area for activism worldwide.

Consider these statistics:

In May 1998, only 10,000 activists gathered to protest a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. A year later in Seattle, that grew to 40,000. In 2001, more than 280,000 gathered in Genoa to protest the G8 Summit.

On February 15-16, 2003, more than 12 million activists gathered in New York, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and other world capitals to protest the pending American war on Iraq.

The spectacular growth of these organized protests is largely attributed to the activists’ ever-expanding ability to use the Internet to rally their troops. (For more on this, see the June 2003 issue of Wired magazine.)

If activists plan to attack your company, you can bet the battle is brewing in a chat room, in a newsgroup or on a Web site somewhere. Better you know about their plans now rather than later.

Second, take an honest assessment of your company. Where is it vulnerable to activist attack? Where do your interests intersect with those of the established, organized activists groups that may target your company? Are their any activist groups that are urging their followers to buy your company’s stock?

Third, create a company-wide crisis plan for either eliminating those vulnerabilities or defending them vigorously. Hire a crisis team to help you design this plan.

Fourth, make it a corporate policy to act rather than react. If you see trouble coming, deal with it now. Never “wait to see what happens.” Odds are good the trouble won’t just go away.

Copyright 2003 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

Rusty Cawley is a 20-year veteran journalist who now coaches executives, professionals and entrepreneurs on news strategy. He is the author of PR Rainmaker: Three Simple Rules for Using the News Media to Attract New Customers and Clients, available at To learn more about PR Rainmaking, visit