FEEDSTUFFS, March 26, 2001
Agriculture Told To Fight On Activists' Ground Using 'Attack
Technologies' Or Face Destruction
By Rod Smith
Feedstuffs Staff Editor
KISSIMMEE, FLA. -- Pork producers were advised at their annual
business meeting here that agriculture's attackers are vulnerable --
but vulnerable to attack tactics, not appeasement or public
Activists' attacks on companies, products and livelihoods "are not
public relations problems," Nick Nichols said. "They are crises, and
they require crisis management." Agriculture needs to use "attack
technologies," he said, quoting gangster Al Capone, who said: "You
can get more with kind words and a smile and a gun than you get with
kind words and a smile."
Nichols, chief executive officer of Nichols Dezenhall, a
communications and crisis management group in Washington, D.C., said
the attack industry is a $6 billion industry, referring to the annual
funding of activist groups in the U.S.
He said they capture this funding by creating "victims," "villains"
and "vindicators." He said victims are "vulnerable" people such as
children or elderly people -- and consumers -- or animals, nature and
the earth itself. He said villains are companies and producers,
especially ones with deep pockets, and vindicators are activists who
believe their way is the only, and right, way, such as "huddites" who
oppose technology, protectionist reporters, lawyers and regulators
and "legislators who go 'political' in the middle of crises."
Activists and huddites get notoriety, which leads to contributions
and funding, and get to push their agenda, he said; reporters get to
write about controversy, lawyers get clients and contingency fees,
legislators get to legislate and regulators get to regulate.
"And you get destroyed," he said.
Nichols said producers get destroyed because they don't recognize the
critical rule to prevent crisis: "To survive in any situation, don't
look like food." He explained that "you start to look like food when
you don't fight back but engage in appeasement and let the
vindicators divide" an industry or segments of an industry.
Attackers fight with emotion, Nichols said, using "precautionary
principles" where an allegation that can't be proven wrong becomes a
possibility for which there needs to be precaution, theoretical risks
where an allegation of something that's never happened becomes
something that still might occur someday, scientific division and
politicized debate. Attackers fight aggressively with kids and people
who have been "wronged" as spokespeople, and attackers fight globally
on several fronts with guerilla tactics, he said.
On the other hand, companies and producers respond defensively with
science and scientist spokespeople and respond on only the local
front with conventional tactics, he said. "This is a good way to look
Nichols described a crisis threshold as a line over which reason
turns to hysteria and outrage, and he said the plan should be to
attack back before being pulled over the line. When a company or
industry goes past the line, "it's in serious trouble," he said. (In
response to a question, he said a company pulled past the line may
spend $500,000-700,000 a month on crisis management counseling and
In a crisis, Nichols said, it's too late for public relations, which
he called "a feel-good" strategy and compared it to "taking a poodle
to a Rottweiler show." He said attackers don't want to feel good,
don't want to compromise and want to win, "and your survival is at
stake. The landscape is littered with businesses and products that
these people destroyed."
Nichols said companies and producers under attack should attack back
by driving home the benefits of a product that "are personally
relevant" to consumers and establishing risk for the attackers by
"tearing down their mantle of virtue," i.e., showing that the
attacker wants to take away something society values such as family
farmers who produce chickens or livestock for integrators.
He said companies and producers need to gather information about
attackers, move quickly with both defensive and offensive strategies,
deploy globally, fight like guerrillas and "take no prisoners." He
said messages should be based on science but still be emotional and
messengers should be charismatic and credible. "Think about the
message," he urged. "Think about the messenger."
He recommended "protests against the protestors," including filing
lawsuits against them and using, as messengers, the same "vulnerable"
children, elderly and "Mother Earth."
However, Nichols said, "you have to want to win. You have to get in
the trenches and fight." He said "capitulation counseling" is not the
advice to which to listen, noting that capitulation counselors say
attackers will go away if one appeases them and gives in to them.
"Sure, they will go away because they got what they want, and they'll
be back in a year," he said.
He concluded with a quote from his own partner, Eric Dezenhall, who
said: "If you live by the sword, you may die by the sword, but if you
live by the olive branch, you may still die by the sword."
Nichols spoke at the National Pork Industry Forum to producer
delegates to the National Pork Producers Council and National Pork
Promotion & Research Board. [END]
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
(Feedstuffs Aricle - Agriculture Told To Fight On Activists' Ground Using 'Attack
Technologies' Or Face Destruction - March 26, 2001)