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 relations.

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 like food."

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 legal bills.)

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
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FAX: 757-678-5070

(Feedstuffs Aricle - Agriculture Told To Fight On Activists' Ground Using 'Attack Technologies' Or Face Destruction - March 26, 2001)