Greig Box Turnbull, founder of Fortitude Communications, explains why a clear communications strategy is key for events at risk of high-profile protests.
High-profile disruptive protests have become commonplace across the events industry. The Ashes, Wimbledon and even the RHS Chelsea Flower Show have been targeted by eco-warriors and animal rights protestors.
It’s reached crisis point with the Government holding an emergency summit with leading event organisers and police to explore how to handle the continued threat.
Actions have not only disrupted events, but led to enhanced security and increased queuing times for attendees – all at significant cost to organisers. Behind the scenes is the foreboding concern someone could suffer injury, or an event is postponed.
Organisers are doing an excellent job of managing the issue but there is more to consider than the obvious factors like security. One element is communications. The worst thing an event organiser can do is fail to provide clear updates.
Our team recently delivered the PR and communications for the English Greyhound Derby at Towcester Racecourse, an event attended by thousands of racegoers.
Before the event Animal Rising, the sister movement to Just Stop Oil, publicly stated its intention to highjack it and force it to be cancelled. Intentional disruption on this scale was unprecedented for the sport and turned our communications strategy on its head.
Our team joined meetings with various officials – and even attended one with Animal Rising at its invitation ahead of the final, along with senior members of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, the sport’s governing body.
Our decision to meet Animal Rising prompted some initial criticism within the sport. However, our strategy was to address the challenge head on, seek to engage with those who intended to cancel the Derby and gather as much information as possible. The dialogue helped the event take place in a highly controlled fashion, without disruption.
We worked with police and ensured all media was managed tightly, with all video and photography captured of those who attempted and failed to disrupt the Derby shared with officers. Footage that would ordinarily generate major headlines for the wrong reasons was retained, as was the reputation of the competitions.
We ramped up our positive messaging and were open with ticket buyers about the challenge organisers faced, what was being done about it and appealed for calm and patience.
This reassured racegoers and helped protect ticket sales. The public is understanding, but it’s important to show you’re doing all you can. The approach earned us buy-in and understanding.
We also created a crisis communications group and a process to follow in case we needed to issue guidance or updates at any stage.
Another challenge was protecting the sport’s reputation amid Animal Rising’s distribution of fabricated information. Community engagement including school assemblies, roadshows and carefully considered social media campaigns played a key role.
My advice to event organisers is to be proactive, ensure you have a plan and deliver clear, strategic messages regularly and be open. This will protect your reputation whatever happens.