How to Handle the Initial Stages of an Animal Rights Campaign

Read the original article by Jim Newman at here.

Becoming the next big animal rights target is a major concern for any health research institution which studies animals in order to advance human and veterinary medicine. Too often, organizations are slow to react, assuming the traditional crisis communications rules apply.

They don’t, which is why an increasing number of research institutions are taking a new approach.

So, what can you do to respond more effectively when animal rights allegations surface? Below are a few suggestions.

In the current 24-7 news cycle, organizations frequently have little time to respond when animal rights claims arise. In these cases, communications staff should work with all key parties (impacted research staff, administration) in crafting an initial response. This communication should be as detailed as possible. If additional time is required to address certain questions, explain this to reporters and follow up ASAP.

Gather All Key Players
Once any urgent deadlines are met, the next step in responding to an animal rights crisis is to gather all the facts. The process requires getting all key players in the same room. This includes: impacted research and animal care staff, research administration, institutional compliance officials, legal, security, government relations, and any other key personnel. During this meeting, each individual allegation should be discussed to discern fact from fiction. The organization should also investigate whether documentation exists that either supports or refutes the claims being made.

Make Initial Messaging Decisions
During or after the meeting of key players, determine what the organization can say unequivocally in the initial hours of an animal rights campaign. Once written, messages should be shared throughout the organization. Again, these comments should be as specific as possible. Voicing a commitment to outstanding animal care is important. But it is also necessary to refute or respond to specific allegations.

Choose the Most Appropriate Spokespeople
Decide who will speak for the organization. Factors to consider include: knowledge level, comfort in speaking with the press and the ability to effectively respond to challenging questions. Spokespeople should also be committed to transparency. Whenever possible, they should have the ability to answer questions based on firsthand knowledge.

For example: If it’s likely that questions about animal care will be asked, organizations should consider making a veterinarian available. Many times, it can be helpful to prepare a handful of experts, each able to respond within their specific areas of expertise.

Identify and Reach Out to Key Stakeholders
It is always better for key stakeholders to learn good or bad news from the institution itself, instead of through media reports. This is why it is important for newly-targeted institutions to proactively identify those who should be contacted following animal rights allegations.

Create a Rapid Approval Process
One of the biggest challenges for large organizations is remaining nimble. This is why a streamlined review process is crucial when it comes to the approval of key messages and other critical communications in the early stages of an animal rights campaign.

Make Long Term Plans
While some animal rights campaigns are short-lived, many are not. This is why institutions should consider the creation of a task force to rapidly respond to current issues and prepare for upcoming challenges. Task force meetings should have strict agendas that include time near the conclusion for the assignment of action items.

Rapid response in the face of an animal rights challenge can make all the difference. A thorough approach can quickly diminish concerns and even build public trust. Conversely, a delayed response can have serious consequences. Most importantly, organizations must recognize the need to tell their own stories. Otherwise, opponents will do it for them.

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