Monday, 9 March 2009

The Plane Stupid Peter Mandelson Custard Episode: Just Plain Stupid?

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson found himself at the receiving end of a Starbucks cup of green custard last Friday in a move by pressure group Plane Stupid aimed at highlighting the controversial issue of a third runway at Heathrow. But what did his assailant hope to achieve?

Mandelson was arriving for a low-carbon industry summit when he met with the dose of green liquid. Plane Stupid member Leila Deen accused Mandelson of hypocrisy over the government's stance on climate change given its support the expansion of Heathrow.

If she was looking to win over Mandelson to her point of view, she certainly went the wrong way about it. Advocacy and lobbying isn't about irritating decision makers- far from it. It's about getting your message across in a professional and targeted way. Throwing custard over someone isn't going to convince them that they need to change their stance, nor encourage them to revisit an issue. Clearly Ms Deen was badly advised, or perhaps not advised at all.

On the other hand, if it was a PR stunt, then certainly it got plenty of coverage. But did it help the cause? Not really.

Other public relations moves associated with this cause, such as Greenpeace's purchase of land earmarked for the expansion which drew in the backing of actress Emma Thompson and impressionist Alastair McGowan, have been altogether more innovative in attempting to highlight this issue in a focused and engaging way.

But in the wake of Friday's stunt, the issue of ministerial security and the visual drama of Mandelson getting drenched in front of the TV cameras drew more attention than the actual purpose of highlighting the expansion issue.

Yes, the stunt may have gained plenty of column inches and airtime, but if most of that coverage had nothing to do with Plane Stupid's raison d'être, then it wasn't really of much use to their cause. Fighting for coverage is one thing, but coverage for coverage's sake is quite another.

Some might argue that the custard incident was successful, employing Oscar Wilde's view that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But if you're being talked about for what you did rather than what you want, then perhaps the wisdom of Wilde doesn't apply.


Barry Magee said...

Gary..thanks for the article. You mention 'Advocacy and lobbying isn't about irritating decision makers- far from it. It's about getting your message across in a professional and targeted way'..but this is exactly what Plane Stupid had done. They had organised, lobbied and protested. They attempted to influence the process through a number of democratic channels. The government simply choose to ignore this. I dont thinl her actions will do anything to resolve the matter (as the issue has already been decided- see my blog for a link to this). Her actions were more to do with venting frustration that democracy had failed miserably on this issue. Consultation, etc is supposed to be a two-way process and conflict/opposition views should have incorporated into the final decision on Heathrwo expansion- afterall the plans propose demolishing several villages/peoples homes. One thing for sure is that this is not the last we have heard of this issue- it is truely only the beginning.

Anonymous said...

I think stunts like this should be roundly condemmed - I read a newspaper article yesterday which condoned this yobbish behaviour - yet the same newspaper is always preaching about yobs! This is what is wrong with modern society - if you don't like the message you react in a confrontational way!

Mr Ulster said...

So the stunt was about the Heathrow third runway issue? I didn't realise that until you said so here. I don't recall any of the TV media explaining this, which proves the point you've made.

Jeez, didn't Plane Stupid even have the wit to link the stunt to press statements, a protest, anything else that might have attracted substantive attention?

I can see how when they thought of their clever name, Plane Stupid, they were pleased with the obvious double entendre. How (humorously) ironic it's come back to bite them!