Shandwick Works to Save the Fox, Kill the Whale

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This article was first published as "Shandwick Works to Save the Fox, Kill the Whale", PR Watch, Volume 8, No. 1, First Quarter 2001. The original article was authored by Bob Burton and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is one of the leading critics worldwide of Japan's whaling activities. It also works on behalf of other animal welfare issues, such as a campaign to ban fox hunting in England, for which purpose it retained one of the world's fourth PR firms, Shandwick International. During the July 2000 meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Australia, however, IFAW representatives were dismayed to discover that Shandwick was also working for the Japanese Whaling Association.

IFAW terminated its relationship with Shandwick after learning that the PR firm had been hired by the JWA to conduct a high-profile PR campaign including newspaper advertisements in Australian media titled "Whaling the facts," which claimed that "all whales aren't endangered" and "many are abundant."

A leaflet distributed to households in Adelaide claimed that whale meat is to Japanese what meat pies are to Australians. "Don't interfere in our culture and we won't interfere in yours," the leaflet said. The leaflet, however, didn't sit well with the citizens of Adelaide. JWA spokesperson Shigeko Misaki admits that they were stung by a public backlash. "We were alarmed by the effect of this," she said.

Greenpeace oceans campaigner, Denise Boyd rejects the claim that whaling in the southern oceans and South Pacific is a long-held Japanese tradition. "Large-scale commercial whaling in the Antarctic, 6,000 miles from Japan and using technology imported from Norway, cannot be described as a cultural activity," she said.

Shandwick staff also organized a spot of banner painting. "Whaling the facts: excessive protection creates an imbalance of ecosystem," said the banner held by kimono-clad Japanese supporters of whaling at the entrance to the IWC meeting. Shandwick Australia's then chairman, Mike Smith, reluctantly confirmed that Shandwick staff had organized painting the banner, although he noted that he didn't find the slogan particularly inspiring. "It's a bit wordy," he said.

Smith was less forthcoming when asked how much the firm had been paid for its pro-whaling activities. "Look, I don't know, and if I did know, I wouldn't tell you," he said. Others involved confirmed that the seven-month campaign cost the JWA nearly $300,000.

Smith is willing to freely dispense advice on how clients should deal with their crises. A client faced with a crisis, he told The Australian, is "better off talking about it than not talking about it [because] that silence would be interpreted as guilt." However, when Shandwick's contract for the JWA became front-page news, Smith preferred silence.

Shandwick staff told journalists that only Smith could speak for the company, but with phone calls unreturned, Shandwick's role dropped from view.

Smith insisted his preference for not talking about the PR firm's work for the JWA was at the request of the client. Shandwick, he said, wasn't "authorized to speak about what we do for them. I wouldn't say it is common, but often a client doesn't want us to discuss it."

Others working for the JWA tell another story. When Shandwick's work became public knowledge in fiercely anti-whaling Australia, the firm experienced a backlash from a number of its other clients. "They wanted to keep a low profile because of feedback they were getting from other clients. . . . They provided the introductions for us [in Adelaide] and we did the rest," the JWA's lobbyist Alan Macnow told PR Watch.

The whaling controversy is not Shandwick's first brush with controversy. The company has also worked for Shell oil company to counter criticism over its role in Nigeria at the time of the execution of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and for American industry groups opposed to measures that would limit greenhouse gas emissions. More recently it was embarrassed by the publication of Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR Campaign. Co-authored by myself and Nicky Hager, Secrets and Lies used hundreds of pages of leaked internal documents to detail a multi-million-dollar campaign, led by Shandwick, to "neutralize" environmentalists opposed to rainforest logging in New Zealand.

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