We managed to slip a mole, UKIP staffer Michael Jose, into a Wind Industry meeting in London last week, where they discussed ways to counter the anti-wind movement. Fascinating stuff.
Wind farm espionage – by Michael Jose
Well, not quite me playing spy, or actually on the wind farm – more of a nameless super-sleuth mole, sent for a day with camera and notebook to the conference recently held in London among the top marketing and PR people for Europe’s leading wind power companies. Some big names were there, including Siemens, Vattenfall, and SSE, and various less well known. Two senior journalists, one from The Times and one from The Guardian, gave feedback to the assembled ‘public face’ of the wind power industry to comment on their media-handling and interfacing performance with the established broadsheets.
High on the list of concerns for the wind farm PR person is the anti-wind farm lobby. The good news is that we are having a big effect, we are slowing their time to onshore planning consent down from 24 months to 33 months, and 2011 planning consents were at an all time low, down 11% on 2010. There was a specific session in the afternoon on how to handle us antis at the pre-consent stage, when the battle is fought for the hearts and minds of the locals who will have to look at the electricity windmills for the next 25 years.
Probably the most heartening and surprising thing of all was the comment from the first presenter who reminded the assembly that they were all ‘fighting for their jobs’. Two other presenters repeated this in the morning: the bottom line is, they are feeling the effects of our efforts. It is often hard to gauge the feelings behind the super-positive smiles and professional go-getting zealotry they all display when they bounce up against us at public enquiries – but every negative newspaper article hits them where they are vulnerable – and they can quote the lines that get under their skin. Every argument we mount requires a response (but sometimes they get the NGOs to give it to spread the pain), and they know they have to try to look good, sound good, and feel good, even if their arguments are weak or just plain spurious.
Of course they are winning enough battles to be able to afford to host expensive conferences in Hammersmith, London. We need to be able to know our enemy and take even their strongholds. So, where are they strong? Well I believe the thing we need to closely emulate about them, to be even more effective in stopping them, is their stratified approach to the public. They go to schools to take primary children out on nature trails; they create Facebook pages for teenagers; and they write printed materials for the pension club and Neighbourhood Watch, who are not to be assumed to know how to handle email or Twitter. All these sources of propaganda are co-ordinated and checked for consistency.
Overall, we should take heart and press on with exactly what we are doing, but just get better. And if you are wondering what the two professional big-hitter journalists said to the assembled PR wind professionals, well, I can’t really repeat it to be fair, but none of it was complementary. The Times guy was very neutral and objective in attitude, but the Guardian woman was very onside with wind. But they were both quite cutting. The truth is, we are punching way above our weight, and they are punching below theirs.