A PR campaign too far?

Last week, seven members of Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) were jailed for undertaking a blackmail campaign against suppliers of the Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) in Cambridgeshire.

This campaign has been labelled as eco- or urban terrorism owing to the personal and violent nature of attacks on executives within HLS and its stakeholders (investors as well as employees, customers and suppliers). 

There is little resemblance to mainstream public relations techniques in the extreme actions of those convicted.  However, the use of online media is a key element of the activities used to persuade others to support the SHAC cause.  Indeed, it is claimed that similar extreme animal rights activism is on the rise outside the UK, particularly in the US. 

From a PR perspective, one of the reasons that HLS exists as a “contract research organisation” is that it undertakes the type of research that could be seen as reputation damaging for major pharmaceutical and chemical companies.

The work of HLS in testing animals has been robustly criticised by authorities such as the government Home Office in the past, although the company claimed it had addressed its problems and is fighting its corner using a combination of communications and legal redress.

Clearly the issue of animal testing is a hugely controversial one – where opposing sides have ideological underpinnings for their position that seem unlikely to be changed.  When there is no hope that dialogue between parties could be undertaken, let alone any win-win zone found, is the only alternative the use of intimidation (whether by legal or violent means)?  Or do such approaches merely entrench views and escalate the demands of both sides?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “A PR campaign too far?”

  1. Yes, it sounds like this PR campaign went a little too far. Hopefully both sides can tone down their efforts against each other, so that more mainstream, socially acceptable PR can continue.


  2. @Boston PR
    >>this PR campaign went a little too far

    I think you are way too mild here. It is low level terrorism, of the same variety used by groups in Northern Ireland on both sides for many years to attempt to control their own communities (threats, intimidation etc).


    I think it is weak to say that it has only been “labelled” as eco-terrorism. Criminal activity is criminal activity, the people convicted were founder members right at the heart of SHAC, and some of them pleaded guilty – never mind the fact that the others were convicted.

    This is in a different league from Civil Disobedience, publicity stunts and even property damage.

    Groups that use the cloak of civil disobedience to cover a criminal campaign – and the people who justify that – are contemptible from end to end, and need to be simply faced down, in exactly the same way that anybody else using similar tactics needs to be faced down.

    Consider the vitriol that lands on bloggers for even drawing attention to the name and address of fellow bloggers even when it is already public (cf Old Holborn recently), then compare that to sending letters with “paedo” allegations to neighbours.

    That they take a view that their philosophical opinions about animal rights permit them to treat fellow human beings with contempt says it all.

    I won’t even get onto the hyprocisy of releasing thousands of mink and the damage that can cause to the environment and the mink in the name of “protecting” animals.



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