Communication must be a priority amid high-profile protests

Robust crisis communications planning is a key consideration for events that face the threat of disruption by high-profile protestors.

The sporting calendar has been targeted for a summer of protests’ by eco-warriors and animal rights protestors. It has seen events including The Ashes, Wimbledon, the World Snooker Championship, the Grand National and even the RHS Chelsea Flower Show subjected to protests by groups like Just Stop Oil and Animal Rising. 

It recently reached crisis point with the Government holding an emergency summit with leading event organisers and police to explore how to handle the continued threat. Government officials assured organisers it will support them and police to prevent protesters from disrupting events. 

Actions have not only disrupted events but led to enhanced security and increased queuing times for attendees – all at significant cost to organisers. Behind the scenes is the foreboding concern someone could suffer injury, or an event is postponed.


Organisers are doing an excellent job of managing the issue, in partnership with key stakeholder like the police. But there is more to consider than the obvious factors like security. 

One element is communications. The worst thing an event organiser can do is fail to provide clear updates. Our team recently delivered the PR and Communications for the prestigious English Greyhound Derby at Towcester Racecourse, an event attended by thousands of racegoers. 

Before the event Animal Rising, the sister movement to Just Stop Oil, publicly stated its intention to highjack it and force it to be cancelled. Intentional disruption on this scale was unprecedented for the sport and turned our communications strategy on its head.

Crisis Communications

Our team immediately discussed the issue with our client and attended a crisis meeting. We rapidly produced a crisis communications strategy to ensure the issue was handled professionally. One key element was creating a crisis communications group and a process to follow in case we needed to issue guidance or updates at any stage. 

Our team joined meetings with various officials, including Northamptonshire Police. It was important that the communications teams were across the detail in a fast-moving operation, to ensure clear communication was issued at the right time and with the right tone. 

We even attended a meeting with Animal Rising at its invitation ahead of the final, along with senior members of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, the sport’s governing body.

Our decision to meet Animal Rising prompted some initial criticism within the sport.

However, our strategy was to address the challenge head on, seek to engage with those who intended to cancel the Derby and gather as much information as possible. The dialogue helped the event take place in a highly controlled fashion, without disruption.

We worked with police and ensured all media was managed tightly, with all video and photography captured of those who attempted and failed to disrupt the Derby shared with officers. Footage that would ordinarily generate major headlines for the wrong reasons was retained, as was the reputation of the competitions.

Positive PR approach 

We ramped up our positive messaging and were open with ticket buyers about the challenge organisers faced, what was being done about it and appealed for calm and patience.

This reassured racegoers and helped protect ticket sales. The public is understanding, but it’s important to show you’re doing all you can. The approach earned us buy-in and understanding.

Another challenge was protecting the sport’s reputation amid Animal Rising’s distribution of fabricated information. Community engagement including school assemblies, roadshows and carefully considered social media campaigns played a key role.

Be proactive

My advice to event organisers is to be proactive, ensure you have a plan and deliver clear, strategic messages regularly and be open. 

Key to success is having a professional communications team that can devise a revised strategy quickly, produce a crisis communications process that works and deliver proactive, fast, clear communications and handle media inquiries effectively. 

Building this structure and following a clear communications process will protect your reputation whatever happens. 

This article was adapted from a guest article our founder Greig Box Turnbull wrote for leading event industry trade publication Access All Areas.

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