I had been through some confrontational situations at work before, but nothing quite like having my colleagues at gunpoint.
Working for Greenpeace means the work hazards include occasional threats of getting sued and tapped phones; like having the national security call me to tell, that they know what I eat for breakfast. And that’s what you get for working in digital communications.
The toughest challenge for me happened in late 2013, when my Finnish colleague Sini Saarela and the Swiss Marco Weber among others, had been shot at during an action at sea and were facing up to 15 years in prison, absurdly accused of hooliganism and piracy. And there were people who thought Greenpeace totally deserves it.
It was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration against oil drilling in the Arctic, just like the year before, when Greenpeace’s Executive Director Kumi Naidoo climbed the oil rig himself. This time the whole 30-people-strong ship crew of Arctic Sunrise was arrested by Russian commandos descending from a helicopter in a manner directly out of an action movie. We were determined to write a happy ending to the story, which begun to attract world-wide media attention. What started out as an Arctic ship tour soon became a global priority one campaign to #FreeTheArctic30 and Save the Arctic.
The challenge was storytelling beyond the actual news pieces of court proceedings. There was the concerning example of having plenty of media stories written around Pussy Riot, which were however unable to set the protesters free. How would we keep up the attention and engage the public – in the worst case for the next 15 years – after the initial shocking images and news have been shared? My role in all this was leading the international digital communications, mobilising people online to campaign with us.
The campaign was Greenpeace’s most successful to date, gathering over two million signatures of support in the shortest time ever online. The activists we’re included in an amnesty after 2 months of campaigning. It required the international organization uniting its forces over a common cause, setting up a crisis command centre and creating a new 24/7 working model for the digital unit. The best bits were the digital campaigning strategies created by brilliant individuals, national and regional offices and the almighty social media.
I’ll tell you all about it, if you come and meet me at KampaWeb’s Soiree 15th of April in Zurich, where I’m speaking about Digital Crisis Communications: Case Arctic 30. The presentation is available below, since I held a keynote speech about this at the eCampaigning Forum Europe annual meet-up in Austria in November 2014. You might like it, if you’ve ever had to change all your plans and start again, because something happened that you had not planned.