Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From photography rights to pizza: Prep your comms team for protests

In an era when protests are happening daily in cities around the U.S., communications pros may find that their camera-wielding, microphone-carrying comms teams are singled out for extra scrutiny and attention.

Why? Your videographers and photographers may be caught up in a crowd situation and mistaken for protesters, Or you may be on the receiving end of handling controversy when your security team oversteps good-sense limits or the First Amendment during a protest situation. Or you might have a thousand protesters sitting in your lobby with no intention of leaving, hunger, and a need for restrooms.

Whether you're at a corporation, on a university campus, or working for a nonprofit, and no matter where your location may be, the smart comms pro will be armed with these facts and resources before the crowd arrives:
  1. Brief your team on their rights during protests and police actions: It makes sense to buy and share with your team these wallet cards from the American Civil Liberties Union that summarize your rights for demonstrations and protests,when you are stopped or detained by police, and when you are stopped or detained for photographing or videotaping.The link above takes you to the variety pack with 10 cards for each of the three topics above, or 30 in total, for just $10.99. (I don't get anything for sharing this, but the small fee and the shipping do benefit ACLU.) It's a small investment, but one that means your team will be ready in case something goes wrong.
  2. Understand your state laws about recording conversations: The Digital Media Law Project shares these state laws and guidance for recording phone calls and conversations; in America, as of 2014, 11 states required the consent of both parties before such recordings are made. Make sure your team is up to speed on pertinent laws in your state before they head out to record interviews and convos.
  3. Work through how you'll get work done virtually or on the move: Are you prepared, as a colleague of mine used to say, to run your comms shop in a parking lot out of your purse and cellphone? If not, sit down with your team and come up with systems that will make it easy for all of you to do your work with mobile devices and out of the office.
  4. Have a sit-down with your organization's security team: If you have not done so (and you should do this at least annually), meet with the security team at your company, university, or nonprofit. Discuss how they will handle protests, and share your input on what that will look like when shared on social media and covered in traditional media. Make sure they have access to the same rights information your team does, so they are not inadvertently violating the rights of others. Share with them Arresting photographers: What should your security team know in an age of cellphone cameras? and "We'll just arrest the reporters:" What's your security team communicating? to get the conversation going. And ask them: Would they try arresting reporters? Or protesters? Why? When? You may need to include others in the discussion, but it's worth having before the trouble arrives at your door.
  5. Know your local police contacts: Get in touch with your police department--both the station that oversees your area, and the public information officer--to introduce yourself, exchange contact info, and talk about what happens in the event of a protest. Ask how your employees should be identified during a public demonstration to avoid arrest. Ask how they are likely to handle a swarm of protestors on your property. Then share what your company or organization would prefer. Loop your security folks into this discussion, please, or ask to be included when they reach out.
  6. Have the pizza factor ready: I'm not kidding. Buying pizza for protesters is one of the smarter ways to handle a sit-in or other invasion of your organization's property, and looks so much better than, say, calling in extra guards. It would not go amiss to have a few pizza parlor phone numbers in your shared contacts for just the right moment. And while you're at it, open your lobby-level restrooms if protesters are nearby. The Smithsonian museums got a lot of love by doing so during the Women's March on Washington, while maintaining their screening and visitor policies.
  7. Reach out to your physical neighbors: Your organization might not have a lot in common with the business/nonprofit/hotel/campus next door, but during a protest or other fast-moving crowd action, you'll save a lot of time by making yourself known to your communications counterparts in nearby buildings. Again, share contact info, ask how they are prepared to act, and do this ahead of time.
What else would you add to this list? Head to Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ at the links below to continue the conversation.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Jason)

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