beyond the press release


Occupy What?

If ever there was a group in America that could benefit from a public relations team -- or some PR counsel -- it’s the Wall Street protesters and their increasingly global counterparts. Penn State or the recently released Jack Abramoff? I wouldn’t even bother…

The protesters may number in the tens of thousands, cut across demographic, cultural and socioeconomic lines, and are handy fodder in GOP political debates when the talk of 9-9-9 grows old. But when it comes to effectively disseminating what they stand for, millions of Americans throw up their hands in, well, protest, and draw a blank.

Considering their growing clout, that’s not a good sign.

A CNN/ORC International poll released earlier this month revealed a major disconnect between the protesters’ aims and what people think they stand for. They’re having an identity crisis, you say?



Not at all, they simply don’t have one.

Nearly half of those polled (40%) said they had no idea what the movement stood -- or stands -- for. Another 27% said they had a negative view of the overall cause – even if they were still fuzzy on the specifics. People I know who have taken part in the sit-ins, stand-ins, and protests have become disillusioned with the lack of organization or united message.

As someone who spends her days (and nights) helping companies develop and communicate a united and coherent message, I have to admit that I, too, would have trouble drafting up, say, four or five critical aims the group is trying to accomplish.

I think I know the basics: they are known as the Wall Street protestors or Occupy Wall Street, and spinoff groups or self-identifiers have cropped up  across the globe, from Lower Manhattan to Oakland to Miami, to cities in Europe to as far away as Guam – the island, literally, not the expression. Their aim, or rather, their manifesto “is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations,” according to the group’s website.

But beyond carrying signs saying they represent 99% of the not-so-silent majority, brandishing megaphones, and getting into skirmishes with law enforcement, what exactly are they doing, and what, specifically, has been achieved by the group’s existence?

The truth is, not too much. But asking the above questions is exactly the type of maturing the Occupy Wall Street movement needs if it wants to be taken seriously in the long run. There are too many overnight successes, start-ups and movements that are forgotten as quickly as they rose to (limited) fame.

It’s time for Occupy Wall Street to embrace a modicum of corporate structure and communications strategy, and better disseminate what it hopes to achieve. Ranking second on a Google search is just not enough. If it wants to fight corporate America, it has to put itself in corporate America’s shoes – if only for a few moments, or hours.

Granted, in terms of civil (mostly) non-violence and grassroots organizations, the “occupiers” are babies, and still have a long way to go. For comparison, it’s easy to associate the civil rights movement with the decade of the Sixties, but its stirrings and undercurrents had been set in motion decades and generations before. Even with that slow burn, over time, civil rights moved from restaurant table sit-ins and hard-fought bus seats, to the top of the national agenda. Only then, finally, did meaningful change sweep across the country and flesh out its most discriminatory backwaters.

Whether the Wall Street protestors recognize it or not, the success, durability, and health of our citizen’s democracy has long been able to absorb these types of splinter groups and incorporate their values into the middle class, and through the legislative pen and ballot box, effect meaningful change. The road to that change may begin with street signs and protests, but it continues with a smart, cohesive, well-publicized public relations-honed message.

Here’s hoping that in our instant-gratification society, the Wall Street protesters grow up fast. I’m sure they have a lot to say and can definitely benefit by taking their message – whenever they work out what it is -- in multiple directions. Their actions and their words may have a tremendous impact on our future.

So I’m ready to listen, and I think so is the rest of that 99%. Still. For now.




2 comments about "Occupy What?".
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  1. Mark Kolier from moddern marketing, November 18, 2011 at 10:53 a.m.

    Well done Vanessa. I imagine there are many people (like me) that have similar feelings and you've expressed it well.

  2. Susan Von Seggern from SvS PR, November 18, 2011 at 1:51 p.m.

    Taken seriously? They have been taken seriously enough to completely change the media discussion (everywhere except Fox News) about taxes, labor, income distribution and more. In the last month 650k people have moved their money from big banks to local banks and credit unions (7x the usual monthly #). Just because people entrenched in the current (but rapidly changing) version of consensus reality don't "get" OWS, doesn't mean it's not getting the point across.

    As far as "If it wants to fight corporate America, it has to put itself in corporate America’s shoes" that will not be happening with this iteration of the OWS movement . The whole point of OWS is to NOT do things the old way. And with all the new tools at their disposal, why should they? They've created a worldwide movement in 2 months!

    Longtime media theorist Douglas Rushkoff wrote a great story to this point for CNN at and I think Alernet summarized well what the movement is about at

    As a PR professional I agree that it would be much easier to have media handouts with a lists of demands and leaders to interview, but that isn't what OWS is and clearly not what it needs to be.

    As you say it will evolve over time and perhaps tighter messaging and clear leaders will emerge. For now I would say they are doing amazingly well doing it their way.

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