Case Study: Occupy the London Stock Exchange

How a camp of protesters has used communication methods from which many charities could learn

Occupy the London Stock Exchange
Occupy the London Stock Exchange

Protesters from Occupy the London Stock Exchange have been dominating headlines since they set up camp outside St Paul's Cathedral on 15 October.

The anti-capitalist group has not only gained widespread coverage in the UK, but also captured the attention of the world's media, from Fox News in the US to the Hindustan Times of India.

Not all reports have been positive. Nevertheless, many charities campaigning on similar issues, such as social justice and financial reform, no doubt envy such widespread and high-profile coverage.

So what are the key ingredients for establishing such a high-impact campaign? Third Sector put this question to Occupy London protesters during a recent visit to the camp site.

The organisation's communications strategy is based on several factors: spontaneity, social media and a strong focus on the grass-roots origins of the movement and the plight of ordinary people.

The timing of the protest has also been crucial to maximising its impact, according to Peter Vaughan, a history and politics graduate and one of up to 10 protesters who run the makeshift media centre - based, ironically, in a branch of Starbucks, opposite the cathedral.

"We've captured the buzz that was created after Occupy Wall Street," says Vaughan. "If we'd organised this three months ago it wouldn't have had as much impact."

Twenty cities across the UK held protests from 15 October after a Twitter and Facebook campaign. Most lasted a day or two, but the London protest continued.

The movement has been backed by some voluntary organisations, including Positive Money, which campaigns for banking reform, and UK Uncut, which opposes the public spending cuts. Vaughan joined the campaign after hearing about it on Facebook.

Fellow protester Naomi Colvin, who describes her role in the media team as "strategic messaging and crisis management", believes social media has been crucial in getting messages out.

The campaign's Twitter feed has more than 16,000 followers, which compares favourably with many well-established charities. "To engage people using social media, you need to have some personality in your communications," says Colvin.

A great deal of the communications work has been reactive, but Vaughan says he can call on up to 30 protesters in response to requests for interviews.

"We've been giving the media lots of different voices from the camp, such as an unemployed man, a part-time care worker and a retired man who had his pension cut," he says.

Does he think charities should follow suit and adopt similar direct action tactics?

"We have a horizontal structure," he says. "Perhaps it's harder for charities because their rigid structures work against spontaneous campaigns.

"It's important to be creative. We're doing this our own way, using the camp as a hub to bring people together and start a dialogue. It's already become a launch-pad for other campaigns."

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