Interview: Ben Stewart

The head of media at Greenpeace says the campaign group used technology to raise the profile of its climb up the Shard

Ben Stewart
Ben Stewart

Ben Stewart, head of media at Greenpeace, is recovering from a hectic few months planning its latest stunt.

The global campaigning organisation is revelling in the global media attention it attracted last month when six of its activists scaled the Shard, the 72-storey skyscraper in London. The climb was designed to raise awareness of Shell's drilling practices in the Arctic.

The group, which is already proficient at using social media to promote its cause, pulled out all the stops to cover the event online, which Stewart believes contributed to the worldwide coverage it received.

"We do a lot of activity that people might see as being as dramatic as the Shard climb, but this was the first time we really looked at how to maximise the technology available to us to raise awareness of what the climbers were doing," says Stewart.

The Ice Climb, as it became known, was streamed live on a specially designed microsite, using footage from helmet cameras that the climbers were wearing and including a running commentary by Greenpeace staff for the duration of the 16-hour ascent. At times, more than 13,000 people viewed the video live.

"Before the event we had been considering which celebrities we should encourage to call in to the show, but we dropped the idea because we didn't think we'd have more than a few hundred watching," says Stewart.

The organisation also hoped it would get 31,000 sign-ups in support, but had achieved more than 75,000 at the time of publication.

The stunt was promoted on Twitter using the hashtag #Iceclimb, and activists were sent to Shoreditch and Old Street, where several news and PR agencies are based, to hand out leaflets that encouraged people to talk about the climb online.

When considering these types of activities, Stewart admits, the group has more options than other organisations in the sector because it is not a registered charity.

"It's difficult to get media," says Stewart. "But all of us have it within us to create compelling content. Campaigning organisations need to rethink how they are engaging with the public and find different ways to communicate with people."

He points to the climb as a departure from some of the organisation's previous stunts because it asked the public to follow what was happening in real time.

"This was new for us because we were inviting the public on a journey," says Stewart. "We were asking them to join us as we were doing it, rather than going to them when it was already done, and we didn't know if we'd even be able to do it."

However, despite this uncertainty, the climb made it into most of the national media outlets. Stewart says press cuttings from around the world continue to come in.

"The climbers are now famous in their countries and they have been doing the chat show circuits," says Stewart. "It's got a long tail and people are still talking about it. Nothing we have done before has been as successful as this. It's our Sergeant Pepper moment - we've done something differently and now there's no going back."

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