For 25 years my job was to help save failing organisations. A key part of the rehabilitation process was to ensure they had properly funded, professionally managed public relations strategic plans in place, which were measurable and measured regularly. In May 2012, I was asked by a senior executive of a hunting association to convene a meeting of the other hunting bodies to see whether there was a united way to promote hunting and its benefits, including the important role it played in conservation. The meeting went well and was followed by two meetings with a prominent and well respected PR firm. To date, however, nothing has been done to give effect to their well thought out proposals.
So, I am angry. Angry because, despite many warnings and requests, our amateur hunting bodies have done little or nothing to counter the professional PR of the animal rightists and which they have used for years to revile us hunters, to turn us into the pariahs of the western world and the case of the recently illegally poached lion in Zimbabwe is yet just another example of how pathetically poor they have been. When something like this happens, they are about as prepared as the captain of the Titanic and rush around straightening the deck chairs on the sinking ship. There is no crisis management strategy, there is no well-managed, professional, well-considered, coordinated response. They run around like headless chickens and, when eventually a response is forthcoming, it is poorly written, far too little, far too late and appears only in media which hunters read. This is not public relations. This is preaching to the converted!
I belong to five amateur hunting bodies and I have not come across one article or interview from any of them in a major newspaper, TV channel or radio station producing a cogent, well-reasoned response to all the lion hysteria. Why? And where are the regular articles, month in and month out, in a variety of media, showing the key role hunting plays as one of the pillars of sustainable use and conservation to educate those undecided about the benefits of hunting? And what have they done to educate the media in the first instance? I see Blood Lion and The South African Conservation Success Story documentaries being privately funded but nothing by our hunting bodies. Why? I read article after article by people opposed to hunting. I see them quoted on TV and radio and what is the response of our amateur hunting and conservation bodies? Little or nothing. Why?
I can only think of one answer. None of them has a well-funded, written public relations strategy, backed by a written, measurable and measured action plan, run by a top class, professional public relations firm designed to deal with situations like this. If they did, they would have been well prepared for exactly such an eventuality as the current situation. They would have good relationships – built up over many years – with journalists who would have asked them for their responses before publishing some of the ill-informed garbage they have. They would have been inundated with requests to appear on TV and Radio and been well rehearsed, well prepared and polished in their appearances.
They would have been able to brief the press with well-reasoned and convincing articles based on empirical evidence, showing how hunting is the main pillar on which wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation is built and these articles would have been carried across the media. They would have been unified in their condemnation of illegal poaching, canned and put-and-take killing, as well as the intensive breeding of wildlife to produce animals with exaggerated horn lengths and unnatural colour variants and hybrids. They would have made us proud to be hunters.
Did they, for example, know that the TV program, Carte Blanche, was going to carry an insert on hunting on Sunday 9 September? And, if they did, why did they not secure an invitation to put across their views?
Instead, what do we have? It has been left to Rosie Cooney of the IUCN to write the only article I have read recently in response to the illegal lion killing that can remotely be seen to fit the above bill and I set out a copy of it below. I also set out an open letter I wrote two and a half years ago to all hunters, including the executives of the hunting and conservation associations to which I belong. It gives me no pleasure now to say, “I told you so”. It gives me no pleasure to contemplate the excuses, the angry and nasty words that will be flung around now but, the long and the short of it is, they have failed us.
It is not as if they do not have the money. It can only be that they are either incompetent or living in a fool’s paradise or both. No business of any size in the private sector is run without a coherent, written public relations strategy backed up by a detailed, written action plan. How in Heaven’s name could the executives of our organisations possibly think that, under the ever growing threats we have been under for years, we could continue to survive as is, let alone prosper, without something similar?
As a senior officer bearer of a hunting association branch said, “Just because we are an amateur hunting body does not mean we want to be managed in an amateur manner… And we must not think because some of us are only shooters or occasional meat hunters that the knock on effect of this attack, which is mainly directed trophy hunting, is not going to affect all hunters and shooters negatively.”
They have failed us. Simple as that. I can only hope that, at the next AGM of your hunting and conservation association, you bear this at the forefront of your mind when you vote for the candidates. Things cannot continue as if nothing has happened. As if nothing has changed. It is time for all good hunters to stand up and be counted and vote for competent, proactive, business orientated hunters who know how to manage and can bring about the changes needed. Failing this, we need to think seriously about forming, funding and joining a new hunting and conservation organisation based on unashamedly ethical principles with clear, business based plans to represent us properly.
RIP Cecil the lion – what will be his legacy? And who should decide?
Guest post by Rosie Cooney – 31 July 2015
Outrage over the death of Cecil the lion has led to calls for a ban on trophy hunting, but would this have the desired results?
Cecil the lion, a magnificent and much loved senior male, was lured out of a safe haven in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park last week and illegally shot, to endure a protracted and painful death.
Global outrage and calls for a ban on trophy hunting have followed, but what would be the consequences if such a ban was introduced?
Trophy hunting is the “high value” end of hunting, where people (often wealthy and mainly Westerners) pay top dollar to kill an animal. In southern Africa an area close to twice the size of the region’s national parks is used for trophy hunting.
It arouses disgust and revulsion – animals are killed for sport and in some cases (as with lions) not even eaten. Even the millions of weekend recreational hunters filling their freezers are uncertain about trophy hunting.
It seems to have little place in the modern world, where humanity is moving toward an ethical position that increasingly grants animals more of the moral rights that humanity grants (in principle at least) to each other.
So let us move now through the thought bubble where the European Union and North America bans the import of trophies; Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and others ban trophy hunting; the airlines and shipping lines refuse to carry trophies; and the industry dies a slow (or fast) death, ridding the world of this toxic stain on our collective conscience.
Would a ban save lions?
We turn to survey southern Africa, proud of what we have achieved by signing online petitions, lobbying politicians, our Facebook shares and comments. Did we save lions? Have we safeguarded wildlife areas? Have we dealt a death blow to wildlife trafficking? Have we liberated local communities from imperialistic foreign hunters?
Let’s go back to Hwange National Park, the scene of Cecil’s demise. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, responsible for managing this park, derived most of its income for wildlife conservation across the country from trophy hunting. With minimal revenue from central government (not well known for its good governance and transparent resource allocation), it is now in trouble.
Hwange staff have been radically cut, and there is little money for cars or equipment. Bushmeat poaching is on the rise and the rangers are ill equipped to cope. The commonly used wire snares are indiscriminate, and capture lions and other predators, who die agonising and pointless deaths.
Communities pay the price
In Namibia, more than half of the community-owned conservancies (covering 20 per cent of the country) have collapsed because the revenue from non-hunting sources (mainly tourism) is not enough to keep them viable.
Namibia’s innovative communal conservancies have been responsible for dramatic increases in wildlife outside of national parks, including elephant, lion and black rhino over the last 20 years, with income from trophy hunting and tourism encouraging communities to turn their land over to conservation.
Communities retain 100 per cent of benefits from sustainable use of wildlife, including tourism, live sales and hunting – almost 18 million Namibian dollars in 2013.
This money was spent by communities on schools, healthcare, roads, training, and on employing 530 game guards to protect their wildlife. Now it is gone. A few conservancies have managed to find wealthy philanthropic donors – but they cross their fingers the generosity will continue to flow for decades to come.
Communities are angry – they were never asked by the outraged what they thought about this. Few journalists or social media activists ever reflected their side of the story. Their right to make decisions for themselves has been expropriated by foreign people, who are not accountable or responsible for living with wildlife.
Where the conservancies have collapsed, wildlife has largely been wiped out. The bad old days have returned, and wildlife is worth more dead than alive.
Hungry bellies are fed with illegal bushmeat and the armed poaching gangs have moved in. Communities are no longer interested in helping police to protect wildlife, game guard programmes have collapsed for lack of funds, and rhino horns, lion bone and ivory are being shipped illicitly to East Asia.
In South Africa, trophy hunting has stopped, including the small proportion that was “canned” (where the lion is effectively trapped). On the private game reserves that covered some 20 million hectares of the country, though, revenues from wildlife have collapsed.
Those with scenic landscapes that are easy to access and have adequate infrastructure can make enough from photo-tourism to be viable. But other landowners are returning to cattle, goats and crops in order to educate their children, run a car, pay their mortgages.
Wildlife on these lands has largely gone along with its habitat – back to the degraded agriculture landscapes from before the 1970s when wildlife use (including hunting) became legal here. Lions that were on these farmlands are long gone, and those that remain in national parks are shot as problem animals as soon as they leave the park.
Speculative? Yes, but a reasonable prediction. This has happened before.
Bans on trophy hunting in Tanzania (1973-78), Kenya (1977) and Zambia (2000-03) accelerated a rapid loss of wildlife due to the removal of incentives for conservation. Early anecdotal reports suggest this may already be happening in Botswana, which banned all hunting last year.
Let us mourn Cecil, but be careful what we wish for.
Rosie Cooney is chair of the IUCN’s Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy(CEESP)/Species Survival Commission (SSC) Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group. These views do not necessarily reflect those of IUCN.
By Peter Flack
As a businessman I have learned over many years that, for any organisation to succeed, whether it is a club, church, company or country, it needs four things. Firstly, leadership and, preferably, strong, decent, visionary leadership. Secondly, a written plan, something most people call a strategic plan and that plan must be in writing or else it is merely a wish, a hope or a prayer. Thirdly, it requires a management team (who have been intimately involved in the preparation of the strategic plan) to implement it and this management team should be both coherent and cohesive in the sense that they should amongst themselves have all the attributes and skills necessary for such implementation. Finally, the strategic plan should be broken down into small, measurable, bite size bits – an action plan if you like – because unless you measure performance regularly you will almost certainly not obtain the desired result.
The strategic plan breaks down into a number of individual or sub strategies of which one of the most important is the marketing strategic plan. Marketing consists of a number of different facets, namely, sales, advertising, public relations, strategic planning itself and what many people call true marketing, in other words, developing a need in your target market for the products or services which you produce.
Having run a number of companies quoted on stock exchanges in South Africa and around the world and having spoken to many of my peers doing similar things, I can honestly say that none of us would have attempted to run any of these organisations without a dedicated public relations strategy. The obvious question to ask, I suppose, is why?
I clearly remember my introduction to the field of public relations. It was at the start of my first corporate job as a 35 year old CEO of a mining contracting company. I was shown a print advertisement displaying the photograph of a large, grumpy, middle aged man sitting in a big, old fashioned, wooden chair, facing the camera. He had the face of an English bulldog and wore a three piece suit, English brogues and a gold watch chain across his waistcoat. The words beneath the photograph read as follows, “I do not know your name. I do not know the name of your company. I do not know what products or services your company supplies. Now tell me again why you think I should do business with you?”
The man who showed me the photograph and whose firm I have used many times as my public relations expert, went on to explain that everyone has a public image, whether he or she likes it or not. You can either choose to manage that image yourself or the market will do it for you and, in the latter case, you will almost certainly not like the end result.
Both of these examples apply to the hunting industry. The general public do not know what products or services the industry supplies and, as we have not managed or marketed our image, the public has done it for us with the help of animal rightists and the result has been that, as hunters, we are inevitably on the back foot and the defensive when it comes to portraying hunting and the critical role that it plays in conservation whose foundation is built on sustainable use.
To give you an example how many companies, in this case let me call it Company X, make use of professional public relations firms, let me describe the following:
- In the warm summer months, every week, Company X would typically entertain a journalist, investment analyst, banker or investor for lunch during which time X would give him a short fifteen minute presentation (supported by documentation and photographs which he/she could take away), of what X had been doing, what X were currently doing, what X intended to do and how X intended to do it over the next three/six/twelve months.
- During the cold winter months X would take groups of these people on tours of their facilities, always including an overnight stay in order to cultivate these people in a social, as opposed to business, environment.
- The public relations firm was tasked with ensuring that a positive article concerning the affairs of X would appear in a newspaper/magazine/trade journal/on radio/TV, at least once a week/month/quarter.
- The public relations firm also provided a weekly clipping service whereby they provided copies of every publication mentioning X or the businesses with which X was involved.
- X would meet with the head of the public relations firm at least once a fortnight and he would often attend board meetings by invitation as it is critically important that such a person is intimately involved with and up to date concerning all the operations of the company for the simple reason that, should an emergency occur, there is never enough time to then start briefing your public relations firm. It goes without saying that it is also then too late to go and instruct one for the first time.
- One of the objects of the exercise is to ensure that, over time, X becomes the spokesman for their industry and that, whenever there is a major event affecting that industry, X is contacted by the media for comment before anything is published. In addition, and probably more importantly, should X, its staff or the industry itself make a mistake, as one or more of them inevitably will, that X is given an opportunity to comment before X reads about the adverse publicity in a newspaper or listens to it on the radio or watches it on TV.
No one in the hunting industry is doing anything remotely like this and it is, therefore, no wonder that, when we become aware of negative publicity affecting the industry as a whole or one or more of its constituent organisations, that we appear a lot like termites when someone stabs a stick into the nest. We rush out, usually each in a different direction, while the hard, wooden stick is focused and keeps on prodding at the same spot, killing more and more of us termites as we continue to rush out from the same hole.
In May I attended the four day conference of CIC – The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation in Cape Town at which every speaker, almost without fail, mentioned the critical importance of conveying to the general public the vitally important roles that hunting plays – ecologically, economically and culturally – in the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats and how the failure to do so is not only playing into the well organized and well funded hands of the animal rights movement but is having the most dire and detrimental negative effects on wildlife and wildlife habitats.
The major organisations concerning hunting in this country are well known but, for the sake of completeness, let me mention them here, namely, the Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa (CHASA), the Professional Hunting Association of South Africa (PHASA), the South African Hunting and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters) and Wildlife Ranching of South Africa (WRSA). During and after the above conference I met with representatives of these bodies except WRSA – they did not attend – and they agreed, in principle, to the following:
- To hold a joint strategic planning session in order to determine those in areas of common agreement and interest amongst them which could benefit most from being managed by a professional public relations firm.
- The appointment of a professional public relations firm on a three year contract to manage these issues for them.
- The contribution of R20.00 per member per year to fund the fees of the professional public relations firm.
- Once a quarter for each member to:
- Host a lunch for members of the media selected by the public relations firm at which they will provide brief presentations on various aspects of hunting and conservation, in general, and the organisation’s activities, in particular;
- Invite members of the media selected by the public relations firm on an outing to demonstrate practical aspects of hunting and wildlife conservation, for example, to a firing range, a game capture operation, a hunt, a game lodge;
- Provide the public relations firm with information which will support an interesting article on an aspect of hunting and wildlife conservation preferably demonstrating its role in the ecological, economic or cultural aspects of wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation.
Each year the four members will meet, taking turns to do so at one another’s offices, to review the public relations strategy and amend it, from time to time, as may be dictated by prevailing circumstances. As Winston Churchill famously remarked, “I reserve the right to change my mind in perfect harmony with changing circumstances.” Should the members be unable to reach consensus on any of these decisions, then such decisions will be determined by majority vote, each member having one vote for every R20.00 they contribute to the funding of the public relations fees.
To date, none of the above has come to pass despite one or two encouraging meetings amongst the main organisations referred to above.
While it is unlikely that the benefits of the public relations program sketched out above will be fully felt until the third year, unless we start now, that a third year will never come. As a businessman of many years standing, I can honestly say that there may be other ways to manage effectively but, if there are, I not only do not know what they are but I do not know anyone in business who does and this is certainly what I currently teach at University business schools in two provinces. Following this course of conduct has allowed the management teams of a number of companies of which I have been fortunate to form part to turn around their operations from the brink of bankruptcy to success and, in the famous case of Randgold, from a share price of R3.50 to R42.50 in five years.
If we value our hunting; if we would like our children and grandchildren to hunt; if we believe that hunting is part of our cultural heritage; if we believe that, without hunting, in the medium to long term, there will be no wildlife to hunt and no wildlife habitats for them to inhabit; if we believe that hunting makes economic sense for our country then, surely, R20.00 per year per hunter is not too much to ask for and I would urge you, plead with you, beg you to actively support the initiatives of these four organizations not only monetarily but also by offering to host the media on your ranch, by writing articles demonstrating the positive effects of hunting and suggesting members of the media and other opinion makers who would benefit from such exposure.
Most importantly, however, I would ask you to ask the office bearers in your hunting organization why they are not doing anything like this to protect and promote the hunting we all hold so dear.
I thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to read this.