Does hiring a mole blacken coal corporation's image?

mole.jpg You can hire a full size, mole costume from Animal Mascots.

This piece by NZ journo Marta Steeman interviews several specialist commentators after news that Kiwi State coalminer Solid Energy received a rebuke from the Government for using a paid informant to spy on a group of anti-mining ‘Eco’ protesters, the Save Happy Valley Coalition.
So how should a coal company handle protest groups who can be extreme in their views, who are prepared to break the law and who can be hell-bent on disrupting business? For the record, this is pretty much what I tried to communicate in my interview with Marta:

M: How should a company handle ongoing activist disruptions?
G: It looks like Solid Energy’s early engagement strategy hasnt worked for them; the media escalation means Solid Energy has to take SHVC more seriously, and dont underestimate them – think back to the McLibel farce, for a reminder. Eco issues (we’re all in this together) are hugely emotional at present and of great media interest, so discussion not dismissal will better generate an appropriate profile. Dialogue is the key to progress from a perception management view, especially as the battle is a perceptual one (not just a greenfield one) being fought in the minds of media watchers, commentators and the NZ public, not just the business arena.

M: Is using investigators unwise for a state-owned business?
G: The use of their ‘coal mole’ isn’t flattering; in fact it looks underhand and unethical. Information gathering is a legitimate part of horizon scanning and corporate intelligence, but as this instance echoes the Hewlett Packard ‘spy scandal’, which saw a CEO stepdown, it reflects poorly on a quasi-govt agency.

M: Should a CEO should know about his contractors methods and processes?
G: The captain of a ship doesnt need to know what’s cooking in the ship kitchen, but if there’s a poisoning outbreak, he needs to fess up to the responsibility; but Don Elder (Solid Energy CEO) believed his contractors behaved ethically and morally. His ‘tone of voice’ was strident, unapologetic and almost arrogant, in responding to legitimate concerns about the spy scandal. The CEOs role is to add value and ensure that corporate reputation is well perceived and regarded; how does this square with the current furore? The CEO should also be maintaining standards expected in an environment concerned about ecology and transparency. The buck stops at the CEO’s desk. This goes for the SHVC, too; their notional ‘CEO’ are not innocents in this situation; they should be held fully accountable for their tactics and plans as well.

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