A terrific scene in the movie Hoosiers takes place when one of Gene Hackman’s players fouls out of the game. Rather than replace the player with the team member being disciplined on the bench, Hackman tells the ref, “My team’s on the floor.” The camera cuts to a shot of Dennis Hopper in the stands, marveling at Hackman’s commitment to his principles.
I marveled in the same way when I read BlackFish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s response to SeaWorld’s plan to double the size of its killer whale habitats. Rather than give SeaWorld relief from the relentless assault on its brand, Cowperthwaite said, “ … [T]he problem is, instead of changing their business model, they’re doubling down.”
Activist groups are driven by their cause. While a corporate shakedown is often the ultimate objective, activists are true believers who will never be satisfied by half measures. Corporations must understand that you cannot appease activist groups with partial concessions or by agreeing to just some demands. These compromises only project weakness and telegraph to activist groups that victory is in sight.
If an activist campaign has reached the point that it’s receiving national attention and cutting into sales, you’ve got only two choices to make it stop: 1) Agree to the group’s demands, or 2) Give them power and invite them as partners into your reform process. As PETA said in their statement about SeaWorld’s new plans, “A bigger prison is still a prison.”