The show Whale Wars on Animal Planet features Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and a crew of passionate animal rights activists who sail the Antarctic seas in an effort to stop Japanese harpoon ships from killing whales. The Japanese claim they’re doing nothing wrong, since they’re allowed to kill a certain quota of whales per year for research. Watson disagrees. He and his crew take aggressive tactics like launching butyric acid onto the decks of the Japanese ships, a chemical that isn’t harmful to humans, but smells awful and renders whale meat unsellable.
His extreme views got him kicked off of the Greenpeace board in the 1970s, but didn’t stop him from applying direct interventionist tactics to the cause of saving whales. Watson is a polarizing character, without question – you either love him or you hate him. As a PR person, I love working with loose cannons, although I’ve never had the opportunity to work with someone quite so extreme. Not everyone would agree with me.
Let’s put aside the fact that Watson has one of the most popular shows on Animal Planet right now (a PR dream in and of itself). What makes working with people like him so redeeming?
1) They’re controversial. Watson is so appealing to journalists and polarizing to people because of his no-holds-barred opinions and controversial views. In an overly messaged world, these types of opinions shouldn’t be stifled for the sake of media coaching.
2) They’re exciting, unpredictable and quotable. Watson often flies off the handle when something goes awry on the ship, all in the name of being passionate about whales. People working in environmental industries have similar opportunities to get real – and get loud – about what they’re doing in the world. What makes you tick? What makes you ticked off?
3) What you see is what you get. Watson may be controversial, but he’s honest. He wants animal and environmental advocates to donate to his organization, because –aggressive or not– they’re the only ones making moves to actively stop whaling in the Antarctic oceans. If you’re with him, you’re with him! It’s important for the public to transparently understand the views of a corporate or nonprofit leader if they’re going to invest or donate to a cause.
Just a disclaimer – I tend to work with smaller organizations and nonprofits, rather than politicians or major public figures. Wouldn’t advise someone like Barack to be a loose cannon, but it helps if a lesser-known exec has a little oomph.
Paul Watsons and loose cannons of the world – I argue you’re a PR dream. I’m sure no one could convince you otherwise.