The elements of a success story.

On 5 November 2009 in Brussels, the Humane Society International’s “Ban the cruel seal trade” campaign was recognised as the Campaign of the Year at the European Public Affairs Awards 2009.

In accepting the award, Mark Glover of HSI reminded the packed auditorium that the campaign had saved the lives of a quarter of a million seals in 2009 alone before the ban had even come into force and, hopefully, would continue to do so in the future. The award was poignant as, earlier in the week, the Canadian and Norwegian governments announced their intention to challenge the EU trade ban in the World Trade Organisation.

The EPA Campaign of the Year Award is a fitting tribute to a programme that was innovative and persistent and, as a result, highly effective. Yet it could easily have been lost but for the determination of the team never to take “No” (or, at times, “Yes”) for an answer!

Scroll down to review the story of a successful campaign for a noble cause – banning the trade in seal products in the European Union.

Here are some highlights:

  • personal meetings with over 150 MEPs
  • a petition that gathered over 220,000 signatures
  • an unexpected landslide vote in favour of amendments for a total trade ban promoted by HSI in the EP’s Internal Market Committee
  • a decisive Parliamentary vote 550 “for”, 49 “against” for a first reading package agreed with Council which contained all HSI’s key positions
  • converting an insufficient simple majority in Council to a decisive qualified majority because HSI brought forward the right legal and market arguments to counter critics
  • 300,000 young seals were not slaughtered this year (out of a Canadian government quota of c. 360,000) as the market for seal pelts collapsed in anticipation of EU legislation

The Humane Society International was successful at obtaining its objectives when the entire Canadian government and diplomatic corps was deployed all across Europe to defeat it. To reach a seemingly impossible objective, we had to find new techniques. One of the reasons for the success was the outstanding way in which classical advocacy of the EU institutions was supplemented and strengthened by innovative and highly effective political communications in the public eye (through advertising, PR activities and online campaigning) which ensured that the advocacy gains were sustained to the end.

Scroll down below to view the key elements of the campaign, showing the range of the work carried out.

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If you think the HSI campaign deserves recognition, then we’d be grateful if you would vote for it (and for any of the other awards that are to be discerned). If you prefer to vote for another nominee, then that is great too – the more votes that are cast the better!


12 weeks of advertising in the European Voice

paperCredit photo: Fuel design

One of the reasons for the success of this campaign is the outstanding way in which classical advocacy of the EU institutions was supplemented and strengthened by innovative and highly effective political communications in the public eye (through advertising, PR activities and online campaigning) which ensured that the advocacy gains were sustained to the end. This was epitomised by the Europen Voice advertisement (one in a series of 12 conceived and executed every week immediately before publication to respond to the immediate needs of the campaign) which urged “Do the Right Thing, Mr. President” at a crucial moment when it looked as if the Commission might capitulate on its hitherto strongly supportive stance.

There was a new problem to address every Thursday, twelve thursdays in a row, making it one of the more noticed campaigns in the paper’s history. And while our teams in Canada were on the ice floats to witness the massacre of thousands of seals, they provided us with immediate, strong imagery to match our subtle words.

Thursday 19th February 2009

20090219  Ban the Cruel Seal Trade_01

Thursday 26th February

20090226 Doomed to Die_01

Thursday 05th March

20090305 A Bloody Fate_01

Thursday 12th March

20090312 The EU can save me_01

Thursday 19th March

20090319  Ban the Cruel Seal Trade_01

Thursday 26th March – Our teams in Canada send daily pictures of the seal hunt. This photo was taken mere days before publication.

20090326 End the slaughter_01

Thursday 2nd April

20090402 Do the right thing, Mr. President_01

Thursday 09th April

20090409 Life after the slaughter_01

Thursday 16th April – see our national ads at that time, too!

20090416The EU can stop this_01

Thursday, 23rd April20090423 Dont give in_01

Thursday 30th April 2009 – It’s the week before the vote, last chance to talk directly to MEPs!

20090430 MEPs Make history_01

Thursday, 7th May 2009 – The text has been adopted, the seal trade is banned in the EU. There is only one thing to say that day…

20090507 Thank you_01

Credit photo: Fuel design

Meeting the players

The HSI team worked the Brussels field for over a year, meeting decision makers in the European Parliament, the Perm Reps and the European Commission to make their case. We were up against the diplomatic weapons of the Canadian government, so it was important to meet as many officials as possible, and explain relentlessly why the trade in seal products should be banned.

Over the months preceding the vote, we met over 150 MEPs face-to-face, almost all Environment officials in Perm Reps, and senior Members of the Commissioners Cabinet. Some ads even helped us securing meetings. During these meetings, we gave out documents explaining the details of this very complex issues, be it reports or traditional position papers.

Traditional lobbying – position papers

The campaign was also relying on the traditional lobbying materials such as position papers. As the issue was followed by many different Committees, there were choices to be made for each vote, position papers and voting lists to be adapted to each Committee.

Read the HSI position paper for the IMCO (Leading) Committee

Read the HSI position paper for the AGRI (Opinion) Committee

Reports on internal market, trade, legal basis and Greenland

The issue was technical, and many legal, trade and market issues were to be explained. HSI produced reports on the legal basis of the proposal, on WTO consequences and on consequences of the ban in Greenland, and used them in their meetings with over 150 MEPs, quasi all Member States, and Cabinet Members in the Commission.

See the HSI Greenland handout.

See the report on internal market and the legal basis for the Seal Products Trade Ban

See the HSI WTO Handout.

Posters in Spain

After seeing our campaign in El Pais, Publi 10, the most important poster publishing company in Spain (producing posters for concerts, theater, events, etc…) contacted us to sponsor a poster and email campaign in Spain and all over Europe. They sent about 30,000 emails and plastered this poster in Spain!


Online petition – Over 220,000 signatories

The website featured an online form to sign the petition to end the trade in seal products. The petition was also present on Facebook, and ended up gathering over 220,000 signatories around the world.


To the big screen – Giant messaging in Brussels and Strasbourg

Because bigger is better, we set up a giant LED screen in Brussels – twice – and in Strasbourg.

The screens broadcasted our message non-stop during a few days each time, called to sign the online petition and summarized our main arguments. We made a point to suggest the violent of the hunt rather than bluntly showing violence, and after years spent observing seals and their family, we had plenty of cute images to show!

In Strasbourg, the screen was up from 8.00 to 10.00 pm every days leading to the vote. And as soon as the text was adopted, we found time to change the film to a new one thanking MEPs for their historic decision!

The screen in Brussels



Click on the picture below to watch the movie!


The screen in Strasbourg



Click on the image below to see the thank you video!


Photo credits: Humane Society International and Marcus Gyger.