Media Relations: CDOC's effort helps rebuild the media's interest in recycling

California has a much-deserved reputation as a health-conscious state, but that comes with a surprising environmental cost. Each day, residents toss out more than 2 million plastic water bottles, despite the fact that these items can be redeemed and recycled. In order to educate Californians about plastic-container recycling, the state's Department of Conservation (CDOC) turned to the LA office of Riester-Robb Public Relations to manage an aggressive community relations campaign aimed at raising the profile of the water bottle.

California has a much-deserved reputation as a health-conscious state, but that comes with a surprising environmental cost. Each day, residents toss out more than 2 million plastic water bottles, despite the fact that these items can be redeemed and recycled. In order to educate Californians about plastic-container recycling, the state's Department of Conservation (CDOC) turned to the LA office of Riester-Robb Public Relations to manage an aggressive community relations campaign aimed at raising the profile of the water bottle.

Strategy

A challenge for the CDOC and Riester-Robb was to generate media interest in a subject that today seems a bit old-hat. "It's not easy to get mainstream press to cover recycling, especially in a state with celebrity saturation, an energy crisis, and so on," says Dave Reiseman, Riester-Robb account supervisor.

The CDOC decided to single out water bottles in part because they've become so ubiquitous in many offices and homes. CDOC director Daryl Young says, "It was important that we not get sidetracked with all the different beverage containers that could be involved." In addition to providing the media with statistics, the agency settled on the image of an average Californian with a cell phone in one hand and a water bottle in the other to drive home their message.

Tactics

Riester-Robb began its work in April 2003 by doing extensive media training of CDOC officials from around the state. The firm also created a media kit that included the CDOC report detailing the environmental costs of unrecycled water bottles, as well as a one-page call to action for consumers. "Once we had the media's attention, what we really wanted to do was wake up consumers to some trends and show them how they could make a difference," says Reiseman.

When it came time to begin media outreach, Riester-Robb decided to offer the story exclusively to the Los Angeles Times first, knowing that once it was in print, other media outlets would begin chasing it. In order to further whet reporters' appetites, the CDOC didn't put out a press release until May 29, a full day after the Times story. When it did spring into action, however, it was a statewide, full-on media assault. CDOC spokespeople flew to locations around California to do interviews, which was followed up by an SMT, as well as a national interview with CNN.

Riester-Robb also targeted California's huge Hispanic and Asian populations by doing desk-side meetings with papers like The Korean Times and following up Spanish-language news releases with calls from bilingual agency employees.

Results

The campaign generated more than 41 million media impressions, including national stories from the AP, CNN, and the CBS Evening News. The ethnic outreach resulted in coverage in La Opinion and Hispanic morning show Despierta America.

More important, the effort has resulted in a significant rise in the amount of water bottles being recycled in California. It has also triggered a flood of calls to the CDOC from businesses wanting to know how they can start their own recycling programs.

"We were very happy with the campaign," Young says. "We weren't just a client -we like to roll up our sleeves and become partners. They understood that."

Future

The CDOC and Riester-Robb are in the early stages of setting up a new targeted recycling campaign for the state this summer. While declining to give details, Reiseman did hint, "You'd be amazed how much beer Californians are drinking."

PR team: California Dept. of Conservation (Sacramento) and Riester-Robb Public Relations (Los Angeles)

Campaign: The Water Bottle Campaign

Time frame: April through September 2003

Budget: $88,000

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