Campaign: WasteGo landfill site copes with controversy - Issues Management

Campaign: EU Landfill Directive

Client: WasteGo

PR Team: Wide PR/Alan Gold PR

Timescale: 28 June-16 July 2004

Budget: Part of retainer

In December 2003, landfill site WasteGo, near Peterborough, became the first such site in the UK to process only hazardous waste, under an EU Landfill Directive that came into force on 16 July. The site became a focus for national and local interest as the July deadline approached and WasteGo hired Wide PR and Alan Gold PR to protect its reputation.

However, within three weeks, the situation developed into a potential crisis when WasteGo fell into dispute with the Environment Agency.

Objectives

To construct positive relations with the media, while ensuring residents were kept up to date with developments.

To establish WasteGo as an industry expert on hazardous waste.

Strategy and Plan

As WasteGo's traditional media and community relations policy was to refuse interviews and site visits, it had a history of negative coverage, often fuelled by complaints from local residents. The PR team's main strategy therefore was one of openness, education and proactivity.

The PR teams prepared a briefing document for journalists, underlining that the European regulations were good for the UK.

The team also established a round-the-clock press office and news monitoring service, and planned a newsletter for local residents.

To attract political support, environment minister Elliot Morley and local MEP and member of the EU Environment Committee Phillip Whitehead were invited to visit the site.

However, on 16 July, a procedural dispute broke out between WasteGo and the Environment Agency, resulting in the closure of the site.

The PR teams had to stress to the media - which suspected a health scare and licensing problems, interpreting the situation as a forced closure - the mundane reality behind the closure.

Through a hectic Friday afternoon, the PR teams worked to contact all relevant press and broadcast outlets to put forward WasteGo's case that it had closed voluntarily, rather than been forced to shut by the authorities.

In addition, on crisis day, in the absence of the firm's chairman and MD, the company provided a spokesperson and access to its site for TV crews.

Measurement and Evaluation

The story featured on Radio 4's You and Yours, BBC TV news broadcasts and Anglia News, while local print interest was gained from the Stamford Mercury. Further interest is expected from the Sunday Express.

In-house evaluation showed that many of WasteGo's key messages were put across, despite some negative 'toxic dump' epithets and counter-claims on the firm's position from the Environment Agency.

Results

All coverage represented WasteGo's opinion, but BBC East Midlands Today reporter Simon Hare points out that it was difficult for the media to decide whether WasteGo's closure was voluntary or enforced.

'But fair play, WasteGo let us on site to do our live 6.30pm report, so it looked open and transparent about the whole thing,' he adds.

WasteGo is now maintaining a proactive media relations policy, while building on relationships with key journalists, politicians and residents through site visits and open days.

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