PR Team: Fishburn Hedges
Campaign: Promoting plastic carrier bag re-use
Timescale: Two months planning prior to 18 October launch
The Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) launched an initiative in May 1999 called 'Are you doing your bit?' that aims to encourage people to take simple everyday steps to help protect their local, and ultimately, global environment.
The tone of the campaign is light-hearted and non-hectoring, while at the same time placing the emphasis on the personal and collective benefits of individual actions. This was the latest stage in the overall campaign.
To create awareness of the volume of plastic bags used every year, and to encourage people to cut down on the amount of bags used, either through re-using their existing bags, or taking advantage of schemes such as 'Bags for Life' (a Tesco initiative where customers can buy a long-lasting carrier bag for 10p - this can be replaced free of charge once unusable).
The campaign also aimed to emphasise that re-using carrier bags was acceptable behaviour, and even to highlight their 'fashionability'. Also to address any stigma attached to reusing plastic bags by emphasising bags' normality and even 'fashionability'. The target audience was housewives and children.
Strategy and Plan
FH has been running the 'campaign extension' programme, of which media relations forms a major part, for 18 months, and was asked to develop a campaign around waste reduction to run in October.
Existing research showed that there is already a high level of awareness about recycling, so the campaign concentrated on a reuse message, and reusing plastic bags was chosen as the focus for a simple environmental action to promote.
FH commissioned national and regional research through NOP Solutions to find out about the way people reuse their plastic bags.
The survey found that most people would choose to reuse a humble supermarket carrier bag rather than anything else, even designer plastic bags. On top of this, the number of plastic bags used per day - some eight million - was split into regional, household and individual figures.
The area all these bags would cover was calculated to be 200,000 times the size of Oxford Street. Media in the south-east were informed of this in order to increase the story's appeal to a particular sector of the media.
A celebrity spokesperson was sourced in the form of Michaela Strachan.
She is a keen spokesperson on environmental issues and her reputation as a daytime and children's presenter was thought to appeal to the target audience.
Strachan was quoted in the release and was available for pre-launch and on-the-day interviews. Photographs of her buried in plastic bags were pre-shot and distributed to the press, and Radio Results was employed to line up radio interviews with Strachan on the launch day.
The distribution of the press release was handled by the DETR, with regional COI press officers handling distribution and sell in to local media.
Measurement and Evaluation
Different media used the story in a variety of ways, from 'outing' plastic-bag carrying celebrities on the Big Breakfast, such as Baby Spice and Oasis star Noel Gallagher's new girlfriend, to spoof fashion stories on Meridien TV.
No official evaluation has yet been completed, but national and regional media coverage was achieved. Although the release was timed for Wednesday 18 October, coverage continued into the weekend, moving from news stories on the day of launch to more discursive programmes and features towards the end of the week.
National broadcast coverage included The Big Breakfast, the Today programme, You and Yours, the News Quiz and Radio Five.
National press coverage included the Daily Mail, Evening Standard, the Daily Express and the Guardian.
Regional broadcasters and press also extensively covered the campaign.
The story not only obtained widespread news coverage, but sparked a debate that lifestyle and feature journalists were keen to pick up on, extending the coverage as the week continued.
A fortnight ago FH helped set up a web site, www.useitagain.org.uk, which extends the 'Are you doing your bit' campaign and has competitions and information on environmental issues.