Campaign: Compost week targets garden owners

Compost Awareness Week, first developed in Canada, was staged in the UK for the first time in 2001. Its aim is to promote the use of peat-free and reduced-peat composts, which contain recycled materials that would otherwise be sent to landfill sites.

Campaign Compost Awareness Week
Client Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap)
PR team Ptarmigan and in-house
Timescale 7-13 May 2006
Budget £55,000

The week of activity is promoted by a number of recycling organisations, but for the past two years has been backed by government-supported waste reduction body Wrap.

To raise awareness that peat-free and reduced-peat composts contain recycled materials, including grass cuttings. To reach all those with a garden, not just keen gardeners, and urge them to carry out home composting. To drive sales of greener peat-compost alternatives.

Strategy and Plan
After analysing previous campaigns, Wrap's PR team and Ptarmigan decided the most effective strategy would be a combination of media relations and face-to-face promotion. The previous year's campaign featured an open-topped Compost Bus, which travelled around the UK, and this was again used for the 2006 awareness week.

The bus passed through towns and cities including Manchester and Coventry, where previous research had revealed a low awareness of the need to recycle.

National press were contacted as the vehicle neared well-known locations such as The Royal Horticultural Society's Harlow Carr Garden in Harrogate, and the internationally renowned Botanical Gardens at Kew.

The PR team also arranged photo opportunities, and promoted messages around composting on the bus at each stop. They gave advance feature opportunities to specialist gardening media, and drafted in celebrity gardeners Chris Beardshaw (the Flying Gardener) and Charlie Dimmock (of Ground Force fame) to endorse the campaign.

The green-fingered TV personalities took part in photoshoots and appeared on a promotional DVD. Meanwhile, renowned wildlife artist Mark Anderson created a ten-foot recreation of Van Gogh's Sunflowers in peat-free compost at Kew.

Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign was covered by the Mail on Sunday, The Sunday Times and BBC2's Gardeners' World, where host Monty Don presented the show from the Compost Bus's top deck.

The awareness week was covered regionally on two radio stations and in 20 newspapers. Among specialist publications, it was featured in Gardeners' Monthly.

The bus was visited by 7,060 people, who were given vouchers for greener compost products as well as informative literature. Latest figures show that to date, 12 per cent of these vouchers have been redeemed.

Polls at each bus event show that 94 per cent of visitors were more likely to buy greener compost as a result of the campaign. In Greater Manchester, orders for compost bins more than doubled during the awareness week, from the average of 1,146 units a week to 2,843 receptacles.

Gardeners' Monthly editor Liz Dobbs says: ‘Ptarmigan came to visit us in Kent, which made everything easier. We also got access to Dimmock, who is now a columnist for us.'


Neil Honor,  managing director of brand marketing at Communique PR:
We have a saying up north that where there's muck there's brass, but I'd never considered the possibility that where there's compost, there's PR gold.

Usually, any mention of an awareness week has me reaching for the ‘off' button, but there's no denying that they can still help a featherweight news contender to punch above its weight. I give top marks for getting Gardeners' World onto the bus. Celebrities such as Chris Beardshaw and Charlie Dimmock also helped.

My question though would be this: what about that objective to raise awareness ‘among all those with a garden'? You're more likely to find them in the gardening section of Focus DIY on a Saturday, and I would have liked to see a bit more creativity in reaching them.

I'm also slightly surprised that - from what I can tell - the campaign only made it onto two radio stations. Half a day of down-the-line interviews would easily have yielded ten times that number, and could have helped drive traffic to the Compost Bus as it toured the country. Perhaps Chris and Charlie had other commitments that week?

Since this campaign ran, environmental responsibility has rocketed to the top of the news agenda and looks set to stay there, so it would be interesting to see next year's campaign leveraging some of the wider issues around the guardianship of our planet, and the role gardeners can play.

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