Bottled water under fire: how industry responded

The bottled water industry has been using specialist PR support to deal with mounting scrutiny of its impact on the environment.

Food and drink specialist Richmond Towers Communications has been working behind the scenes for months to head off this week's heavy criticism of the industry.

The agency has run an org­anisation called The Bottled Water Information Office (BWIO) from its office since October 2006, launching off­icially in January 2007.

The BWIO is a subsidiary of The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), fun­ded by members that sell bottled water products, such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé.

Richmond Towers editorial director Simon Mowbray said the purpose of the BWIO was to deal with heightened interest in bottled water and correct inaccuracies.

For example, it has been reported that 13 billion bottles of water are drunk in the UK every year, but the ind­ustry believes this figure is two billion.

The office is also keen to point out that the vast majority of water travels from England or France, whereas a BBC Panorama programme foc­used on Fiji Water, a small, upmarket brand that travels 10,000 miles to the UK. The BWIO also focuses on ‘inf­ormed choice' and the ‘reasons why people chose to drink bottled water'.

Richmond Towers dealt with Monday's Panor­ama inv­estigation, which attrac-t­ed 3.5 million viewers.
The programme argued that the packaging and transportation of bottled water causes environmental damage and the issue has triggered debate in the media.

Aside from Panorama, the agency has had to deal with other industry criticisms. These include reports from groups such as the National Consumer Council, and pol­itical campaigns overseas, which have had an effect on the British water industry.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Thames Water have launched the ‘London On Tap' campaign, aiming to ‘empower' customers to req­uest tap water rather than bottled water in restaurants.

-- October 2007 Panorama informs the industry of the programme. Richmond Towers holds two briefings with Panorama journalists.

-- November to December 2007 BDSA director of comms Richard Laming interviewed by Panorama. Richmond Towers holds meetings with campaigners, politicians, scientists and environmentalists. Media briefings are prepared and industry spokespeople media-trained.

-- January 2008 Developed Q&As for agency staff and industry media handlers. Sent out media briefings to give to journalists without alerting them to the upcoming programme.

-- February 2008 Used contacts to find out what would be said in Panorama to ensure there were no surprises and found out that environment minister Phil Woolas was set to describe the bottled water industry as ‘morally unacceptable'.


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