- Many privatised utilities fell under media scrutiny two years ago
for alleged fat cat salaries. United Utilities director of
communications John Drummond says adverse media coverage has dipped from
27 per cent of the total coverage of United Utilities from April 1997 to
March 1998 to 11 per cent of the total from April 1998 to March
United Utilities was the first combined utilities company in the UK. It
has a communications team of 27 serving United Utilities and its branded
companies, including North West Water, Norweb and Vertex.
Responsibilities of the 27-strong PR team include public affairs,
financial communications support, employee communications, impact on
society/community partnerships and media relations. The company does not
use external PR agencies.Group director of communications John Drummond
says: ’We aim to work as a business within a business. We also have a
fully integrated approach across all our audiences- structuring our team
by audience and not by media.’
Clients, including Norweb, are offered strategic communications advice,
communications project management and product delivery.
The department is working on several initiatives, including developing
an integrated approach to reporting business performance, establishing
national best practice models and working with United Utilities
businesses to co-ordinate Public Affairs and Impact on Society
programmes. The company has recently published its third environmental
report and its first report into impact on society. Future challenges
for the team include responding to the water regulator’s proposal of
imposing price limits for water.
The PR team at the Design Council has spent much of its time over the
past two years on the Millennium Products project. The announcements of
each new batch of chosen products - part of the Creative Britain
campaign which won the council the PR Week Campaign of the Year Award in
1998 - have already generated thousands of press cuttings. PR manager
Luke Blair says: ’There are peaks and troughs. It is 100 per cent of my
work in the run up to an announcement - it’s like doing 200 simultaneous
product launches. We generate 40 different tailored press releases each
time.’ The PR team has gone one step further by producing a guide to PR
for small companies whose products make it onto the list.
The goal of the work of the DTI-funded Design Council is to improve the
competitiveness of UK industry, by emphasising the importance of design
in its broadest sense to business, education and the Government.
The dedicated PR team at the council is made up of four people, but
director of government and media Martin Brown adds: ’Everyone is
involved in PR here. The international manager doesn’t just work with
the British Council and the Foreign Office, but also deals with
international media and events. There is no point in doing something and
keeping it secret.’
PROs who struggle to get direct access to the board would envy the
position of the Design Council’s team. The chief executive, Andrew
Summers, is on the same floor in an open-plan office. ’He’s very
PR-aware and very responsive to any requests we make,’ says Blair.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND
The eight-strong Church of England Communications Unit supports the
Church of England, the Church Commissioners and the Church Pensioners
Board. Based in London, the unit, which is led by director of
communications Reverend Dr William Beaver, works alongside England’s 44
diocesan directors of communications. The team has a small annual
communications budget and actively seeks sponsorship.
Beaver says that, in addition to the normal press function, unit members
are given portfolio assignments on key issues. One of the unit’s biggest
challenges has been the establishment of the Archbishops’ Council in
The new board of directors replaces several ’rudderless’ committees and
it is hoped communication to the church’s 27,000 clergy will now be
Communication to external audiences is also a priority. Beaver says:
’Market research has shown that people are very annoyed with the church
for not taking a clear lead on issues.’ As a result, a new initiative,
called the Lead Bishops’ Programme, is being planned. Lead bishops will
act as voice pieces on thorny issues, such as urban development and
rural issues. Other challenges for the year ahead include improving
electronic communications, a major focus on marriage in September, and
the launch of a revised Book of Common Worship.
THE NEW COVENT GARDEN SOUP COMPANY
’We were built on the back of PR,’ says Kate Kime, head of PR at The New
Covent Garden Soup Company. ’Initially there was no advertising, as our
customers are well educated and we needed to talk to them on an
intelligent level. Editorial can better explain our position, especially
now the brand is diversifying.’
The 11-year old company, which puts the emphasis on fresh and natural
products, has a turnover of pounds 22 million. It is branching out into
gravy, beans, books and retail outlets, and will launch an organic soup
range in September.
Kime admits this is a PR challenge. ’It isn’t so easy to diversify when
you have the word ’soup’ in your brand name, but if you focus on key
aspects of the brand, it can be carried through. However, it does force
you to be creative.’ Soup bars have now opened in Hammersmith and
Marylebone High Street in London, and ten more will open before 2000.
There will also be two soup bars in the Millennium Dome. Kime, who works
alone, relies on agency support for trade and consumer media relations;
she uses 360o Communications and a freelance PRO in Scotland.
The company uses cause-related marketing as part of its PR strategy.
It has worked with homeless charity Crisis for 11 years, and more
recently it joined forces with Children Nationwide. Proceeds from its
June ’soup of the month’, which had a children’s cookery book promotion
on-pack,went towards a premature baby cot at King’s College Hospital.
Further proceeds from the book, which featured recipes from the children
of employees, are also going to the charity.