CAMPAIGNS: Working on the water wasters - Public Awareness

In the middle of a two-year drought, this summer Thames Water tried to maintain its campaign to persuade its customers to conserve water.

In the middle of a two-year drought, this summer Thames Water tried

to maintain its campaign to persuade its customers to conserve water.



The company has suffered from substantial adverse media interest, ranging

from stories of excessive profits and hefty dividend payouts, to

criticisms of topping the water industry’s leakage tables.



Added pressure came from speculation about the Government’s ’windfall’ tax

and publicised conflicts with the water industry’s two regulatory bodies -

the Environment Agency and, most notably, Ofwat. Then, in June, came

torrential rain.



Objectives



To encourage customers to adopt measures to save water while highlighting

Thames Water’s programme of investment, aimed at improving services.

Following the Government’s Water Summit on 19 May 1997, the company also

recognised the need to respond to deputy prime minister John Prescott’s

Action Plan proposals.



Tactics



Thames Water introduced several initiatives this year to create public

awareness of the need to conserve water. The company offered all its

customers a ’Hippo’ device, which can reduce the amount of water needed to

flush a toilet. It has also produced a musical play about water

conservation for primary schools called Silver and Pearls.



Over Easter, the company launched its annual summer programme of radio

advertising on using water wisely. The ads promoted a range of water

conservation advice leaflets for the garden, produced in conjunction with

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.



Thames also ran a competition to design a water-wise garden and, at the

end of May, displayed a low water-use garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The end of May also saw the launch in London’s Covent Garden of the

’Water-wise Home’, a new multi-media mobile exhibition.



Tackling leakage was a top priority. Through press releases and customer

leaflets, the company publicised its pounds 200 million project, to halve

leakage by the year 2000.



It also used advertisements and customer leaflets to promote the company’s

financial investment in boosting supplies, such as the Thames Water Ring

Main and a new reservoir in Oxfordshire.



Results



With a 19 per cent increase in underlying profits for 1996, and a 22.5 per

cent increase in dividends announced on 17 June, shareholders are

happy.



Thames Water’s gardening tips have been widely used in the regional

press.



However, while the launch of Silver and Pearls at the Royal Festival Hall

in March was covered in the Guardian, the media has seen other initiatives

such as the ’Hippo’ as piecemeal.



The Independent and trade title Water Bulletin welcomed the announcement

at the start of May of plans to repair leaks in customers’ supply pipes

free of charge. Predictably, however, this was accompanied by criticism of

the company’s 30 per cent leakage figures.



Verdict



Thames Water’s problems fell into two categories: acts of God - drought;

and self-induced - leakage. As the leakage problem could not be solved

overnight, the company faced continuing difficulties with Ofwat and the

Environment Agency.



In addition, other issues were overlooked. Andrew Milne, regional manager

of Ofwat Thames Customer Service Committee, says: ’While the company is

perceived to have done well in terms of profit, leakage means a lot of

good messages get lost.’



With media reports of Thames seemingly pouring money as well as water down

the drain, it is still hard for customers to take water efficiency

seriously.



Client: Thames Water Utilities

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Promoting Water Efficiency

Timescale: Ongoing, but stepped up each year in February

Cost: Undisclosed



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