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
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.
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.
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
Thames Water’s gardening tips have been widely used in the regional
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.
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
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
Client: Thames Water Utilities
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Promoting Water Efficiency
Timescale: Ongoing, but stepped up each year in February