Client: North West Water
PR team: In-house
Campaign: Drought Communications
Timing: June 1995 - ongoing
Cost: Overall budget pounds 600,000( pounds 50,000 for PR activities)
An exceptionally hot, dry summer in 1995 resulted in water shortages
throughout the country, not least in the normally damp North West. In
ten months Manchester had less rain than Madrid, Rome or Athens.
Escalating complaints about water shortages in the North West coincided
with increased profits for North West Water following the purchase of
electricity group Norweb and claims about super-efficiency. In the face
of a second year of shortages the water company has pledged to keep
domestic taps running.
To set customer expectations by explaining the weather situation and the
consequences of this; to explain what NWW is doing to overcome the
situation and to encourage customers to save water.
Andy Hewitt, NWW communications manager and corporate communications
manager, John Drummond first launched a public awareness campaign in
June last year, followed by a hosepipe ban in August.
To date NWW has put out 40 press releases, two TV commercials, six radio
commercials, 16 press advertisements and held four press conferences.
Six door-to-door mailings have gone to around 60,000 homes where
supplies have run particularly low, and opinion formers, such as MPs and
council leaders, have been targeted with four mailings.
Research has been key in determining actions. A 70 per cent positive
response to metering for high water users, and a 79 per cent agreement
that a hosepipe ban be kept in force, led to the policies being
introduced at press conference on 9 February, without negative press
On 1 April this year, NWW launched a leak line and a free repair service
in response to criticisms that NWW has one of the worst leakage records
in the country. More recently a request line has been set up so
customers can request a guide on how to save water, a press conference
on gardening is planned for the gardening season, and a mobile visitor
centre will be located at county shows. Another TV commercial was
launched on air on 13 May. Endorsement is also used where possible.
‘We’re not weather experts, so it’s far better for the Met Office to say
what the trend is, and we’ll use a respected head gardener for the
gardening press conference,’ says Hewitt. ‘Using third parties to
comment and give advice is far more effective than if we did this
ourselves,’ he adds.
Two waves of press and radio advertising in August brought drops in
demand for water of 7.3 per cent and 10.9 per cent and September and
October saw falls in demand of 3.4 per cent and four per cent.
Customer recognition that the weather is the main cause of the water
shortages has risen by 32 per cent during the course of the campaign. 84
per cent say they are making some effort to save water, and 25 per cent
that they are making a great effort.
Early day efforts drew condemnation from the press and regulatory
authorities. Anthony Goldstone, chairman of the customer services
committee of North West Ofwat, criticised the company for ‘living on a
wing and a prayer, hoping things would get better’.
The National Rivers Authority also reproached NWW for doing ‘too little,
too late’, failing to call on additional supplies and introducing the
hosepipe ban too late. But it has welcomed more recent attempts to cut
demand and NWW’s contingency plans for a dry summer ahead.
As the communications campaign gained momentum over the last few months,
it has successfully cut consumption, and shifted at least some of the
blame from NWW shoulders onto natural causes. In recognition the
campaign was awarded a certificate of excellence in the crisis
management category at this week’s IPR Sword of Excellence awards.