Contact - Case studies - Home
Recycling PR, waste management PR - Deborah Gray PR

Deborah Gray Public Relations - PR articles

The queen of muck

The first time I met West London Composting’s Martin Grundon, I was still stuck in the habits of boardroom table PR. Emerging from my car into the rural country setting where the foundations of the site were still, as it happens, being dug, my stiletto heel became stuck in the mud. I was still struggling to extricate it when Mr Grundon appeared.

His only comment? "I’m feeling a little under-dressed."

And indeed, the stereotypical image of the PR professional is rather remote from the hands-on world of recycling, waste management, composting and other environmental businesses.

If one were to summon up a single, all-encapsulating vision, it would include long lunches, large gins and larger bills, racked up over lengthy evenings at the Groucho Club bandying chit-chat with contacts.

It might involve Edina and Patsy, Sophie and the Sheikh, Max Clifford and Kerry Katona. Only those unlucky to have experienced it first-hand would also be aware of the long meetings around longer tables, nights spent slaving over Powerpoint presentations, and days spent witnessing the horrid things.

One of the wonderful things about working with the businesses I help out, who include The Composting Company, Green Cone and Midex RT, is that they need very little support when it comes to what, in the corporate world, we call "strategy". They understand their businesses wonderfully, they know who they’re talking to, they know what they want to achieve and why they want to achieve it.

They don't need Powerpoints to do it. They don’t need to talk about their “brand”. They don’t need to mess around at long meetings. They need the simple, elegant solutions that good PR provides.

Let's take, for example, community relations: a thorny topic, and one that leaves the average waste management professional fuming with blind rage.

The fantasists who persist in detecting odours from half a mile upwind ten days after the council last emptied their wheelie bins. The lunatics who hear imaginary delivery lorries reversing in the night. And nimbies of all persuasions, rational or otherwise.

How does one reach these people?

Well, the skills acquired in corporate PR - all the way through from crisis management to dealing with the press – work even better with the basic good neighbourliness that all environmental businesses share.

Like a lot of new waste management businesses, WLC had problems with odours (real and perceived) during its first year trading. And, as some unfortunates have learned to their cost, when bad will from neighbours can close your business down or block planning permission for any expansion, it pays to have them on your side.

Martin and I worked closely together to design what, in the corporate world, one might describe as “a coherent communications strategy” but could best be described as simply good PR.

PR's stock in trade is information, so our first step was to ensure that our information was accurate. WLC invested in a state-of-the-art weather station which can confirm whether any smells that people complain about are actually coming from the site. That meant they could act on problems immediately, and (also important) instantly rebut unfounded accusations.

Our next step was to ensure our information would reach the people it needed to reach. We helped WLC with four separate mediums to do this. Immediately, a dedicated helpline was created. Then we developed an interactive website with rolling news service. Between the two, all concerned residents were in the loop, and their complaints were heard and responded to at once.

In tandem with this, we produce and deliver professional, quarterly newsletters, and hold regular meetings with residents and community groups, alongside environmental partners such as Friends of the Earth.

Now, I bang on about this quite a lot. To such an extent, indeed, that my friends call me "The Queen of Muck". But possibly the single most important piece of information that any composting business should get out is that composting is, quite literally, a growth industry.

This message underpinned absolutely everything we did with WLC. We help with compost giveaway days, inviting residents to come and collect free bags of compost for their gardens: they come in droves, and will often return to buy supplies throughout the year. We regularly help arrange tours of the site, so that people can understand what WLC does.

When it developed a learning resource centre, we worked with local schools to create a range of educational materials to suit children of various ages, and to help teachers link WLC's work into the environmental aspects of the national curriculum. The children are consistently fascinated, and leave with a new understanding of the industry.

So, after a challenging start, WLC, a fantastic local business with strong roots in the farming community, is now Europe’s largest invessel composter. And we’ve helped facilitate that journey – a journey that is all theirs - not by doing anything wildly outrageous, but by doing the very simple thing that PR does best: delivering accurate, on-message information and eliminating misconceptions.

Of course, we also handle the press side of the job. Which is where the lunches come in (I wish!). Good press is absolutely critical for any business that wants to grow, particularly on the supply side.

And probably the easiest way to ensure the people you want to reach know what you want them to know is to ensure they read an article about its benefits.

Yes, yes, I hear you cry. But why hire a professional to do that?

The short answer is, you don't have to. You can write your own press release, send it out to a list of magazines, then sit back and wait until it gets published, and the business enquiries come flooding in.

But sadly – and as anyone who has ever spoken to a journalist only to find themselves misquoted, quoted in a different story from the one they had anticipated, or simply not quoted at all – the media are not that simple.

Trade journalists typically receive between 200 and 300 press releases per week, while national newspapers receive hundreds more: of these, a staggering 95% go straight into the bin. Only the magic 5% will go on to generate immediate stories, become part of a larger story, or be put to one side and form ideas for future articles.

There is an art to successfully securing a place among that 5%, and that lies in identifying an interesting and unusual story, and shaping it so that it gets your message through. Then you need to package it to attract a journalist’s attention, and ensure it reaches the people and publications who might be interested.

And, generally, it helps to know the journalist. Working with the press, just like working with clients, is all about relationships. It's about knowing the journalist well enough to find a story that works for their title, and working with the client to find a story that gets their message out. Essentially, it's a matter of slowly dripfeeding material through your contacts, to ensure the fantastic work our clients do get out there.

Many different types of titles are important. It really comes down to the business’s needs. Midex RT and I have been working closely not only with trade titles but with the local and regional press. That means their neighbours in Hampshire understand how beneficial their work is, and other local businesses know what they have on the door-step.

Then, of course, comes TV and radio, unforgiving mediums where you often have a matter of seconds to make your point. What with things like lights, sound booms, microphones, cameras and producers counting things off in seconds, and the prospect of a company showcase ending up on the cutting room floor, many wise folk will opt to practise with a professional first.

In fact, although they are by now seasoned media pros, with appearances on Radio 4, Channel 4, the BBC, ITV and Sky News under their collective belt, WLC and I still work through their key messages before every little bit of radio or TV.

And, just like the camera crews, I wear my wellies.

Web Design and Search Engine Optimisation by ClearCut Web Solutions Ltd