Hugh’s war on waste (and PR)

Nov 19, 2015

Hugh’s War On Waste, recently aired on BBC One, seriously slam dunked a powerful message about how much we waste. We know this because right after the show finished the website crashed due to the number of people trying to sign the associated online petition. We also know this because since Hugh started making the show, there has been some significant action from some of the major companies and brands implicated.

The other thing that got slam dunked was corporate communications and PR people. If you’re one of them and you watched it – you’ll know that it was real scream at the TV material.

For those of you who missed it, a short summary. Britain is wasting a lot of stuff, particularly food, and one of the biggest culprits is our supermarkets. They reject anything that doesn’t look perfect (via ridiculously stringent aesthetic food standards) and they cancel orders at the last minute – both of which are forcing our farmers to throw mountains of food away.

So what went down here and what can we learn? Lets look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good

There’s a lot to say here but the best bits for me?

  1. Hugh’s amazing use of the visual. We saw what seemed to be a never ending line of trolleys full of rejected parsnips, a mountain of binned clothes in a shopping centre and Hugh taking freshly bought food out of customer baskets and chucking roughly a third of it, the amount we waste as a nation, into a large waste container. To see all of this was so powerful in bringing the issue alive.
  1. The use of people and the human stories behind the issues was also seriously well done. We really felt we got to know the Hammond family and their losing battle against the likes of Morrisons over wonky parsnips – we emotionally connected to the issue.
  1. And finally (although I could go on), the consistent delivery of his key messages and an incredibly strong call to action, with social platforms well set up to galvanise and feed the response to the TV programme. The only hitch was that the website crashed but at least it was a sign of success!

The bad

Almost every major brand that featured on the programme was basically communicating complete baloney on their corporate website. We wonder why we have an ever-growing issue around corporate trust in the UK?

KFC talked about no chicken going to waste and widespread community projects. The major supermarkets talked about aggressive waste reduction programmes and ‘zero waste’ policies. But the reality, as we saw, was completely different. Why are massive companies spinning yarn on their websites? Why on earth do they think they can get away with it?

If you work in a team responsible for updating your company’s website – for goodness sake, tell the truth and be honest about where you are on key issues. You’ll actually gain customers for it.

The ugly

Now put it this way, it was not a good day for Morrisons or the PR profession last Tuesday.

After finally agreeing to give Hugh an interview (after six months of messing him about), the Head of Corporate Responsibility as well as the Head of Public Relations for Morrisons were rolled out and they were more slippery than a greased eel.

To select just one of the hundreds of social media posts that followed:

‘Morrisons need to either admit their failings or sort out their two PR guys. No straight answers #hughswaronwaste.’

PR people already get plenty of flack so what we didn’t need was the couple of plums who were wheeled out to represent Morrisons. The fact that these two jokers were on national TV for a brand like Morrisons was frankly, unbelievable.

So, what’s the upshot for corporate comms?

  • Use the visual (on a big scale!) to land your message
  • Always find and show the people that make the story (in both internal and external comms)
  • Be clear about what you’d like people to do and show them how
  • Don’t lie on your website (or anywhere else!)
  • Admit your mistakes and say sorry when you need to
  • Don’t take ages to do it
  • Don’t hire stupid PR people. There’s plenty of sensible ones out there.

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