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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NPower - shows how easy it is to build up to a PR crisis

I was watching the Channel 4 News yesterday when a piece came on that shows that some big businesses really think that coersion and not dialogue is the best way to get results - a gross underestimation of PR.

I am not sure if I should be amazed after the McLibel trial, but the same mistakes are being repeated.

The story is as follows:

Around many pits there are man made gravel pits. Eyesores at first, some fill with water and gradually many animals and birds make them home. One such gravel pit is Radley Lakes in Oxfordshire; gravel pit is now a misleading term as it looks like a natural beauty spot and is enjoyed by the local community.

NPower has decided to dump 500,000 tonnes of waste fuel ash (PFA), which will fill in the lake and destroy the habitat. NPower claims that prior to it being a gravel pit it was meadows and they are simply restoring the natural balance. Very few locals agree with this view.

At this point you might expect a company that claims to enhance bio diversity, as Indy Media disbelievingly reported, would talk to locals, open a dialogue and if possible find a compromise. In fact the reverse has happened, NPower has decided to use draconian laws banning media coverage! They have claimed that their staff, busy destroying the lake, have been intimidated by local protesters, which include the vicar, a photographer and a retired scientist.

Channel 4 presented the witness statements on their report, all of whom are NPower security staff, which were used in court. NPower claimed harassment of staff but it did not seem to add up and was over stated.

Now it is an offence to photograph the site and the media has been effectively muzzled. Taking a photo of the destruction of the lake will be meet with lawyers giving out court injunctions and masked security men adding a little physical presence. They claim harassment of staff.

Yes, it might be a saving to dump here but they have not factored the PR negative publicity. The more they obstruct the media the more the campaign will flourish, it might become a viral PR campaign. One case study I like to recount made Ben and Jerry's and seriously damaged rival Haagen Daaz was a viral PR campaign coined "What's the dough boy afraid of?"

The cause has been featured by the Guardian amongst others - if NPower handled it well it would be a local issue and nothing more. It looks like the impasse will damage NPower and will probably be picked up by the nationals, if it hasn't already.

What made me smile is the role of online PR: I searched "Npower PR disaster" on Google and on the page NPower pay per click came up. They certainly have a super digital marketing agency.



Anonymous Lakesaver said...

The Campaign to save Radley Lakes started two years ago and local people relied on a small number of campaigners believing that they would get the Planners to concur with the general feeling that this was not a good idea.

NPower have been intransigent from the start. They purchased the house called Sandles with the lake attached on the closed market, after offering the owners megabucks to sell. Then they relied on an old planning consent which was issued in 1982 but that said you couldn't cut down trees and had to leave the hedges intact. So they reapplied for planning permission which eventually got granted after Ruth Kelly refused to call it in. This was despite 11,500 people petitioning to have the lakes saved and 3000 taking the trouble to write to Oxfordshire County council who decided to take absolutely no notice of the electorate and instead believe NPower when they said they had no alternative! Two years later they still haven't shut the power station down because they haven't dumped their ash - so that proved they were misrepresenting themselves at the Planning hearing.

The next thing is they don't want people filming the emotive destruction of a beauty spot - imaging the prime time tv news with NPower splashed all over the place with their chainsaws and the like. So they used the occupation of the house by a group of protesters to launch their Injunction. Based on very flimsy evidence which was delivered to the High Court, not challenged by the Judge, who obviously thought there were hordes of ALF protesters involved and this anti-establishment behaviour must be stamped upon, issued an injunction which NPower have regretted every minute since. The upsurge of public opinion has been immense.

Trying to backtrack as fast as they could, they said it didn't apply to the media, but too late - the pictures of the balaclava helmetted bullies who were forcing the local residents to keep away from the area have been shown for what they are. Now when you go down there, they don't have their faces covered and they are so polite to you, offering Good mornings, Good Afternoons etc. Such a change from their swaggering behaviour when they had first had the injunction issued.

NPower have realised what a disaster they have - they are losing customers and so they get involved with comic relief and offer some money to them in exchange for new customers. What a cynical manipulation of the charity system in this Country.

They have shown complete disregard for the locals, they pay lipservice to recycling and ride roughshod over the planning rules. Currently they are without various permissions and there is a Town Green Application being heard at a Public Enquiry. Such was their contempt for this Enquiry they have started their clearance works, without all their permissions in place.

Visit the petition on the Government Website and vote in favour of Radley Lakes.

For more information on the Campaign and how to donate to the fighting fund
and the Radley village Website which is very informative

9:15 AM

Anonymous Rob Artisan said...

Lake saver,

I can only hope you are successful.

If you read the story of the McLibel Two you will see that big business can look remarkably weak if they do not believe that the media can inflict serious damage. That episode not only cost them a huge amount in legal fees but much adverse publicity - it must have cost them millions.

One thing to note is that by the time they tried to offer an olive branch to the defendants it was too late and there were a number of years for the trial to run.

This might be just gathering pace for your campaign - you could be comfortable winners, despite their shallow PR efforts.


3:48 PM


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