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Hold off on the comms until it's safe to go back in the water

It’s a truth universally accepted that floating something down the Thames is the very best way to garner A1 media attention.

Whether it’s Concorde, a T-Rex, or the troubling figure of Michael Jackson, the idea of sticking a large version of it on London’s major aquatic artery is guaranteed to garner nods from everyone you pitch it to, especially if they’re lovers of cliché.

Perhaps in this context, UK water companies’ commitment to sending human turds down the river isn’t the bad idea it initially seems. Yes, it means some burly men and women from Oxbridge will have to celebrate on dry land to avoid picking up a Victorian disease, but what better way to generate awareness? In a world of AI, water companies are using a physical medium to show precisely what they do. Chapeau. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off…

An AI image of Poo in the Thames, credit David Quainton

The plight, such as it is, of our utility friends has been further and effectively enhanced by the power of celebrity. In this case, regular Teenage Kicks up the proverbial posterior from none other than national treasure Fergal Sharkey. And yes, he does have a good heart.

Now,  I don’t know a lot about providing water to millions of people, but I suspect it’s rather difficult. When working in telecoms, I oft lamented the fact that consumers rarely thought about the fact they were being delivered Tinder dates via invisible light, through buildings, and often moving Faraday cages at quicker than the speed of thought; a little signal loss on occasion was forgivable wasn’t it?

The answer from customers was, ‘Actually, buddy, no, no, it’s not, and I couldn’t give a rat’s literal posterior about your technology’.

But maybe the answer is to attempt to make them care. A lot of the technology we take for granted is pretty wonderful. The Thames Tideway is an astonishing feat of engineering and I imagine some of the world’s best engineers work for the UK’s various water companies.

Of course, it’s very hard to care about any of that if your beach staycation becomes an experience not that dissimilar to Andy Dufresne tunnelling out of Shawshank. No amount of PR in the world is going to make you come out clean on the other side. Perhaps until that’s sorted, it is best to keep quiet, and certainly stay clear of any Thames-based floating displays.

This PR Observations column was written by David Quainton, head of communications at the digital consultancy Emergn. The opinions are his own.

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