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Irish Water brand 'badly damaged' and 'continually politicised', brief for TV doc says

The Story of Water, which aired on Virgin Media before Christmas, was designed to “take back control” of the company name and story.

Image: Shutterstock/Lipskiy

IRISH WATER’S BRAND had been “badly damaged” and “continually politicised”, a design brief for a controversial TV documentary explained.

The Story of Water aired on Virgin Media before Christmas, cost €800,000, and was designed to “take back control” of the company name and story.

Internal records obtained under FOI show how the film is part of a wider public information campaign that at one stage was budgeted to cost up to €2 million.

This included an estimated production cost for The Story of Water of €942,089, a further €900,000 in promotion, and a contingency fee of €200,000.

The TV production however came in substantially under budget and they only had to pay a €1 licencing fee to have the documentary aired.

A creative brief for the project explained how Irish Water had been “in a defensive position reacting to crisis, environmental issues, weather events, or political agendas” ever since it was created.

It said the company had not been in control of the message about water from its inception in 2014.

“It’s time to take back that control,” said the brief.

The documentary would be designed as a “journey of realisation” for audiences about the “shocking state the water network is in”.

It would then reassure viewers that they had a plan in place to fix the problems and help to win their “hearts and minds”.

The rationale for a longer documentary were the “irrefutable facts about the size and scale of the problems” facing the water network, which was not something that could be explained in a thirty-second advertisement.

“Critically, this is not about politics,” said the brief. “It is not about charges or meters or solely about Irish Water. It is simply to inform and educate the Irish public about the story of water in Ireland.”

The creative brief said the documentary should follow Irish Water’s “Tone of Voice” which was described as honest and respectful, clear and straight talking, approachable and reliable, as well as experienced and professional.

It wanted the film to contrast the beauty and modernity of Ireland with a water network in which some people were on “consistent boil-water notices” and raw sewage flows directly into lakes, rivers, and seas.

“Water doesn’t simply fall from the sky and magically arrive into our taps,” it said.

It broke down a target audience into four categories of people: 27% were advocates, 25% were supporters, 22% were dissenters with “trust and confidence” issues, while 26% were considered detractors.

“[These] detractors are three times as likely as advocates to have no engagement,” the brief said. “They are significantly less aware of waste/effluent aspect of Irish Water service.”

‘Fairy story versus reality’

An internal briefing for the board said the documentary would help shape the conversation about water, moving it “away from bills and meters and refocus the public on the actual truth”.

It would help bust the myth of “fairy story versus reality”, particularly the idea that Ireland’s supply of clean water was endless and free.

“There is no propaganda or spin, this will be the full truth about water,” said the briefing.

The record shows that concerns were raised over how much editorial control Irish Water would have over the final project.

The team responsible for its production reassured them this would not be an issue and “full editorial control” would be retained.

In a statement, Irish Water said that in follow-up research, 86% of people who watched the programme agreed it “raised issues of public interest and concern”.

An even larger number, 88%, said it gave them a greater appreciation of what’s involved in providing water and wastewater services.

A statement said: “In addition, 71% of people agreed with the statement: ‘Made me feel more confident that Irish Water have projects and plans … underway to address the issues raised.’”

They said the original production budget was €765,926, plus VAT of €176,163.

However, the actual final costs was €654,000 (exclusive of VAT of €150,420) “due to efficiencies driven throughout the process”.

Irish Water said: “Also quoted in the original budget estimate was an allowance of €900,000 to allow for both advertising and pre-promotional support activity of the ‘Story of Water’ and this included an estimate allowance for a TV station fee for airing.

“This money was not used or required. Virgin Media aired the Story of Water for a nominal licensing fee, at a cost of €1.”

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Ken Foxe

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