The Battle to Bottle: A Case Study of Public Response, Public Relations, Development and the Environment
Gjertson, Nancy J.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Fine Arts and Communication
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When someone turns on a faucet or breaks the seal on a bottle of water, how the water got there is not something they think about. A person just turns on the faucet and the water is simply there. Yet, a multitude of intertwined, natural and man-made processes allow water to be clean and readily available for consumption. A conflict can emerge when humans use water for profit. Water has become big business. Osborne (1999), in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, said that "water is the commodity of the next century, and those who possess it and control it could be in a position to control the world's economy." In the late 1990s, the Perrier Corporation sought a spring that could supply water to Midwestern urban areas including Chicago and Minneapolis. One of the sites was central Wisconsin where water is prized for its quality and abundance. Perrier's plans faced serious concerns by citizens, scientists, and local, regional and national interest groups. Although the area could benefit economically from a new bottling plant and already supported many other high-capacity wells, the perceived value of the spring water became a roadblock to development. After protests and legal battles, Perrier's interest turned to a site in Michigan before the completion of final well tests Wisconsin. Local and regional media outlets and special interest groups tracked the interaction between citizens and Perrier. The development of the bottling plant proposal was documented in a variety of media: newspapers, television programs, magazines and Web sites. The media attention to the Perrier proposal to use Wisconsin's prized water supply for commercial profit illustrated a unique relationship between the local citizens and the environment. Specifically, the case study will seek answers to three research questions: 1. What techniques, such as news releases, letters to the editor, newsletters and other public relations tactics, were used to express opinions and provide information? 2. What frames emerged from the media coverage? 3. What made the case unique in comparison to other development projects, and how does it increase an understanding of framing theory, agenda setting, issue management and risk communication?