Campaign of the year: "How the West (Coast) Was Won" Virgin Trains with Fishburn Hedges

When Virgin Trains faced a threat to its existence, it decided it would not go down without a fight. In August 2012 the Department for Transport announced it was stripping Virgin Trains of its West Coast Mainline rail franchise and awarding it to rival First Group following a lengthy procurement process. 

Together with agency Fishburn Hedges, Virgin Trains planned and executed a hugely successful campaign that reversed the decision, saved the comp­any and will influence government decision-making for years. How’s that for proving the effectiveness of PR?

The campaign was fierce and unrelenting. It focused on mistakes made during the procurement process to show its campaign was not just sour grapes.

It generated serious scrutiny of the Government’s decision by the media, politicians and the public. More than 170,000 people signed an e-petition against the decision, which triggered a parliamentary debate. The leader of the opposition also raised the "fiasco" at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Just seven weeks after the campaign launch, the Department for Transport cancelled the procurement process due to the discovery of "significant technical flaws" and Virgin Trains has now had its rail franchise extended. 

The Government also launched wide-ranging reviews of franchising policy and government decision-making will be subject to greater scrutiny in the future.

"Forcing a government department into an about-face in seven weeks demonstrates the power of really, really good PR"

Ruth Wyatt Brand editor, PRWeek

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