Bus service uses influential media to lure executives

There's no shortage of options for business travelers looking to move around the Northeast Corridor. If you need to get from Boston to Philly or New York to DC in an afternoon, a fleet of airplanes and high-speed trains are available to get you there within hours for relatively little money.

There's no shortage of options for business travelers looking to move around the Northeast Corridor. If you need to get from Boston to Philly or New York to DC in an afternoon, a fleet of airplanes and high-speed trains are available to get you there within hours for relatively little money.

So why would anyone opt for the bus?

It's a question Fergus McCann, an international business executive, decided to tackle when he introduced his new LimoLiner service, a luxury 28-seat bus running between Boston and New York. With reclining leather seats, tons of leg room, wireless internet service, and uninterrupted cell-phone service, LimoLiner was designed to compete against high-speed services like the Delta Shuttle and the Amtrak Acela.

But before it could carry a single customer, LimoLiner needed to define itself in the market.

Strategy

Tier One Partners, a Boston-based consumer tech firm, was brought aboard to roll out the new service. "We really did have a collaborative working style, so that it wasn't all about the agency and wasn't all about us," says Lori Cohen, LimoLiner's marketing consultant. "We pooled our collective resources and our media contacts."

Together they decided to downplay the bus angle - a mode of transportation more often associated with vagrants and traffic jams than busy CEOs - and play up the amenities that would save executives time. "We wanted to put the LimoLiner in the same playing field as the Acela and the shuttle," says Marian Hughes, a partner at Tier One. That meant playing up the amenities those services can't or don't offer.

Tactics

Tier One researched the Acela and the major shuttles to calculate average costs and on-time percentages, data used later in pitches to boost LimoLiner's credentials as a competitor. The firm also researched a similar venture that had launched in Philadelphia the year before, developing messages about ways in which their business models differed. Tier One conducted media research to determine the best targets at each publication. The firm also used data provided by client focus groups to intercept likely concerns and criticisms.

The team started the media ball rolling by getting a key placement in The Wall Street Journal, specifically in Audrey Warren's "Travel Watch" column. "Our knowledge of the travel space indicated she was a huge influence," says Hughes - not just over travelers, but other travel writers. So the plan was to get a brief in Warren's column, thereby whetting the public's appetite without exhausting the story and allowing other reporters to feel there were still unexplored angles.

It worked. After the Journal article ran, other regional and national media took notice. The team leveraged the biography of LimoLiner's founder, as well, making a story of his experience in unusual business ventures and how it impacted his latest undertaking.

Results

More than 40 articles on the LimoLiner service ran in such outlets as US News & World Report, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Frommer's Budget Traveler. The service also received coverage on four TV segments on local Boston and New York stations, and three local radio stories.

Most important, 25% of passengers who book via LimoLiner's 800-number reservation service cite an article as their motivation. Given that the service does little to no advertising, a achieving a direct link between PR and ticket sales was vital.

Future

LimoLiner has retained Tier One to continue spreading the word. "We're working extensively with the travel writer community and continuing to help [LimoLiner] proactively identify media opportunities in the travel and leisure community," says Hughes.

PR team: Tier One Partners and LimoLiner (both Boston)

Campaign: Rolling Out the LimoLiner

Time frame: July to October 2003

Budget: $16,000

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