Public Affairs: Virgin Trains prepares to step up lobbying

Fishburn Hedges is fighting to hang on to one of its key public affairs accounts, as Virgin Trains reviews its lobbying strategy.

The train operator has already kicked off a competitive pitch process and was set to draw up a shortlist of agencies as PRWeek went to press.

Fishburn Hedges, which recently appointed Dermot Finch to head its public affairs practice, has held the account since 2005.

Virgin Trains is lobbying to win the East Mainline franchise, which expires in 2012, and to hold on to its West Coast Mainline contract.

Bidding for the East Coast contract will begin as early as next summer, with preparation for the West Coast bids starting soon after.

Director of communications Arthur Leathley told PRWeek these challenges called for a new, expanded public affairs account.

'What we are doing really is fighting to take us on to another level because we will be pitching for new franchises,' he said. 'It's to do with work that will last for the next two years - it's not a straight re-tender.'

Leathley said Fishburn Hedges had been invited to repitch for the work, adding that Virgin was looking forward to 'hearing their views, as well as everyone else's'.

Fishburn Hedges is understood to have participated in the first round of pitches in late May.

Virgin is expected to make a final decision before new public affairs chief Finch joins Fishburn Hedges in August. Finch replaces Lucy Burns, who is taking a career break.

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