OPINION: The Big Question - How do you sell 'good news' about the rail industry at the moment? Train operating company First Great Western has appointed Barclay Stratton with a brief to help generate some 'good news' stories about

KEITH HARPER - The Guardian

KEITH HARPER - The Guardian

'Look at Railtrack - they've been afraid to accentuate the positive. There are good things that the rail industry is doing but the public doesn't know about it. The modernisation of the west coast mainline is a huge infrastructure project, an investment of pounds 5.2bn involving resignalling, rerailing and a huge upheaval. Not once has Railtrack in the last few years explained what it is doing; it's just been very defensive and hasn't demonstrated the good that's going to come out of it. You should tell the public and take them along with you. Rail companies have failed to understand that their first allegiance is to customers; on the whole they've been very arrogant and if things go wrong they don't inform customers. It is going to take a long time to pull it back.'

TONY BRADLEY - Bradley O'Mahoney PR

'Let's face it, travel sucks and is something we only do because we have to. I don't even think train operators are actually being blamed for the current troubles. In my part of the world (Newcastle), GNER which operates the east coast line, has built up a tremendous pool of goodwill through well-executed PR campaigns going back many years. Once Railtrack gets the line back in order, I suspect that travellers who moved from train to plane will move back just as quickly. Whether a PR campaign can make an impact on the speed or otherwise of that defection, I have my doubts.'

JENNY THOMAS - Barclay Stratton

'You don't start by focusing on instantaneous conversion of a negative media climate to a positive one. What you do is run a bottom-up, cross-functional marketing programme that starts by drawing customers back onto the trains - and this is not to do with 'news'.

You develop value-added product offerings, you promote, you do simple things that people notice and take pleasure in. Eventually you have more travellers back on trains. That's the goal - not attempting the narrow-focused and impossible task of making those who operate on 'bad news is good news' (journalists) think the other way around overnight.

During the course of this, and in the context of a generic news agenda on railways, the news focus will shift.'


'As far as Connex is concerned, there are a number of 'good news' issues: we have restored full train services on our south-eastern franchise; fare changes introduced on 7 January reduced fares for many commuters to London and froze others; we are also making good progress with compensation payments to customers.

We have an in-house newsletter distributed at stations plus posters at stations giving people updates. All those measures are in-house but if we felt a PR consultant could help us on an issue we would hire them.

We are also introducing our customer information system, which is a real-time update with display screens giving the actual arrival time at that station of the next train and one or two after.

We'll be communicating that to our customers and targeting press releases in the local media as it comes on line.'

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