'We riled Piers Morgan, high praise indeed!' - #PowerOfPR with Avanti West Coast's Pride Train

PRWeek is temporarily rebranding its Behind the Campaign series to #PowerOfPR – named after the new campaign to trumpet PR's value. Today we hear from Rob Singh and Melissa vanderHaak, head of news and senior consumer PR manager respectively at Avanti West Coast.

'We riled Piers Morgan, high praise indeed!' - #PowerOfPR with Avanti West Coast's Pride Train

Click here to read more about the #PowerOfPR campaign from the PRCA and PRWeek.

What was the campaign, in a nutshell?

The Avanti West Coast Pride Train campaign involved launching a fully wrapped train in the Progressive Pride flag colours, staffed by an all-LGBTQ+ crew, to spread awareness of our commitment to championing Pride all year round.

How did the idea come into being?

With diversity and inclusion at the forefront of the new franchise, we wanted to communicate the business’ commitment to champion equality and inclusivity all year round, not just during Pride month – when ordinarily we would be sponsoring events in London, Manchester and Birmingham, which had been cancelled due to COVID-19.

What ideas were rejected?

The original idea was to launch the Pride Train using an LGBTQ+ celebrity; however, the decision was made to use Avanti West Coast staff at the heart of the campaign to show the business’s commitment to its LGBTQ+ people and the wider community.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process.

The PR and social team led on the campaign with no agency support and came up with a range of asset ideas including a drone image of the train, an image of the full LGBTQ+ team in front of the train, G-roll and a video of the launch day for social, to support print, radio, and broadcast media sell-in.

Nine days out: budget approved.

Eight days out: train wrap commenced.

Five days out: ops note issued (several crews attended the launch).

Four days out: train wrap completed.

One day out: images shot and issued under embargo to news desks.

Launch day: B-roll sold into news desks resulting in TV slots and online video coverage including ITV news, Good Morning Britain, The Daily Mail and BBC.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Co-ordinating the logistics of a full LGBTQ+ crew from across the country was challenging. Through our Pride Working Group and the dedication of our operations and resources teams we managed to find the full crew and had staff on stand-by.

Getting imagery ahead of the launch was a concern, because we knew our avid trainspotters would spot the livery and potentially post to social media. But we also knew a small amount of social-media hype the day before launch could help to drum up interest before the official reveal. Our trainspotters did indeed spot the train and sent Twitter into a frenzy with #PrideTrain trending the day before launch. We used this to our advantage – in the end, it helped secure additional press coverage.

Being called out for ‘virtue signalling’ was a real concern. To combat this, we ensured our news team was armed with a robust Q&A outlining every action we are taking in championing Pride across our business.

How did you measure the results?

Our team set KPIs of earned media coverage across print, radio and TV, splitting this down again into national, regional and consumer media. Our social team had KPIs based on reach and engagement. The campaign struck a chord and was so successful that we smashed all KPIs across both teams.

We joked that we’d never get The Daily Mail (because of the nature of the story), but not only did we get coverage, we also managed to rile Piers Morgan and generate a Twitter spat, which we consider to be high praise indeed! Several celebrities including Supernanny Jo Frost and Strictly Come Dancing star Robin Windsor waded in on the debate, jumping to our defence, which moved the conversation toward the positive element of the campaign.

Our brand team tracked the awareness of the Avanti West Coast brand, which spiked immediately following the campaign.

Final coverage results included 125 pieces of coverage, 11 of them broadcast. The full breakdown includes: 26 national (one broadcast, seven print, five online) 91 regional (10 broadcast, nine print, 73 online) three international and five trade.

The social reach was 943,235, including 1.8m views of the PA Twitter video.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

The campaign came in under budget, with no agency involvement, and resulted in a significant positive impact on the LGBTQ+ community with a third-party campaign to name the train “Progress”, indicating that the community supports our initiative with the Pride Train.

When you combine a relevant news story, a well-thought-out campaign, good in-house PR and news teams, you can achieve significant results without the use of agencies and big budgets. And you never know when you might be grateful to Piers Morgan.


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