Eurostar gears up for London switch

Eurostar is moving its UK terminal to St Pancras in 2007. Hannah Marriott asks how the operator will handle the raised expectations of media and passengers alike

Eurostar's decision to hand all of its consumer, corporate and public affairs work to a single agency is a step-change in the importance it is placing on PR.

The appointment of Consolidated Communications to a £500,000, two-year account (PRWeek, 21 October) comes in advance of its move from Waterloo to St Pancras in 2007, so Eurostar's marcoms department is also stepping up its activity accordingly.

In addition to Consolidated's hire, Eurostar is running its first TV ads for three years, and Vizeum was taken on last month to handle its £4.5m media planning and buying account.

Also Eurostar is sponsoring the 2006 and 2007 Sport Industry Awards. Sportspeople are now seen as an important target market by Eurostar, bearing in mind the planned station at Stratford for the 2012 Olympics.

Once its trains are running into St Pancras, Eurostar wants to provide more frequent, faster services, and aims to grow passenger numbers from 7.2 million a year (2004) to nine million by 2008.

Consolidated's contract represents different approach – it will oversee a large, combined effort to make Eurostar in St Pancras a 'national' rather than a south-east brand.

Regeneration plan
There are some who object to the St Pancras move, including City workers accustomed to the direct Tube link to Waterloo. And some local bodies, such as the King's Cross Railway Lands Group, claim the wider King's Cross regeneration project will ignore local people's needs, focusing on big businesses and national economic gains.

Consolidated's brief involves advising on liaison with such bodies, as well as commuters' groups and MPs whose constituencies are affected. Agency director Paul Davies argues: 'Eurostar is a catalyst for regeneration.'

Eurostar has trounced the low-cost airlines, taking 71 per cent of all
travellers to Paris, and 64 per cent to Brussels, during August this year. There was a 4.3 per cent rise in passenger numbers during the first nine months of the year, despite the number of London-bound leisure travellers falling by a fifth after the July bombings.

Its latest TV ads, aimed at both the leisure and business markets, promote Eurostar as a relaxing alternative to low-cost airlines, emphasising the 'emotional benefits', with the strapline 'You carry your journey with you... so make it Eurostar'. Consolidated's
consumer PR will continue to push this message, with a focus on how train travel is usually less stressful and quicker than flying.

From St Pancras, the Eurostar experience is set to improve, with promises of an average 20-minute cut in journey times.

Consolidated will capitalise on these selling points by drawing attention to air travel's greater environmental impact.

Paul Charles, Eurostar comms boss since 2003, is meticulous about highlighting positive aspects of the Eurostar experience. In quotes and press releases, for example, customers are 'travellers', not passengers; it is a 'short-haul carrier' rather than a rail operator.

And he is keen to distance Eurostar from debt-ridden Channel Tunnel
operator Eurotunnel, again in the news for negative reasons last week, having announced 900 job cuts (What the papers say, p15).

Charles seeks to ensure journalists do not use photographs of Eurostar trains in Eurotunnel articles, clearly explaining the difference between the companies at the bottom of even unrelated press releases.

Perception challenge
Eurostar's coverage has not always been positive, of course. Since its launch in November 1994, it has had its fair share of strikes, delays and safety concerns. And its reputation has been tarnished by association: service was suspended for 15 days following a Channel Tunnel fire in November 1996; and its name was sullied when Hussain Osman, accused of trying to bomb a Tube train on 21 July, used the service to flee the UK (see box).

But on the whole, perception of the company is positive. Travel Weekly deputy news editor Sarah Thomas lauds the firm's PR team as 'one of the most dynamic in the business'.

Prior to Consolidated, Eurostar used niche strategic consultancy
Media Relations Management from January 2004. It previously used agencies including Freud Communications and Borkowski PR for projects.

In 2003, Charles worked with Freuds on a series of high-profile events, including taking journalists on board a train to experience the UK rail-speed record being broken. And punctuality (at 78 per cent in 2003) has improved, now running at 87 per cent.

Eurostar is also getting sleeker aesthetically. Business lounges, designed by Philippe Starck, complement redesigned interiors, currently installed in 23 of the 27 trains.

Financially, of course, things are not quite as rosy – although now into its second decade of operations, the company has yet to make a profit.

Regardless of the financial challenges, though, there seems to be nothing but praise for Eurostar's PR team within the industry. As Saltmarsh Partnership MD Geoff Saltmarsh points out: 'It has developed a good, modern image, which is an achievement in a country where train travel is seen as the poor relation of other forms of transport. It has almost made train travel sexy.'

The challenge for Eurostar and Consolidated, however, is to make sure the St Pancras move runs smoothly and passenger numbers continue to grow steadily.

Eurostar: reputation hits and misses
Nov 1994 Services commence, receiving international praise  HIT
Nov 1996 Channel Tunnel fire forces service suspension for 15 days
July 2001 Delays and cancellations hit the headlines  MISS
Oct 2001 Passenger numbers fall seven per cent post 9/11, the worst since the 1996 fire MISS
Oct 2001 200 passengers evacuated from a broken-down train MISS
Feb 2003 600 passengers stranded for five hours on a broken-down train MISS
May 2003 Financial investigation by National Audit Office  MISS
July 2003  Eurostar sets new UK speed record of 208 mph  HIT
Sep 2004 Launch of first refurbished train HIT
Nov 2004 Eurostar's high-profile tenth birthday celebrations  HIT
July 2005 Alleged failed London bomber Hussain Osman flees on Eurostar  MISS
Sep 2005 Separation of first-class carriages for business and leisure travellers  HIT

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