Capture commuters' imaginations

Despite inflation-busting fare increases, rail passenger numbers are at their highest for nearly half a century. Hannah Marriott casts an eye over the range of onboard publications placed in front of the train traveller

Onboard magazines, the free titles available on trains and railway platforms, do not naturally conjure up an image of glamour. But gaining coverage in these increasingly sophisticated publications can be something of a coup.

The Association of Train Operating Companies estimates that 1.07 billion journeys were made on the national rail network in 2005 –  an increase of 30 million journeys on 2004 and the highest for nearly 50 years.

Most onboard titles feature information about destinations on the trains' routes, and many travel specialists, such as The Massey Partnership, are already on the case. Account director Anna Davies says: 'They are an important target. The readers are a captive audience, often business travellers – a valuable market for our hotels.'

Phenomenal power
Alison Hull Public Relations, which specialises in hotels, restaurants and spas, has a similarly good relationship with the magazines. MD Alison Hull says: 'Clients who track where calls come from have shown the power of on-board magazines to be phenomenal.'

The magazines are, of course, restricted by geography. As Davies says: 'They all have set areas they can cover – this is less true of Airport Express title Via, for passengers travelling to the main three London airports, but the others will only mention events or places that are on their routes.'

Claire Roberts, editor of GNER title Livewire, says her 'biggest bugbear' are PROs pitching stories about inappropriate locations: 'The point of the mag is to keep travellers informed of what's happening at our destinations.'

But the scope of these publications goes well beyond travel – a fact that some PROs are unaware of, according to Hotline editor Alex Rayner. 'We have a celebrity cover star every issue and reach a broad cross-section of people, some of whom don't normally buy magazines.'

Taylor Herring MD James Herring admits: 'In celebrity PR we are spoilt for choice with magazines vying for our attention, so onboard mags aren't really on our radar, but they should be. They would offer a perfect opportunity for us to reach people on their way home from work, planning their evenings.'

Operator South West Trains
Editor Claire Hutchings (Illustrated London News Group)
020 7805 5589
Print run 120,000
Frequency Bimonthly

How much of the content is about South West Trains?
About 40 per cent – the other 60 per cent is a fun read to encourage train use, especially off peak. There are travel pieces, walking guides and interviews mentioning places on the network where celebrities were born or have lived  – for example, Richard E Grant lives in Richmond. We also have restaurant reviews and a property page.

How could PROs help?
Although we get lots of travel-related suggestions, we don't tend to get many pitches on the celebrity side. Also we tend to get lots of London-based ideas but like to look further afield.

How should PROs contact you?
I prefer phone calls, followed up with an email. The first sentence should be directly related to our readers.

Operator Virgin Trains
Editor Alan Rayner (River Publishing)
020 7413 9375
Print run 200,000
Frequency Quarterly

Who reads the magazine?
They are very mainstream, so we try to be balanced. If we have a young cover star, for example, we will have some editorial to appeal to an older audience.

How much of the content is about trains?
Less than half. We carry news from stations, and about the Virgin group, but our cover features are always with well-known stars with broad appeal, such as Pierce Brosnan. We carry secondary interviews with TV or music stars – this issue it's Kanye West – and have destination guides, listing restaurants and events around a
theme: 'snug places for winter months', for example.

What doesn't interest you?
People incorrectly assume we write a lot about travelling in trains. Business stories are no good either – I think people prefer to escape when they travel.

Operator GNER
Editor Claire Roberts (Illustrated London News Group)
020 7805 5590
Print run 110,000
Frequency Bimonthly

What makes a good story for Livewire?
We prefer pieces that will cater for a broad range of people, rather than ideas about specific products. We always need to know about hotels on the route or close by, especially in Scotland.

And who reads the magazine?
According to our research they are 35 to 55-year-old business travellers, commuters and one-off break travellers, split evenly male and female.

How could PROs make life easier?
There is probably a lot going on along the route that we don't know about. Exhibitions, shop openings, ice rinks and so on would all be really useful for our listings section.

How do you prefer to be contacted?
Email is probably best. The subject line should include a reference to a location that is on our route.

Operator Airport Express
Editor Chris Hatherill (River Publishing)
Contact 7413 9317
Print run 125,000
Frequency Bimonthly

Who reads Via?
A mix of people returning from holidays or business trips, and visitors to the UK.

Give us examples of your features
They include 'Ask the Concierge' and 'Ask the Steward' – a double page where we give advice on London and travel respectively. There is a 'Best of London' section, with the top three places for, say, a picnic, and a travel section featuring destinations both in the UK and abroad.

How do you cater for business travellers?
There is a dedicated section at the back, with work gadgets and fashion, and information about the best places for a business lunch or Christmas party.

What would be your ideal press release?
Something less obvious than information about a hotel – quirky, unusual things about travelling or London.

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