Virgin Trains urges clearer PR on fares

Tackling consumer confusion over fare structures has become the ‘dominant’ issue for Britain’s major rail company PROs, surpassing operational and financial concerns, according to Virgin Trains’ top communicator.

Arthur Leathley, Virgin Trains director of corporate affairs, told delegates: 'Fare structures aren't as complicated as the media often make out – but if there is a perception that they are difficult to understand then we're not doing well enough.'

Virgin Trains is to relaunch its website next month along the lines of the easy-to-navigate  sites of low-cost airlines'.

Leathley acknowledged that because of the power of the Virgin brand, Virgin Trains 'probably' attracted more attention than any other rail operator.

Virgin Trains' negative media coverage once outscored positive reporting by a ratio of 3:1, but the positive now outstrips the negative by 2:1, said Leathley, adding that – by railway standards – this was 'not a bad score'.

He added: 'There is still some way to go for us, but we want to be looking at the sort of marks that consumer brands [not involved in the railways] would score for consumer satisfaction.'

He acknowledged 'There's a limit to what you can do to "spin" your way out of trouble: this is mostly simply down to improved performance.'

On the topic of crisis comms Leathley, a former Times transport correspondent, pointed out how innovations in consumer technology can bring challenges to PR departments.

'Everyone now has a mobile – passengers [in, say, a crash or delayed train] can text journalists from on board. And putting a press cordon around a crash site is history [as far as media management is concerned] because of mobile phone photography.'

Leathley said companies should update crisis manuals every three months, adding: 'The first hour of a crisis is the "golden hour" when your reputation will be made or broken.'

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