Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The West Coast Mainline and a PR Masterclass from Virgin

When I was a cub reporter, my editor used to say to me, 'never start a campaign unless you know you can win it'. The embarrassment of going hell-for-leather at something and then not getting the result you wanted would tarnish the newspaper's brand, he thought.
That's why I thought it odd when Virgin launched its PR campaign to win back the West Coast Mainline, when it lost it to First Group in August.
Following the announcement of the contract, the Chief Executive of Virgin Trains, Tony Collins, came out with a strong statement. This was followed up by Richard Branson calling the situation 'insanity' and going on every media outlet he could to talk about the flaws in awarding the contract. He sowed the seeds of doubt in the public's mind that First had promised something they couldn't deliver.
An online petition was then swiftly set up by a member of the public, which attracted the requisite 100,000 signatures in days and meant the awarding of the contract had to be debated in parliament.
Since then, Virgin has been relentless in its PR and public affairs activity, trying every avenue to get this contract looked at again.
There was no way that the Government was going to take back the contract; surely Virgin knew that, so why would they be going all out on this campaign?
Indeed, Justine Greening, then Transport Secretary, went on Radio 4's Today programme and was adamant that the contract had gone to First and that was the end of it.
I tried to think through Virgin's strategy. Perhaps they were bidding or planning to bid for other franchises and wanted to show the public support they could garner? Perhaps they were smarting about losing the bid and wanted to hurt First as much as they could?
But no, the answer was they knew they could win the campaign.
Today marks a significant milestone in that campaign. It's been announced this morning that the deal with First Group has been scrapped and the Government is going to look again at the contract.
Virgin, I take my PR hat off to you.
Richard Branson has blogged his response here.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece here. I think it comes down to politics and if you are going to play dirty with Mr Branson, you better have a good PR team. The man knows how to win hearts, minds and represent UK. Let the fight begin.


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