Despite much of my work these days being bus related, although I do still produce copy for a couple of railway titles, I find it totally out of order for respected rail journalists to continually moan that the railway is incapable of doing effective PR and does not promote, or defend itself.
My first reaction is that said journalists have a short memory. In my time in railway PR these same said journalists have taken full advantage of train operators hospitality. Yes, they have been wined and dined and not just in the UK. Maybe they are programmed to forget the positive and focus on the negative.
But wait, perhaps I agree with them!
So what do I mean?
Well, the Train Operators are extremely good at PR, but it is targeted. PR is about promotion. PR is about awareness. PR is about innovation. Yes, in the early days that I was in the industry we did a significant amount of Project PR. This was followed by Product PR. But them the focus changed to Business PR. Business PR focuses on the customer and stakeholders but it should and must be inclusive of all media. Unfortunately there have been times - including in my time in railway PR - when trade press, and even national press was ‘forgotten’ in a frenzy to pander to the wishes of regional media. It is important in my opinion to keep all media on message and have regular dialogue with them.
Where I think the commentators have a valid point is that whilst train operators speak for themselves the industry voice has been lacking. It is hardly surprising since for ATOC, and now the RDG, to speak on behalf of the industry it has to have the support of its members. That means the train and freight operators have to agree the message content and tone. That is not easy but the industry must make it easy. Strong messages are required and they are required now, but commentators shouldn’t tar the whole industry with the same brush. There has been some extremely positive railway PR from the train and freight operators. Claims that the industry doesn’t do PR could result in those train operators reviewing what they do. At worst we could lose what railway PR we have and the industry commentators will have to but their own lunch.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.