Posts Tagged ‘Transport’

How long will Virgin’s PR window remain open on the West Coast?

Kudos to Richard Branson. His crusade to repeal the decision to award the West Coast Main Line to someone else shows no signs of slowing down. However, are the tables starting to turn? The FT reported yesterday on the large financial incentive for Branson to keep the rail contract in the Virgin stable – the line generates far higher revenues and margins than other lines in Britain, in part because of geography (it goes through the North West) but also because Virgin benefitted from the huge upgrade it got during the noughties.

To date Branson has based his campaign just like any other using the Virgin brand and its values – it’s the slightly alternative, anti-establishment brand run by that eternally young blonde haired guy who occasionally jumps off buildings – he’s the best of British and he tries to offer you a great experience on Virgin. People love the brand, even if the trains themselves are average at best in the eyes of some (for my sins I have a strange attraction to Virgin planes over others so the ‘brand thing’ clearly does work).

The problem is, the West Coast dispute is now in its third week. Initial sympathy and that feeling of “oh but Virgin are always good, we should keep them” from consumers will begin to peter out, especially as other events capture their attention again. The deeper look at the financial value of the line won’t help either – the more this becomes about bottom line and the less it’s about the Virgin brand, the better it looks for First Group.

If that wasn’t enough of a problem, the final blow for Branson would be if his pursuit of this issue starts to affect the quality of the service itself. Any perceived detorioration in the service, either now or as Virgin winds up its tenure later this year will likely be the final nail in the coffin. Consumers will tolerate a protest from Virgin, but not at the expense of a comfortable, on-time train ride.

So Branson continues to stay in the fight for now. But the longer it goes on, the lower his chances of success via public sympathy.