Grand Prix 2019
London North Eastern Railway (LNER) launched on 24 June 2018. Owned by the Department of Transport, it replaced the privately-owned Virgin Trains East Coast. But it was not a brand new company in the traditional sense: most Virgin Trains staff moved across to the new business. The routes remained unchanged. Virgin Trains’ passengers became LNER passengers.
The ‘to do’ list for the newly appointed communications team appeared never ending. They needed to create a new brand, look and feel to mark the differences between the two train operators because, after several previous well-documented failures of franchisees on the East Coast route, they needed to demonstrate commitment, certainty and confidence. The judges were impressed by how LNER worked out ‘bring together the staff, influence stakeholders and effect real change’.
A new company narrative and messaging framework was crafted to shape internal and external communications for the new business, tapping on the rich heritage that sits with the LNER brand, such as the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive that ran from London to Edinburgh.
Employees also had to feel secure and engaged, which required an intense six-week campaign to inform them of the changes and what it meant for them. Across 22 stations stretching from London to Aberdeen, the new business strategy was explained to employees, as well as their role in its delivery.
The internal communications team worked with colleagues to co-create a new purpose and values for the business, and then oversee its launch at LNER’s first ever two-day management conference, before working to embed this ethos across the business.
With the launch of 65 Azuma trains in the LNER livery scheduled for June 2019, a new media relations team was appointed with three months until deadline. With no transfer of media assets, the team had to create a new database of journalist contacts from scratch in order to implement a strategic media engagement as well as establish a press office function. They also conducted a benchmarking exercise with journalists, as well as holding informal discussions on how best they could support under-resourced local and regional newsrooms.
This led to the creation of a special media portal to host broadcast quality B-roll video, high resolution stills of Azuma trains en route and other assets that could be downloaded by journalists. Within three hours of any event, the team now uploads interview clips and an edited highlights package.
This approach led industry bible RAIL Magazine to write an editorial praising LNER’s one and honest approach, adding: ‘Forward thinking companies such as LNER show what is possible... ’
And while all this work was happening behind the scenes, the communications team also found time to establish a groundbreaking corporate partnership with charity Making Mental Health Matter, tackling the thorny issue of male suicides, particularly on a train line. An associated partnership with Samaritans provides LNER staff with the requisite training in how to approach people who look vulnerable or at risk of taking their own lives. For every life lost to suicide on an LNER route, six have been saved by the train company’s staff.
‘Given the multi-faceted challenges faced by new team in arguably crisis mode, the ability to find a campaign-able idea that galvanises the whole company for a greater benefit than one individual stakeholder is hugely laudable,’ said the judges. ‘This is all-round corporate communications practice at its best. The breadth of employee engagement, during new ownership, to addressing a taboo social issue, such as male suicide, is rare and outstandingly successful. This is exceptional work.’