It has been almost impossible to miss this year’s communications campaign celebrating 150 years of the Tube. From posters to TV programmes, articles to stunts, barely a day has passed when the Tube wasn’t in the news and for once at least, the coverage has been overwhelmingly positive.
Last week, The Chartered Institute of Public Relations invited TFL’s in-house PR team to one of its monthly gatherings to discuss how they’d achieved these results. Aspectus jumped at the chance to attend and gain insight into the strategy and ideas behind the award-winning campaign. The evening was hosted by The London Transport Museum, which provided the perfect setting for a discussion on how a brand’s heritage and future were juxtaposed to create an exciting and engaging campaign.
TFL’s comms team set out to celebrate both the heritage of the Underground, but at the same time encourage modern Londoners to appreciate the service they use today. Despite being such an iconic brand, for many Londoners the phrase ‘The Tube’ brings to mind delayed trains, stale air and being pressed into a sweaty armpit after a long day in the office. This was the first hurdle the team had to overcome and the team approached it by making the romantic history of the Tube tangible, most notably by organising a steam train to run through Farringdon station.
They also went to great lengths to show just how difficult it is to manage the Tube service, and the passion and energy that’s required. Perhaps the most touching element of the campaign was last year’s six-part series entitled ‘The Tube’, which culminated in the documentary, ‘The Tube: An Underground History’. These programmes painted a candid portrait of the service today and demonstrated how it has touched the lives of millions over the course of several generations – not least of all the lives of underground workers, who clearly loved the brand they represented. The show proved a huge success and attracted 2.2 million viewers.
The campaign also contrasted the past and present with a view of the Underground of the future, which teased the press with glimpses of new projects, such as Crossrail. Invites were extended to only a handful of news organisations but this in turn generated interest from a range of other publications eager to discover what was happening behind the scenes.
The team went on to show how, when a brand’s influence is at its peak, it can pull other powerful brands into its orbit. The Tube was able to partner with Penguin, The Royal Mint and even the Royal Family, which not only guaranteed reams of coverage, but also emphasised the cultural importance of the Tube for Great Britain. This was best demonstrated by the tongue-in-cheek image of Kate Middleton boarding a Tube train with a ‘baby on board’ badge pinned to her coat.
Using the rich history of design on the Underground, the comms team also reached out to brands such as Google and Lego, who used the famous multi-coloured map to create a Lego model and a Google Doodle. Again, these proved rewarding partnerships. The Google Doodle alone generated 400 pieces of coverage.
Social media was employed to tie all of the various audiences together, and acted as a platform for Tube users to share their stories and access all of the content generated over the course of the campaign.
As if the success of the campaign was in any doubt, the Head of PR for TFL concluded the presentation by explaining how the team had reported on their marketing activity. In a series of graphs, he showed how 64 per cent of Londoners had heard of the anniversary and when Londoners were asked how they felt about the Tube, 55 per cent replied positively (up from 24 per cent in 2011).
‘What’s the story?’ is a common question for PR agencies looking to communicate their client’s message to the press and this campaign undoubtedly had an interesting and rich story to tell. But by encouraging others to tell their own stories about the Underground, and by combining a wide range of innovative methods and channels, the TFL comms team also got people to truly appreciate a service that perhaps many of us have taken for granted. No mean feat for a 20th Century brand in the 21st Century.