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Eurostar: nil points for customer communications in a crisis

Eurostar disastrously failed a key test of costumer communications on Thursday and Friday last week. It failed to inform its customers in a time of crisis. When things are going wrong you need to keep customers informed of developments. Or tell them when you will.


You may have seeen the coverage of the London end.  I experienced it at Gard du Nord: we were booked on a train to London just before 6pm. We got there 90 minutes before departure to be met with the signs saying it would be delayed by two hours. Little information from the one member of Eurostar staff on the concourse and all lifts and stairs to the first-floor booking office were closed off. So was the Eurostar information desk. Plenty of people milling about.

Brits queue: others go to the front

So, as one does, we want for a drink. On arriving back inside the station the British had done what the British always do in a crisis: they queued.

But there were other nationalities waiting and so the concourse had a bunch of people at the front by the stairs and a long tail of Brits waiting behind. The stairs were blocked by staff. Then a small group was let up. But the escalator was turned off so people had to manhandle heavy baggage up the stairs.

“Check in”: where, how?

The Eurostar notice board called everybody to check in. But we could not get to the check-in desks on the first floor. We stood for hours. There was one Eurostar person by the stair and he was told nothing for 2 hours.

Then a notice came up and advised people to exchange their tickets. But for what and where? Presumably in the booking office on the first floor which was blocked off. Still no information.

Romours start

Then people who had been let up to the first floor started to come down – with their baggage. And the rumours started: there would be no trains tonight. Come back tomorrow at the same time and try to get on a train.

Eventually the official announcement came close to 8pm: there would be no trains tonight: come back tomorrow and exchange your tickets.

So back to the hotel and an extra pleasant night in Paris. “At least you are not in the desert,” the desk receptionist said.

At 10pm there was a notice on the Eurostar website explaining and asking us to exchange tickets, but you could not do that online.

Same info on the site

Just before 8 am the next day, Friday, the same notice was on the site. After an heroic struggle my wife booked us online on a BA flight out in the afternoon.

The lessons from this are:

  1. Inform people of what is going on;
  2. Plan for such an emergency: the Chunnel has been blocked before and will be blocked again;
  3. Get staff who are informed to tell customers face-to-face what is going on;
  4. Don’t let a lonely member of staff have to deal with the thousands of questions people had;
  5. Update your website frequently;
  6. Use the display signs to get accurate information to customers; and
  7. Have online assistance so that people can exchange tickets without facing that disorganised process again.

Marks for Eurostar in this vital test of corporate communications: as they say in the Eurosong competition: Nil points.

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Use lobbying as a social movement in an integrated campaign: see the success of Boost Bingo

Lobbying is a vital weapon in the arsenal of corporate communications. But it can’t be done in the old way: wining and dining the great and the good.

It needs to have a social movement behind it to work. And that social movement needs social media.

Slash bingo tax

A great case study is the successful lobbying to cut the tax on bingo in bingo clubs. Chancellor George Osborne slashed the tax on bingo in bingo halls to 10% from 20% in the past budget.

He did it because of a successful lobbying campaign orchestrated by PLMR on behalf of the Bingo Association. Tax on normal betting is 15%: bingo halls had to pay 20%. The Association had tried conventional lobbying techniques and had got nowhere. Then it turned to PLMR.

New campaign

Under the guidance of PLMR’s Deputy Managing Director Elin Twigge a new campaign was forged. It used a range of techniques to get the government’s attention. It argued for a cut to 15%, but the Chancellor slashed it to 10%. Result. Hence the beer and bingo budget.

My top 10 tips for successful lobbying as a result of the success of Boost Bingo are:

  1. Develop an integrated campaign which involves not only those directly interested in the outcome but also the public, your customers. PLMR devised a petition which was used on the back of bingo cards and gathered over 300,000 signatures. It was presented at 11 Downing Street before the budget.
  2. Use social media as much as you can.
  3. Have an economic argument: Ernst and Young modelled the effect of the proposed tax cut and showed that in the short term it would cost the Treasury but in the long term it would boost tax income.
  4. Have a political argument: PLMR identified the MPs with small majorities and invited them to take part. And many did. Even a few votes can swing an election.
  5. Use a public event: PLMR had a demonstration of over 200 people outside Parliament and had banners from the different parts of the country they came from. MPs with slim majorities were willing to be seen championing their own areas. This created photo opportunities of a MP in front of the banner of bingo players in their constituency.
  6. Use this local connection to get into the local media. PLMR created pro-forma press releases which could be used in any location of a bingo hall: just add the location and the MP’s name and the message is the same.
  7. Make the campaign short and sharp. PLMR focused on a year of campaigning, with a special emphasis on the 6 months before the budget.
  8. Emphasise the social side of the cause: bingo halls are friendly places which provide a warm and welcoming environment for a cost-effective leisure activity.
  9. Have a good slogan: Boost Bingo is not great but it has the power of alliteration and is simple.
  10.  Here’s the big one: think of the campaign as a mini social movement seeking change rather than a lobbying process for a vested interest.

The result was a saving of £20 million in taxes for the bingo clubs. And the prospect of lower prices, more bingo players and more jobs in the sector.  Then tell the world what you’ve done see the video by clicking here: Boost Bingo

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Tip of the week: use the semicolon to power your writing ;)

Tip of the week

The semicolon is in your tool box of punctuation: use it to improve the power of your writing.

It is heavier than a comma and lighter than a full stop.

Here are 2 ways to use it:

  • As a divider in lists which are long and complex: “ Three of them went on the picnic: Richard, who hated wasps; Judith, his sister, who was frightened of bees; and Michael who loathed worms.” The semicolon here helps to distinguish between the three parts of the list and the descriptions of each member.
  • As a lighter separator than a full stop when full stops would make the writing very machine-gun like. Instead of “They ran. They eat. They slept” write “They ran; they eat; they slept”.

But the semicolon is not a colon: the colon is used to say “here comes something”, just as I have used it in this sentence.

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Majestic customer communications from Majestic Wines

Majestic Wines has launched a marketing offensive with a majestic piece of corporate communications to its customers.

Capture customer adresses and use them

Majestic captures the addresses of its customers at the point of sale. It has used this information to mail them a 12-page brochure on its “Easter Pick ‘N’ Mix” offer with 33% off.

This comes through the letter box to customers as right hand side is glued, so as to make it a booklet.


Great printed communications by Majestic Wine into the homes of its customers


It is a great piece of design and corporate communications to customers. It looks and feels stylish.  And it comes as a print communication, not lost in the ether of a digital sandstorm.

Let down by Majestic PR

I wish I could tell you more about the number of customers Majestic sent it to: but the public relations (PR) office did not reply to my queries. And I wish I could tell you who designed it: in house or by an agency? But the PR office did not reply. Pity the PR arm is not as strong as the marketing arm at Majestic HQ.

Flat sales but trying hard

Majestic needs such a marketing boost. Its sales will be flat in the financial year ending in March and its market share will be flat at about 4.1%, it says. In these circumstances what better to do than invest in majestic customer communications?


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As we always knew, less IS more…

“Facebook posts with less than 250 characters

get 60% more engagement.”


So ran the headline on a recent LinkedIn post. I’m sure you’ve also seen similar claims.

It seems that as the volume of content proliferates, our attention spans shrink and contract. As writers,  we need to be very careful about how much stuff we put out there.

Here are some of my tips to grab your reader; and then to keep them:

Get them thinking

If your whole message is summarised neatly in your headline, why should they bother to read any more? Don’t give them answers; promise them value, or lure them into your story…

Get to the point

Avoid waffle. Keep your points short. Speak directly.

Skim and scan

Subheads, bullet points, bold and underline are all handy visual cues for the reader. They help them assess the potential value of your words.

Does it look easy to read?

Layout is very, very important. Your words have to look easy to read, even before they capture your readers’ imaginations.

Make every word count

Enliven your language with well-chosen adverbs and adjectives. Precise meaning is an attractive quality in itself, regardless of your overall message.

Let them want more

Don’t swamp them with information. Much better if they want to know more. This engages their curiosity or imagination, and they are much more likely to be loyal readers.

What tips would you suggest?


And if you really have mastered the art of meaningful brevity,

please demonstrate your skills and enter our Caption Competition,

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Short financial reports help the share price

Short financial reports are more effective than long ones.

Long reports: bouncy shares

Companies reporting their financial results with long and wordy documents are more likely to have volatile share prices, reports The Times. Analysis can’t see the wood for the trees.The length of the financial report is the dominant factor in the movement of share prices after the publication of reports, say the researchers from Notre Dame University.

Legal protection
They examined 66,000 filings in the USA over 1994 and 2011. Companies put as much detail as they can in their reports to protect themselves legally. But the affect of a long report on the share price is instability.
So keep it short and clear to avoid unnecessary fluctuations in your share price.

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Make corporate communications to the public jargon free

Beware abbreviations, acronyms and jargon in corporate communications.   What you may say in the office and everybody understand may not be understood by the general public.

Leaflet communications

Leaflets advertising all types of products and services fall through the letter box every day.  Today Draque London, a property management company, spent a lot of money to leaflet our street.


The leaflet says: “Draque London provides a professional and efficient TPO and NAEA qualified property Sales service that is identical to your High Street brands.”  Apart from the capital S on “Sales”, what’s wrong with this sentence?

Baffling the reader

Reading it I did not have a clue what TPO and NAEA are.  Baffling the reader of the leaflet is not a good idea.  Only on closer examination did I see the logos for The Property Ombudsman and the National Association of Estate Agents in the bottom corner.   They, presumably, are TPO and NAEA.  But I had to “decode” the leaflet to find that out.  And I only did this because I wanted to blog on this important piece of corporate communications.


Normal readers would be puzzled, not informed.  What a waste of a potentially effective corporate communication.


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UKIP generates great sound bites

Political communications can be brutal.  See the career of Alastair Campbell. And watch the antics of Malcolm Tucker played by Peter Capaldi in the TV series The Thick of it.

People’s Princess

But occasionally it comes up with some glorious phrases, or rather sound bites.  Remember Tony Blair’s description of Diana as the “people’s Princess”? Great alliteration.

UKIP is the moving force in UK politics today.  It is generating plenty of political communications.   The PM called them “fruitcakes and loonies”.  Quite good until UKIP  served fruitcake at its spring conference.

Today’s coverage of UKIP has come up with two excellent sound bites.


A Number 10 source described UKIP: “It’s like candyfloss – a sticky mess that easily dissolves leaving a horrible aftertaste.”  Excellent imagery.

Excellent image with which to attack UKIP

Excellent image with which to attack UKIP

A nation of shop keepers

Then a Tory Euro-sceptic source countered: “If I was a shopkeeper and I began to notice that shoppers kept walking past my shop and on to another one that had recently opened, I wouldn’t stand at the door and shout abuse at my former customers.  I would find out why they were going to the other shop.  If it was because they preferred their stock, I would fire our purchasing manager and get new stock that they wanted.”

This is a longer sound bite than usual.  But it works.   The allusion to a shopkeeper reminds the Tory faithful of Margaret Thatcher.  And it puts the heads of the Tory party in the firing line.

Conjure up a picture

The lesson from all of these: conjure up a picture in your mind and use the images to communicate in this brutal world of political communication.

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Pic credit: photo credit: <a href=””>BitchBuzz</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a

Think it? Write it.

I was talking the other day with a friend.  About the democritisation of music. The access to great music-making tools. The ease of distribution.


How anyone with a  tablet or laptop, thanks to tools like GarageBand, can create and produce great sounds for themselves, their friends, and maybe even the great listening public out there…

And it got me thinking, that now of course, the same thing applies to writing.

We all have the opportunity – and the tools – to jot down our thoughts and reactions. Our feelings and concerns. Our triumphs and our tragedies.

And then of course we can, and do, share them. Via Twitter, FB, blogs, SMS, emails, etc

So we are all practising writers and editors. We just tend not to think of ourselves quite like that. To us, it’s often just “chatting”!

And yet, with just a little trimming here and there, an extra layer of emphasis, we have produced an article! Or a brief blog post. Or a pithy LinkedIn post…

I find one big benefit of all this communication, and the range of channels available, is that it helps me to form my own thoughts. Really clarify what it is I actually think, or believe, or hope.

In the saying of it, I am obviously still carrying on with the thinking about it.

As it should be. Writing should be a source of stimulus, a spark for our imaginations.

For the readers, AND the writer…

Customer magazines thrive

Customer magazines, aka contract magazines, are a strengthening arm of corporate communications.  They give brands all the appeal of a magazine and remain in front of the customer long after they have left the shop or consumed the service.  They are part of the sector calling itself content marketers.

Strategic or tactical

They can be used strategically or tactically.  Sainsbury’s used Fresh Ideas as its strategic magazine.  It is sent free to customers with large Nectar card points.  Its Sainsbury’s Live Well for Less Magazine is its tactical magazine.  Live Well for Less is free, stapled and 48 pages including the covers.  It has all the quality of a mid-range women’s magazine.  It is created for Sainsbury’s by Seven.

Perfect bound

John Brown creates Waitrose Kitchen for Waitrose.  This is a strategic magazine.  It has 100 pages and is perfect bound: ie glued at the spine.  This means it does not have a centre fold and puts it up market.  It has a cover price of £1.20.

Readers welcome them

Early concerns that readers would not think the contract magazines on offer would satisfy their interest are now unfounded.  Readers don’t mind that these magazines are part of the marketing operations of their clients.   They seem to welcome it.

Plug the new book

You can see a list and brief profiles of the top six content marketing companies on page 69 of Inside Magazine Publishing edited by David Stam and Andrew Scott published by Routledge.  Out now in all good bookshops or order online.  I’ve got two chapters in it and an appendix on legal issues.


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