Trainspotting

By Marsh, Harriet | Marketing, June 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Trainspotting


Marsh, Harriet, Marketing


"The real trouble with Eurostar is this," says Mark Furlong, leaping to his feet to write the letters T.R.A.I.N on the whiteboard in his office at Waterloo. "You ask people what that means to them and whether they say Thomas the Tank Engine, Hornby, British Rail or Railtrack, the association is usually negative."

Yet Furlong, 30, refuses to be constrained by the British population's intrinsic distrust of rail travel.

"We are questioning whether Eurostar is really a train or a plane that goes on rails, or in fact something else entirely," he says, before outlining the range of service improvements planned for the autumn, including on-board retail, on-board entertainment and improved catering facilities.

Overcoming the T-word is only part of the task facing the former Virgin Atlantic marketing manager. He also has to reverse one of the biggest brand disasters of recent years, that left the public confused and ill-informed about the Eurostar service.

"It is one hell of a challenge," he says. "We've some ambitious targets but we have already managed 100,000 passengers for the past four weeks and if we can sustain that we are close to [pounds]5m in sales."

There is still a longway to go. Under its new management team, Eurostar Passenger Services plans to have ten million passengers a year on Eurostar by 1999 - a level calculated as necessary if it is to achieve sufficient profitability to finance construction of the 68-mile high-speed rail link from London to the tunnel.

Having already spent two years working on London & Continental's bid for the management of EPS, Eurostar's new marketing director has not wasted any time since his appointment in April.

The marketing budget is up by [pounds]6m this year and Furlong has brought in a new agency, St Luke's, to create a personality-oriented brand-building campaign. The advertising will air in July starring the UK's top Gallic personalities Eric Cantona and Eurotrash presenter Antoine de Caunes.

Furlong's past at Virgin Atlantic has left him with a reputation among ad agencies as something of a political player - and several agencies claim they steered away from Eurostar's pitch as a result.

The ability to cut through office politics may be just what is needed to keep the project on track. Furlong has the task of restoring the sagging confidence of the EPS marketing team as well as juggling the demands of Virgin head office, within the limitations of his budget.

In the build-up to the peak summer season the emphasis has been on price and promotions. The new strategy includes a standard booking fare of [pounds]155, which goes down to [pounds]99 if booked in advance. …

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