Which would you prefer: to have your tube journey in the morning disrupted without notice and stress about exactly how late you're going to be for work that day? Or to read about potential problems in advance in a magazine written specifically for you and delivered through your door, enabling you to plan another route?
London Underground's marketing department hopes you would plump for the latter, which is why it's gearing up to launch a customer magazine through John Brown Citrus Publishing. Tube will initially be published quarterly and distributed to the 300,000 people who fork out for a monthly or annual tube pass.
The magazine will "inform, reward and entertain" the tube's affluent, mainly AB customers, according to Alex Boulting, LU's promotions and initiatives manager. "We've got three main aims: first, to help our core customers understand the workings of London Underground and the kind of problems that we face. Second, we want to reward them and build up the brand in their eyes; and third, we want to get those messages across in an entertaining way which will improve confidence and trust in the brand," he says.
Sian Phillips will edit the title. Her experience with customer magazines for Virgin Trains and Airlines and the AA made her a good candidate for the job. Its pages will feature celebrity interviews and the latest developments at stations, but it will not be a political polemic, the JBCP managing director, Dean Fitzpatrick, says. He claims focus groups showed that 91 per cent of people wanted such a title. "There's a real hunger from people to find out more about the tube," he adds.
Its pages will also reflect the design heritage of the LU, using the same fonts, colours and clear presentation.
"The LU is a brand and design icon. We wanted to present the iconic imagery that people are familiar with in the pages of the magazine and will be taking a contemporary modern feel to a design people are already very familiar with," Fitzpatrick says.
However, along with whether one can expect delays at Brixton due to a new escalator being installed, there are other, tougher issues which London commuters demand an answer to. "Our part-privatised partners scheme will inject £50 million into the system, and we have to communicate that effectively to our customers. We are taking the medium away from whiteboards and leaflets in stations, and taking it into the format which will remain in their conscience for a lot longer than the current methods of talking to them," Boulting says.
Until now LU has relied on either above-the-line advertising, now through M&C Saatchi, an editorial page in Metro, or information whiteboards in stations. While critics might accuse LU of leaping to dispel any bad press it might rack up in London's papers by publishing its own title, Boulting admits LU should have acted earlier to talk to its customers through contract publishing.
Fitzpatrick echoes this view. However, he says it is "never too late" to talk to customers. "The magazine will make their most loyal and valued customers feel valued. LU is the glue which holds the city together and a credible magazine will help boost its image."
Sarah Heard, Partners BDDH's board account director, worked on the LU account until it moved to M&C Saatchi. She said customers welcomed being spoken to openly and honestly. "The 'love is ...' and 'customer services' poster advertiing was positively received," she says. "I applaud the efforts of the tube in being more open in its communications and opening a dialogue. If the magazine does this, helps build understanding and fosters a sense of community among tube customers, then it has to be a good thing."
And LU says it is having no problem selling space to advertisers on the strength of its database. The first issue has attracted Cadbury, Bose and Orange as well as regular tube-card advertisers. Boulting is also looking for advertisers to sponsor issues and wants to increase the amount of cross-selling to existing advertisers on the tube. "We've had no trouble getting advertisers for the first issue - we will have a compelling readership made up of people they really want to talk to," he argues.
And what about those of us who buy a weekly tube pass or only buy tickets per journey? Boulting is also investigating new channels to distribute the magazine through to reach this audience, possibly through a link-up with the national press. Once Tube is up and running there are also plans to rethink its frequency and the possibility of tailoring it to different customer needs.
"The older commuter who buys a ticket yearly has a completely different profile from the twenty-something who buys a weekly card," Fitzpatrick says.
Fitzpatrick claims it's a winner all round: for advertisers, LU and, of course, tube users: "There's a real opportunity. There's so much to say about the tube, we've enough ideas to fill dozens of issues."