MEDIA HOTLINE: AN EXPERT'S VIEW - The redesigned Hotline, Virgin Trains' in-carriage magazine, reads well

The newly redesigned Hotline, Virgin Trains' in-carriage magazine,

invites immediate comparisons with Hot Air, the Virgin Atlantic

in-flight title, which was itself redesigned this year under the former

Arena editor, Ekow Eshun.



It's not just the Virgin connection, the "Hot" prefix or the timing of

the two revamps. The fact is that Hotline's new look seems designed to

move the railways' custom publishing closer to that of airlines - a move

that seems designed to bring in more ad revenue as well as to help buff

the image of Virgin's west coast rail service.



In many respects, Hotline has pulled this off admirably. The look is

clear, modern and stylish and seems to owe much to Eshun's work on Hot

Air. In fact, the editorial environment is so good that a couple of very

nicely shot photo pieces - an essay on tower blocks and a spread on

modern architecture - don't appear out of place.



There's much to be said too for some of the editorial content,

particularly at the front of the magazine. Sharp paragraphs on the state

of cod fishing in Britain, the importance of whispering sweet nothings

into your beloved's left ear and research that suggests we need to think

less all proved fairly stimulating once I'd decided to dip in.



But that's where the first problem comes for Hotline. The editorial mix

covers so many bases that it struggles to persuade a passenger that it's

worth trying out. This isn't really a fault in the redesign, rather a

problem with rail publishing in general, and one that Virgin and John

Brown Publishing haven't quite managed to overcome. From the range of

articles at the front, it's hard to know whether we are entering a

would-be Wallpaper, a Time Out-style listings title or a health and

beauty glossy.



Another generic problem persists in Hotline's inability to tear itself

away from train-related content. The introductory letter (from Virgin

Trains' chief executive, Chris Green) seems mostly interested in tilting

carriages. The first three pages then deal with Virgin Trains news

before shooting, with no introduction, to the cod piece.



Virgin, like GNER, persists with a destinations listing service,

highlighting what to do at the various cities enroute. I've often

wondered about the wisdom of this, since passengers rarely catch a train

without having plans for what they'll do at the other end.



That said, there's still enough room for a substantial features well,

and Hotline gets a good mix together here too. There's surprisingly

accessible coverage of business, fashion (the centrepiece, a Stella

McCartney profile), sport and art and the variety makes up for another

one of my train magazine moans - the lack of any truly provocative

writing.



Publisher: John Brown Publishing

Frequency: Quarterly

Print run: 200,000

Full-page ad rate: £3,500

Advertisers include: Bose, Admiral Insurance, Neville Johnson