By Daniel Farey-Jones, brandrepublic.com, Monday, 21 December 2009 03:50PM
Speaking to Brand Republic, sales and marketing director Emma Harris said that while Eurostar's first priority is getting people home for Christmas it has a "big job to do from a brand point of view" after three days of "quite damaging" customer disruption.
The problems started on Friday night after five trains lost power and were stuck in the Channel Tunnel. Passengers were evacuated from two of the trains in the dark.
Passengers' experiences of unpleasant conditions, delays and lack of communication from Eurostar staff were extensively reported by the media and in social media, while subsequent attention has focused on those marooned in London and Paris due to the continuing lack of operational trains.
Harris has suspended normal advertising, pay-per-click and direct response activity and taken out apology ads signed by chief executive Richard Brown in today's broadsheet papers.
Harris said: "We'll be doing the same over the next few days. We want to use all of our channels to make sure people know what's going on."
The company is also reviewing its 2010 marketing plans at a meeting tomorrow with its ad agency Fallon, media agency Vizeum, social media agency We Are Social and experiential agency Firelighter.
It will look at how to adapt its messaging when it restarts marketing activity to find the right tone in which to encourage people to travel with Eurostar.
The company will also learn lessons from its use of social media, a new channel which it did not have in the last operations crisis that beset it in September 2008 after a fire in the Channel Tunnel.
Harris said having a social media presence has helped with customer relations but admits "we weren't geared up" for using it as a crisis communications channel.
The company's Twitter feed and Facebook page were designed to reinforce its 'Little break, big difference' marketing campaign and not as a platform for the hail of comments and questions thrown at it this weekend.
"We had a huge disruption last September and the big learning for us is the difference this time versus last time in the impact social media has had," Harris said.
"We're the commercial department and we were kind of ready for social media but the business wasn't. To start involving crisis communication and disruption messages into social media, we just weren't ready for it.
"We thought we'll start with it and once we've convinced the business this is how you need to interact with people then we widen it."
However, events overtook those plans and the company was forced to use its marketing assets to communicate with disgruntled customers, who commented on the irony of having to become a 'fan' of Eurostar on Facebook.
But Harris praised We Are Social, which went outside its brief to provide updates on Twitter and Facebook from late Saturday morning and film a video message from the chief executive, for "completely supporting" us.
She also acknowledged that the agency "said from day one this needs to be wider than just a commercial thing".
The longer-term plan is to get Eurostar's contact centre in Ashford, which handles customer service and traveller care, set up with the ability to interact with people online through Twitter, Facebook, and "wherever the conversation is being had".
"Our ambition was to set that up by the end of 2010 but I think this situation might escalate the timetable."
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This article was first published on brandrepublic.com