you're reading...
Eurostar health and safety

Eurostar PR fallouts from tunnel incident

Now that everyone is safe and “out”, stories start surfacing from all over. In one word: total PR failure.

Obviously the twittersphere and TechCrunch are exposing the twitter viewpoint here.

I use Eurostar well enough to know that there are good people working there.

In ordinary situations, it is an amazingly well oiled machine. 30,000 passengers per day go back and forth without a breeze. I also know they can be kind and very informative in case of delays or minor disruptions. But I can easily imagine what has happened this time:

Eurostar is after all a big bureaucracy with strict command lines.

Everyone is very good, trained and authorized to do his/her job, and only that job. In case of an emergency, there is certainly an emergency procedure in place. If the procedure is any good, it  probably says something like this: “in case of emergency your role is to do XXX and to remain available for any other order from the control center”. And this: “passenger safety first”. And this: ” no external communication authorized”.

Why the last item? Because during a crisis you’re never sure of what caused it. Eurostar is one of the obvious targets of terrorist attacks. I would not be surprised if releasing any kind of information would first have to be seen and approved by government antiterror agencies.

What happened this time was an unprecedented situation.

Never before they had 5 trains stuck. Never before they had to actually evacuate trains. With Claudia Schiffer inside, who knows how many other celebrities swapping cities for the weekend, and maybe some politicians from/to COP15. (by the way it looks like she has NOT been given priority evacuation). I bet that it was panic in the control center and that “orders” have not gone out smoothly. The staff has been executing and waiting.

WWW: What went well and What went wrong

What went well: no casualties, no serious injuries, no long term damage to infrastructure.

What went wrong: everything else that could have gone wrong, especially in terms of PR.

@coletteballou, a leading French PR agent and tweep was inside one of the trains and is tweeting out bits of scary stories. Babies left without food or nappies. Hours spent in the cold and total darkness without news. Hours spent on cold buses waiting for someone to say “go” and leave. No food, no water.  My favourite tweet: “Big shout out to passengers of #eurostar 9059: u were the only bright spot! Camaraderie was outstanding“. Other reports tell about pregnant women, elderly people, people in wheelchairs, and claustophobic panic attacks.

My conclusion so far

This is a scary story that shows once again that when even bright people become wheels of a machine, bad things can happen. They just stop thinking. I have to repeat that there are no casualties so the number 1 objective of an emergency plan has been met. But at what price? This could have turned into an amazingly positive heroic tale for Eurostar with just a few strokes of paint if they had communicated better.

What now?

0. Fire their internal PR team and external agents. Sorry guys, but you failed and seem still not to realize it. That’s when I decide to fire people.

1. Eurostar should now provide traffic updates through their web sites and Twitter every 15 minutes.

2. All Eurostar ground staff should be told to delay non-urgent queries (like refunds) and focus on getting people back home.

3. Eurostar should explain to the press what is going to happen tomorrow in terms of investigation and further actions. They should also be clarifying asap some of the stories – such as the Claudia Schiffer one – that might not be true.


Given new information filtered across in the past 2 days, it appears like Eurostar communication failure is more related to internal corporate divide between Eurostar and Eurotunnel rather than lack of marketing/PR skills. Although, the appalling interview of Eurostar chief exec still does not leave a nice impression of the PR department.

Todays’s feedback from Brand Republic shows someone at Eurostar marketing is trying to take a fresh look at things and hopefully will improve the overall communication processes. The core problem though is the same: if the tunnel operations are under the responsibility of Eurotunnel and they don’t know or can communicate, there will be little to say.



11 thoughts on “Eurostar PR fallouts from tunnel incident

  1. Excellent summary, spot on comments.

    Would just add one more action point: remember it isn’t just the customers who were stranded mid-journey that need communication.

    The thousands who had trips cancelled today, who don’t know whether they can travel tomorrow, who are in the ‘wrong’ country and need to know (urgently) what they can and can’t expect, need reliable, honest and proactive communication – if only so that they can make other plans.

    Posted by Jane Phillips | December 19, 2009, 6:19 pm
  2. Good post, Daniele.

    I always wonder whether these “PR disasters” actually end up being anything of the sort in the long-term.

    Ok, so Techcrunch has a go at Eurostar for not tweeting (in the grand scheme of things, oh please!) and half a dozen celebrities and ‘celebrity’ members of the digerati have a moan.

    Nevertheless, Eurostar, after getting pummelled in the media for 12 hours, then turns round and offers £150 compensation to each passenger and a free ride.

    That actually sounds quite a good response under the circumstances. (What else can they do?).

    But will Eurostar be irrevocably damaged after all this? Not at all.

    Especially once the London-centric media has another dose of snowflu and turns its attention to the next, err, “traffic chaos”, “christmas nightmare”.

    Apologies for sounding unsympathetic – but hyperbole rules again.

    Posted by Kevin May | December 19, 2009, 6:43 pm
  3. As I said
    How Tunnelvisionaries at Eurostar “Missed the Train” again…

    Would you be satisfied with that offer Kevin?

    Posted by Happy Hotelier | December 19, 2009, 7:05 pm
  4. @Jane Precisely where I think their communication should focus immediately after the emergency is sorted.

    @Kevin the “PR disaster” will (should) certainly have a long-term impact on a few individuals and hopefully change their organisation. I agree no big business damage considering the virtual monopoly position.

    Posted by eurostarclient | December 19, 2009, 7:06 pm
  5. I could not give a fetid dingo’s kidney for Claudia ruddy Shiffer – the PR and everything else disaster was for Mr Murray Harrold and family and Mr Smith and Mr Jones and the heavens knows how many others (including many young children and babies) stranded at Calais and Folkestone because Eursotar can’t get their poxy act together. (Oooh! We have a failed train, let’s send a mate down to have a look!) Actually, it was the (UK) Eurotunnel staff who did a sterling job trying to help stranded people – Eurostar types were pretty thin on the ground (We were there – for 14 hours – and had a long chat with UK Eurotunnel staff so I know). Either Eurostar units are not fit for purpose or if they are, we need to start looking at cost cutting and servicing standards of Eurostar units.

    Eurotunnel French staff were hopeless. Their version of crisis management was, well, to go home to bed basically. They did not even have the brains to realise that there is no point trying to load cars stuck in blizzard snow conditions if you leave the car holding area un-salted and uncleared (Oh! And leave bags of salt hidden in green bins – the only people salting the car park and pushing cars out of trouble to help clear the jam were fellow passengers including yours truly whilst French Eurotunnel oafs stood around smoking, laughing and basically watching) So, where is the Eurostar compensation for screwing up the Eurotunnel passengers travel? It’s not only Eurostar PR people that need sacking – the Eurostar line management needs a ruddy good shake up as well. Not to mention the useless, hopeless and dimwitted French Eurotunnel staff WITH THE EXCEPTION OF the one lady at the Calais terminal information desk who was a credit to Eurotunnel. The UK Eurotunnel team were also fan – ruddy – tastic!

    So, stuff Claudia ruddy Shiffer who gives a monkeys – WE are the bread and butter of these companies, not her.

    Posted by Murray Harrold | December 19, 2009, 8:10 pm
  6. Does anyone know who Eurostar’s PR agency / Agencies are? Just so I know to avoid in future pitches.

    Posted by stereojo | December 20, 2009, 8:29 am
  7. One of the agencies is We Are Social, see the above comment and see the comments left on the Techcrunch post. They have been quite active since saturday afternoon, it’s a good sign. I am not sure how much they are authorized to say and/or do.

    Posted by eurostarclient | December 20, 2009, 2:02 pm


  1. Pingback: uberVU - social comments - December 19, 2009

  2. Pingback: A note about today’s Eurostar crisis / we are social - December 19, 2009

  3. Pingback: Apalling Eurostar chief executive interview on BBC « Tales and tips from a real Eurostar Client - December 20, 2009

  4. Pingback: How Tunnelvisionaries at Eurostar “Missed the Train” again — Happy Hotelier - December 6, 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: