An impromptu party thrown by commuters struck a chord and put one comms person in the media spotlight when it became a good news story. Here's what he learned.
by Chris Lines
“Great idea! Party on a train. I’ll bring sausages and croissants.”
I may have worked in comms for 30 years but, at that moment, I wasn’t thinking comms. I was just chatting with some regular passengers on my daily commute.
Ten days later, as the 8.08 from Abergavenny set off (late) for Cardiff, the party started. Jeremy brought paper chains and table cloths. John shared the crackers which gave us our paper hats. Allan had the bubbly. Sian had all kinds of spreads. Cellan arrived one station later with chocolates. And I indeed brought sausages and croissants as well as some generous sized toasties.
We had way more than we could eat or drink so, naturally, we shared it out. There’s nothing like a glass of bubbly and free breakfast to break the ice.
You wouldn’t expect such events to go unrecorded on Twitter. They didn’t. You may not expect a journalist to be travelling on the same train. But, in this case, James McCarthy from Wales Online was there. He didn’t miss the story.
Those few tweets on the Friday morning and the Wales Online piece posted on Saturday evening captured the imagination. A week later, the story had travelled the globe. We’d trended on Facebook for nearly 24 hours, topping Star Wars and Mother Teresa. And we’d shared interviews with stations from Radio 4’s Today programme to ABC in the US; and on websites from Mail Online to Lad Bible.
This was not an engineered comms stunt, but it does remind me of five comms truths:
1. Never underestimate the power of a good story
We had a great story. It was unusual – how many parties have you been to on a train? People could relate to it – most of us struggle with a commute to work one way or another and we all love a party. It was topical – it took place at Christmas. And it focussed on living, breathing people, not their corporate selves.
2. It’s what moves people that matters
I spend so much of my working life talking strategy, audiences and messages, that it’s easy to forget that what matters in comms is what moves people. Here was a story which made people smile and laugh. It even made a few people cross – “you shouldn’t be drinking before work” and “I wouldn’t want my commute disrupted by such show-offs.” That’s why we shared it.
3. We live and work in a multi-channel world
This was a story which spread through the mainstream media as much as online. One fed the other and vice versa. People saw it in the media and told their friends on their social networks. Journalists saw it online and used Twitter to ask for interviews and for permission to use the pics.
4. Everyone wants video
But they didn’t get it. No one thought to film our festivities but that’s what all the journalists wanted. The best anyone came up with is on Telegraph Tube – possibly the best demonstration I’ve seen of how not to make a video.
5. Today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper
When people ask for a selfie with you because they’ve loved the story – yes, it happened – it’s easy to get carried away with the impact of it all. But stories come and go. My mum missed it all together.
So, keep your feet on the ground. After all, over on the South Wales Argus website, Bovine1967 commented: “What a knob Chris Lines is.” As my wife said: “He must know you.”