Helping veterans access discounted rail travel

As the country went into lockdown earlier this year, Captain Sir Tom Moore captured the hearts of the nation with his morale-boosting 100 laps around his garden. The twice world-record breaker served in the Second World War, raised millions for National Health Service (NHS) charities and inspired the country to stay positive during uncertain times.

Captain Sir Tom quickly became one of the most recognisable faces of 2020, so we wrote to him asking if he could help the Department for Transport spread the word on the new Veterans Railcard, which we had pledged to launch before Armistice Day 2020.

The new railcard provides veterans with up to a third off all rail fares, unlocking opportunities such as training and reconnecting with friends and family. Service personnel often live and work all over the UK, moving regularly from posting to posting, so can find themselves hundreds of miles from family and friends when they leave.

Here we tell the story of how we worked with 2020’s national treasure to raise awareness of the new railcard.

Making the UK the best place to be a veteran

With the media full of Coronavirus (COVID-19) headlines, it was a challenging time to launch the money-saving railcard, which formed part of the Government’s Veterans Strategy to help to make the UK the best place in the world for veterans.

From research, we knew the railcard would open up opportunities to veterans, through employment, retraining, and strengthening links with friends and family, but we needed to be innovative to use the launch to generate awareness and reach our target audience – at a time when the news agenda was already packed. The Veteran Railcard had already seen national headlines and broadcast coverage twice before, so the challenge was on to find a new angle.

Enter Captain Tom… Could we persuade one of the UK’s most famous veterans to help us?

Captain Sir Tom Moore
Captain Sir Tom and the new Veteran’s Railcard.

Reaching our target audience

The campaign needed to reach veterans who were not eligible for another type of railcard, so we focused our OASIS plan around those aged 30 to 60. Our strategy included targeting relevant media, including Forces TV and publications, as well as working with a range of veteran charities and the Armed Forces, sharing a digital toolkit with content for their channels. Our OASIS plan included a ministerial visit to a veteran training centre to demonstrate how those who had left military life might use the railcard to reintegrate back into civilian life.

We knew support from Captain Tom would help raise awareness across the board. Once we had the idea of awarding the military hero with the first ever Veterans Railcard – and discussed next steps in detail – the Transport Secretary wrote to him to ask for his support.

We waited in anticipation for the response, hoping for positive news, while continuing to plan the railcard launch. A much-awaited email arrived from the friendly team at the Captain Tom Foundation to much excitement, and we started to arrange a COVID-19 secure visit at pace.

We invited selected media and created our own digital content – an uplifting video of Captain Tom being presented with the first railcard – leading to the most successful video and social posts of the year for the Department for Transport. Some of the communications team were lucky enough to meet the inspirational Captain Tom.

Raising awareness

We managed to secure the first with media coverage that was 100% positive – targeting channels popular with our key audience – and our work with charities and military led to support from their channels, including from Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.

Our objective was to ensure sales of the new Veterans Railcard were high once launched. The campaign led to more than twice the number of Veteran Railcards being sold in the first 48 hours compared to sales when the last new railcard was launched, despite a far smaller target market and the impact of COVID-19.

We were delighted that Captain Sir Tom supported the railcard campaign. It was fantastic to hear him say that the railcard would show thanks and gratitude to veterans, helping them to re-connect and combat loneliness.

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