British Rail get some home truths

There is a great story that does the rounds of the advertising world about a British Rail pitch.

An agency called ABM were pitching for the account against some very good agencies but they were the underdogs. If they were to stand a chance they had to find a way to prove they knew something the other agencies didn’t.

Legend has it that on the day of the pitch, the top management of British Rail turned up at ABM, walked into reception to find it deserted. The chairman checked his watch, they were on time. He looked around, no one - just a very scruffy reception area. Crumpled newspapers, litter, cigarette ends on the floor, cushions with holes burned in them. This looked like the worst agency they’d been in.

Eventually a scruffy woman appeared and sat behind the desk. She ignored them and started rummaging in a drawer. The chairman coughed, she ignored him. He coughed again, nothing.

He said “Excuse me, we’re here to see….” The woman said “Be with you in a minute love.” He said “But we have an appointment….” She said “Can’t you see I’m busy?” The chairman said “This is outrageous. We’ve been waiting fifteen minutes.” The woman said “Can’t help that love.”

The chairman said “Right that’s it, we’re leaving.” And the top management of British Rail started to walk out. At that moment a door opened and out stepped the head of the agency.

He’d been watching everything. He shook the chairman’s hand warmly.

He said “Gentlemen, you’ve just experienced what the public’s impression of British Rail is.

Now, if you’ll come this way, we’ll show you exactly how we’re going to turn that around.”

And they took the British Rail management into their boardroom and went through an all-singing, all-dancing presentation of how bright the future could be, if ABM was their agency. Which, of course, it became.

A great example not only of how an agency can approach a pitch but also of an ignorance to customer perception that can surround public transport, even now.


  1. So glad that when I wanted to explain this to someone, all I had to do was Google "Brit Rail pitch" and your post came up! Thank you!


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