Virgin’s decision to ban the Daily Mail on its trains is a PR disaster

On a train recently, I was able to see what the other people around me were reading.

We were sitting at a table, four of us, all with laptops or tablets. In the window, in the reflection, I could look at their screens. We were all on Mail Online.

Apart from my sheer nosiness, what else could be gleaned from this observation? That dailymail.co.uk is an extremely alluring beast, such that people from different walks of life are attracted to it. And if I wanted an illustration of the power of digital over print here it was. None of us was studying a newspaper, magazine or book.

It was a Virgin train going north on the West Coast line. Now, Virgin has decided to stop selling the Daily Mail on board its trains along the same route. The train company’s staff object, apparently, to the newspaper’s coverage of various issues, and a ban has therefore been imposed. 

Not only is this bizarre – given that anyone can purchase a copy elsewhere before boarding a Virgin train, or as I found they can peruse the paper’s sister website to their heart’s content – but it is public relations suicide.

Virgin workers may not share the paper’s stance on a range of causes, from the EU to immigration to LGBT rights to unemployment, but to ban the sale of the paper? What are they thinking? More to the point, what is Sir Richard Branson, the firm’s boss, thinking?

No one is more PR-savvy than Branson, nobody in the past has exhibited a surer touch when it comes to promoting themselves or their brand.

Branson has been telling us for years that he is Virgin, that the company and founder are inseparable, their values identical. He promotes himself to promote Virgin. Now we know that those standards he so aspires to include restricting choice and controlling freedom of expression.

For once, Branson’s deftness has deserted him. Free speech, and that includes a free press, is one of the tenets we hold dear. It’s something we cite whenever asked why we…

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