Campaign details

Agency: First Partners & Quantum Communications
Brand: National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL)

Situational analysis

India entering the league of developed nations by introducing its own bullet train, but the country divided In 1853, India moved from horse to steam when the first passenger locomotive between Bombay and Thane was introduced.

Fast forward to 2017 another watershed moment for India was to arrive with the commencement of work on its first high-speed railway project – the bullet train, connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad, to be launched through a ceremonial ground-breaking ceremony held on the banks of the Sabarmati by the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India and Hon'ble Prime Minister of Japan.

The project involved a staggering investment of Rs 1,10,000 crore (USD 17 billion) with 81% funding support from the Government of Japan at attractive terms. Around the same time, the Indian Railways was battling with a slew of challenges by way of large, high-fatality accidents and facing unrelenting criticism on its lack of adequate investments and safety administration.

This context also led to pervasive criticism on 'wasteful luxury and 'low-priority' expenditure by the Government when India was plagued by debilitating crisis of employment and food for all. A country which is struggling to provide basic infrastructure for all its citizens does not need to make disproportionately high investments in a high-speed rail for the few – were the arguments mounted by the critics.

Also, since the project covered two states – Maharashtra and Gujarat, political and economic perception issues were rampant and rife. The 508-km line aims to reduce the journey time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to two hours from the eight it takes at present. This project will transform the very paradigm of commuting in India and also be seen as a vindication and coming of age of a country long derided as 'third-world' and 'backward'.

However, with many groups and interests ranging from effected populations to political and environmental pressure groups opposing this project, challenges to intended communications delivery were daunting.


Present the High-Speed Rail as a shining example of India's development; unify the nation behind the march to progress The single-point mandate for the consultancy was to make the High-Speed Rail, the bullet train launch a widely acclaimed success and position it as a shining example of the progressive mindset of the current Government. The consultancy was tasked to design and execute an integrated media launch communication at Sabarmati, Ahmedabad, over three days. It was important to minimise any negative fall-outs and establish national-level positives and gains. A key focus was to also position National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHRC), the corporation setup to execute the project, as a vehicle which will not only introduce India's first bullet train but also act as a catalyst for the arrival of world class project management and infrastructure development capabilities in the country paving the way for uplifting India's railway infrastructure as a whole.

Insights and strategy

Focus on the citizens instead of the critics; take the 'high speed for high growth' theme to deliver the 'Pride of India' story at all interfaces There were voices of dissent questioning the massive investments as a backdrop. To work around these challenges, the consultancy shaped the contours of the communication programme based on key insights and corresponding strategic imperatives. Good for Citizens – Pride of India A perception dipstick among the media revealed mixed views. However, there was a heightened sense of excitement among citizens. Therefore, the consultancy decided to focus on messaging which would connect with the common-man. Accordingly, project high points were brought to the fore:
  • From a never-before heard soft-terms of the loan from Japan at 0.1 % interest spread over 50 years made the project almost free for the country;
  • A world-class product in India;
  • Prospect of more such trains to be introduced in other corridors in India through transfer of technology (TOT) from Japan all leading to a sense of pride among the citizens.
What also helped was an inclusive approach in the event format. A landmark event of such high importance to the nation should not be restricted to VVIP's and VIP's but also allow the common populace to witness it. Accordingly, the venue had a section where residents of the city of Ahmedabad were allowed to attend through a pre-registration process through their local counsellors. Create excitement around the product The biggest communication asset was the to-be-introduced product itself. Highlights were:
  • The arrival of the fastest means of ground transportation for the citizens of India.
  • A safety record of zero casualties in the last 50 years.
  • The comfort and convenience of travelling in a modern HSR (High Speed Rail).
  • Technology which is an environment friendly and energy efficient were what would resonate best with citizens.
India has one of the lowest penetration of air travel and majority of Indians are used to travelling by train. The fact that by riding an HSR people will reach their destination in total transit time which would be lesser than travelling by air was a high point of the key messages. One project, many catalysing benefits: collapsing the distance to economic growth In one stroke India was taking a leap with a catalytic effect on triggering new directions for economic growth and connectivity:
  • Bridging the distance between two large commercial centres of the two most progressive states of India would give new boost to business, industries and economy.
  • The 12 cities where the stops were planned en-route would witness new opportunities for growth and development.
  • Thousands of jobs would be created through the life of the project and subsequently in running and maintaining the operations.
  • The transfer of technology and a breed of engineers and technical staff which would be trained to man the project would be instrumental in creating future infrastructure of introduction of many more high speed rails across other commercial corridors of the country.

Challenges and tactics

Taking the action inside the launch event, outside! Managing communication for an event of a scale and class with the line-up of the highest levels of political dignitaries posed unique challenges and limitations. The launch announcement had the presence of the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe, Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Devendra Fadnavis and Minister of Railways and Mr. Piyush Goel. This called for the highest level of security imposing strict restrictions on who could be invited, the movement of attendees, as well as minimal control on the messaging inside the event venue.

In addition, there were a multitude of Government departments which were deeply involved with the event – The Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the Railway Minister's Office, project leadership from National High Speed Rail Corporation which is executing the project and the offices of the Chief Ministers of Gujarat and Maharashtra along with their publicity departments. This posed restrictions on the journalists and influencers who could be invited to attend the launch event. However, this was not to be a limitation for the consultancy which adopted a mix of strategies to deliver the campaign messages to a motley set of influencers and stakeholders before, through and after the event. Media segmentation adopted included the following:
  • Core set of Government accredited journalists invited to personally attend the event.
  • Journalists who were interested in reporting the event from across India, but could not be extended Government accreditation.
  • Commentators and columnists who could lend their views on the new project.
  • Social media influencers and platform owners who could help widespread the launch messages.
There was a large section of national and local media as well as social media influencers who could not attend the ground-breaking ceremony because of Ministry of External Affairs strict accreditation policy, and therefore a graded approach was followed:
  • Opinion Writers and Senior Editors were provided detailed information including the project factsheet and relevant images on the launch.
  • Some journalists from national English and Hindi publications based out of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar were denied access to the event as accreditations were extended to their Delhi counterparts. These journalists were hosted at the media lounge and were provided real time information of the event including pictures of the ceremony for a positive local reportage.
  • Leading social media influencers were provided content support for tweets with relevant images of the event to have a positive tonality in the digital media space.
Command centre in Delhi, War-room in Ahmedabad In order to seamlessly execute the event, the consultancy set up a centralized control room in Delhi with a mirror war-room in Ahmedabad, close to the venue. A 16-member consultancy team was on-ground for four days. A media lounge, communications centre, and content-oversight team was also set-up for filing of stories, media interactions, and refreshments. The content team developed multi-lingual press releases and collaterals which were consumed over 400 media kits, hand-outs and releases as well as updates. The protocol team not only managed the reception and stay of the outstation media in Gujarat but also volunteered to managing their accreditation and admit-card protocols for an enhanced outcome.

Impact and measurement

Blanket coverage across genres with vast majority positive tenor The event outcome can be gauged on two levels:
  1. Sheer media output and outcomes
  2. Tonality of immediate and medium-term influencer opinion
The event managed to marshal large swathes of the nation's populace on the side of the high-speed project. This can be gauged from the very high-decibel media coverage and social media activation that ensued during and post the event. The consultancy creatively engaged the country's top influencers, commentators and columnists with resultant hugely positive editorials and views/reviews.

A large section of highly credible opinion makers and columnists in the country got solidly behind the High Speed Rail and largely perceived it to be a redoubtable and impressive symbol of India's development. These included names like – Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Baru, Swapan Dasgupta among others. Key metrics: Rs. 44.2 crore print impressions AVE, 256 million impressions for ttBulletTrain, 5.7 million impressions for #HighSpeed4HighGrowth
  • The event was attended by more than 175 media houses. All key publications, wires, and electronic channels were represented.
  • The event received total 2,159 coverage on the event in which 74% coverage appeared in print media and 26% in electronic media resulting from a total column cc of 1,27,076 ccms.
  • The Total Media Advertising Value generated from the event was Rs 44.2 cr, with mainlines contributing 21.5 cr followed by regionals (12.7 cr) and business publications (lOcr).
  • In the print media, regional publications generated highest coverage – 585 exposures, followed by 528 exposures in mainline dailies and 485 exposures in financials. More than 60% of the articles had visuals.
  • Digital amplification – the hashtag #BulletTrain received 256 million impressions; #HighSpeed4HighGrowth got 5.7 million impressions.
  • Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad were the main drivers where the event got highest coverage followed by Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai.
  • The event garnered more than 600 prominent articles on the front or third page of the publication along with close to 200 editorial/opinion/authored articles.
  • In the electronic media, the event generated a total of 559 stories. The coverage was across TV news platforms with maximum of 263 exposures in Hindi news channels such as DD news, Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV etc. The Regional channels had 154 exposures, followed by National English channels with 80 exposures and business 62.