Northern Rail

Northern Rail

Organisation: Northern RailSector: Transport + Infrastructure

In the current business environment companies live and die by their ability to connect with customers online. Rail operators are no different. Northern Rail sought a marketing leader who could reach out to current and potential customers using a multi-channel approach and expand the company’s digital presence.

Company Profile

Northern Rail runs local trains across the north of England, serving more than 500 stations and a population of 15 million in Yorkshire, the North-East and the North-West. With 4,900 staff keeping 330 trains on the network, and delivering 2,500 services every weekday, Northern is the largest train operator in the UK having won the franchise to run rail services across the north of England in 2004.

The Challenge

Northern Rail needed an interim to transform the company’s marketing into a multi-channel strategy that would also step up its use of digital platforms. This meant supporting the business in the short-term with new digital channels to test and learn from. The interim would then build upon the experience to craft a revamped marketing strategy for 2015. At the same the interim would need to build an expanded marketing team and ensure it was gaining valuable digital experience.

Interim Profile

With 24 years’ experience in marketing, Phil Gates has worked across a variety of sectors with a focus on digital and web-based campaigns. Phil has worked with P&O Ferries, Kimberley-Clark Europe, Fiat Auto, O2 and Virgin Mobile, where he was head of online marketing and development. At Glasses Direct, and then Rank Interactive, he held the post of marketing director. He has worked as a interim for a total of three years through his company The Digital Auditors.


Northern appointed Phil, a digital marketing expert with experience of working with brands like Fiat and Virgin Mobile, who approached the role with an eye on detail. Phil firstly reviewed past marketing campaigns, their results and what was learned. Next came identifying, with his team, new opportunities to test and learn from, followed by subjecting the ideas to classic SWOT and PEST analysis. Understanding the commercial objectives of Northern was then fed into the analysis to create a marketing document laying out actions, their timing and how the results would be measured. “There had been strategies before which were good, but it was a case of bringing a wider level of experience to writing a fully formed marketing plan and putting in place all the KPIs to pick up the learning going forward,” says Phil.


A wave of marketing activity followed Phil’s arrival at Northern including digital advertising and retargeting (a technique for focusing adverts on known users of Northern’s website), Facebook engagement, and relaunching the company’s promotional Twitter handle. Phil also led Northern in testing radio advertising across five local stations to provide a “halo” effect for the other marketing channels.

Phil has delivered a project to upgrade Search Engine Optimisation for Northern’s internet presence, as well as implementing a Customer Relationship Management solution.

“Phil has developed our marketing, and built a team, to make it a commercially rigorous and customer-focused plan,” says Richard Allan, Northern’s commercial director. “He’s done a great job. He has pushed hard to deliver multi-channel campaigns and make our marketing spend work really hard. In the fullness of time this will be a strength.”

For Phil, his eight months with Northern was been about developing new thinking for a client. “For me, as an interim, the fascination has been learning the nuances of a new industry. The added enjoyment is working with a receptive and energetic team who want to get as much out of me as they can in terms of knowledge and experience.”

Impacts Role

Appointing an interim was a matter of urgency for Northern when the business approached Impact adviser Trudy Peeler. Phil found the process thorough and quick. “It was fast-tracked, and simple between first being approached and appointed. My skills and experience were ideally matched with Northern. It was the perfect role for me,” says Phil.

Richard Allan emphasises how Impact worked to fulfil Northern’s priorities: “Trudy understood our business needs were pressing. She found five good people for interview and was very helpful in doing that quickly. And with Trudy’s help, we have appointed someone who has proven very effective.”

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To find out more contact Trudy Peeler

Tel: 0207 314 2006