The global mobility provider connected Finland to mainland Europe with a bus route that is the first of its kind. The market launch opened a news window, the business potential of which we redeemed with proactive, stakeholder-serving earned media communication.
Flix is a global mobility provider offering easy-to-use, convenient, affordable, and environmentally friendly travel options to hundreds of millions of people through its FlixBus, FlixTrain, Greyhound, and Kamil Koç brands. The company that manages Europe’s largest long-distance bus network is a pioneer of sustainable transport.
Flix is pioneering and testing alternative drives with a long-term strategy to decarbonize its fleet progressively. As part of the industry’s innovation, Flix has piloted fully electric long-distance buses and introduced biogas-powered long-distance buses in the EU.
The first FlixBus route from Finland to Europe was scheduled to open in the summer of 2023 when the local tourist season is already underway. Despite its leading industry position, Flix was not well known in Finland, so our challenge was to make travelers aware of the possibilities of the new route.
For the Finnish audience, building credibility boiled down to the safety and reliability of travel, where the standards here are higher than in comparable countries. The commercial goal was to create demand among travelers, and the communication goal was to tell about FlixBus’ USPs while maximizing visibility in the launch window.
We prepared a communication plan together with Flix and partners in the Baltic region, as the Finnish route is dependent on Baltic connections. The new route extends the Warsaw-Tallinn route, from where the journey continues by ferry to Helsinki and further north to Vaasa. When defining the communication toolkit, we decided to take advantage of the novelty value of the first Finnish FlixBus route and build the launch with earned media first. Due to the processing of official permits, it was challenging to lock in the start date of the launch communication well in advance, which supported the decision. Even though the target was constantly moving, we were able to prepare the communication materials ahead of time and start PR activities within a short lead time.
In terms of success, it was crucial to tell consumers about the unique benefits of FlixBus. Practicality, sustainability, and affordability are not only at the core of Flix’s brand but also relevant sales arguments for Finns, who are conscious about their travel budget and carbon footprint. At the same time, communication was supported by the market situation, where the sense of flight shame increased almost at the same pace as the accelerating inflation.
The main message was “From Vaasa to Warsaw”, which vividly summarized the destinations of the new FlixBus route and, at the same time communicated the very first bus route from Finland to continental Europe. Characteristic of the brand, we also considered the local perspective on the vehicle’s exterior, for which recognizable Finnish landmarks were selected and designed. We illustrated the historical route in communication with the help of pictures and key figures because even for Finns who are used to long journeys, a 20-hour bus trip is, in many ways, a new experience. At the same time, we communicated the promise of a pan-European adventure, as Warsaw serves as FlixBus’ central hub for connecting routes covering the entire continent.
We phased the launch communication to help us open public discussion spectacularly and maintain the conversation during the most active tourist season. The primary communications activities included press releases, organizing interviews, and other media relations work, which culminated in journalists taking trips onboard FlixBus and a local PR event. We prepared for reactive communication by anticipating critical communication situations, especially regarding travel safety.
At launch, FlixBus received a significant amount of publicity in mainstream news, business, and industry media outlets. In Finland, more than 100 articles were written about FlixBus during the launch period, with a potential reach close to 20 million. The relevance to the local audience was undeniable. Furthermore, the first PR outreach was timed during the low news season in July, when the competition for publicity was lower than average.
After releasing the first news, local PR coverage was fueled by interviews with key spokespersons and journalists’ first-hand reports about traveling onboard FlixBus. Among other things, Talouselämä published a multi-page article on the subject, which ended up on the cover of the printed magazine.
Soon the passengers’ experiences started to flow in, and the media was quick to tell about them in public. The new travel concept and foreign drivers understandably raised questions among Finnish passengers, and criticism was not entirely avoided, but the audience’s reception was primarily positive.
Later in the fall, we drove guests onboard FlixBus at the local PR event in Helsinki. We invited media representatives to learn about the first results after the launch and to ask questions about sustainability and traffic safety in person, which helped build trust in FlixBus.
When the FlixBus news arrived, Finland was firmly in holiday mode, which helped us successfully capture the media space and the consumers’ attention during the active travel season. We fully redeemed the earned media potential with well-prepared communications and proactive media service. Based on the business results, the launch communication made Finns switch from flying to bus travel, and ticket sales boomed – in August alone, the forecasted passenger volume was exceeded by almost 70%. Thanks to a promising start, there are already plans to open new FlixBus routes to Finland in the future.
The FlixBus launch is proof not only of the growing trend of sustainable travel but also of the power of commercial communication in building awareness and desirability. The launch communication, built almost entirely on earned media, activated consumers, turned the business metrics bright green, and improved the effectiveness of the marketing budget.
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