With Greyhound On Board, Richards Maps New Ad Route

Long considered an inexpensive travel option, Greyhound has struggled to attract riders in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and parent Laidlaw’s bankruptcy. Now, The Richards Group will attempt to elevate the Greyhound brand from one known for simply being cheap to one that’s a smart choice—an approach similar to the shop’s tack for Motel 6, an agency exec said.

“We want to have a broader group of people feel exactly the same way about Greyhound” as they do about Motel 6 as a result of Richards’ long-running “We’ll leave the light on for you” campaign, said agency principal Brian Schadt, who is overseeing the $15 million Greyhound account. The Dallas independent, which also handles media, added creative chores on the business last month. “It’s a feeling of affiliation, the emotional side of a brand—the kind of club you join when you select that brand,” Schadt said.

Unfortunately for Greyhound, it’s a club that’s been shrinking in recent years. After building up from a crippling strike in the early 1990s to more than 25 million riders in 2000, the company declined to 22 million last year, according to Greyhound. Sales dropped about 7 percent from more than $1 billion in 2000 to about $975 million last year, according to Greyhound. All this despite a lack of competition, as Greyhound bought its last major competitor, Trailways, in 1987.

Greyhound is in the midst of a major restructuring of its routes, eliminating 267 communities in 17 states in favor of more heavily traveled routes between pairs of cities—such as New York to Washington—and routes of 450 miles or less in the first phase. The new structure, coming a year after Laidlaw emerged from bankruptcy, is expected to be in place within three years.

Richards will initially tout the new plan, with shorter trips and more convenient destinations, via ads early this fall, Schadt said. Branding work, much of it aimed at the key demo of college-age men and women, will follow.

Adding creative to Richards’ duties was intended to give Greyhound a more seamless marketing plan as it transforms its brand, said Toby Purdy, svp of marketing at the Dallas-based company. Purdy, 37, joined Greyhound in May from Dean Foods, where he was svp of marketing and business development.

Richards, which has handled Greyhound’s media for eight years, took over creative from Omnicom Group’s PGC Advertising in Dallas following a review. It is unknown if PGC or any other shops contended. Greyhound spent about $15 million on advertising in 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Most of PGC’s advertising for the last four years has featured the talking spokesdog “Friendly” and focused on price. In one spot, the dog explains how buying a Greyhound ticket saves money for more important things, like dinner at a restaurant. The dog was sidelined for the most recent spots, which show how Greyhound connects people via its routes.

There is some good news for Greyhound: Losses last year of $29 million trailed 2002’s shortfall of $112 million, according to the company. But Satish Jindel, president of SJ Consulting Group in Pittsburgh, which has done market research for Greyhound, said bus travel “is close to becoming an extinct form of transportation.

“People know it’s affordable,” he said. “They think it’s slow; they think it’s a hassle. That’s what [Richards and Greyhound] need to dispel.”