Step 1: Updating our contact database
Since 2022 we keep journalist contacts in our Bulk-Mailer Database. Some of them were entered manually on the base of a somewhat written consent (typically an e-mail). Some of these were entered by the journalists themselves by using our form.
Good occasions for contacting journalists (who are not yet on our list) are:
- recent publications (We are an organisation working on these issues (…) , if you are interested in following this topic you might be interested in our findings and positions . Would you like to be added to our press release distribution list?)
- Planning a new press release is another good option (You have been following this topic, we plan to release our findings / commenting an event, wouel you like to be informed as soon as we publish our press release?)
Since we use our bulk mailer with a free plan, access is limited to a few accounts. So if you need to look up our list please contact the press team and to ask for an export of the contact list. Please sign a data processing agreement with Back-on-track.eu prior to getting a an export of the current list (or provide an existing DPA).
Now you can look up past press publications about night trains and other relevant international rail transport issues. If the author(s) is(are) named, you may look up their contact details in the internet . Most journalists can be found on LinkedIn, some of them only use Twitter. Rarely you can simply find their e-Mail address directly published in the web, either on the author profile page of the news company’s website or their (freelance) journalist homepage. But in most cases you need your own LinkedIn or Twitter account to contact them. Make sure your voluntary activity for Back-on-Track is visible in your profile, ideally in the short description, when contacting them.
Always be polite, never pushy. It’s an offer to receive our press releases, no obligation. If you don’t master the language in which the journalist is writing, using English for contacting should not offend anyone these days in Europe. However, if you are confident you could at least detect wrong interpretations, particularly of railway jargon (“coach” is a tricky word, for example, make sure you don’t ask SNCF to provide more “entraîneurs”), using auto-translations like www.deepl.com, it a fine way to celebrate our language diversity.
Once you have finished your updating effort provide the new contacts to our press team. We maintain these informations in the database, so ideally provide us with a CSV file, one row per journalist, and columns named after and containing these information types:
- E-mail address
- List to be added to (available: PRESS_EU, PRESS_DE, PRESS_ES etc.)
- GENDER (male/female/diverse) (optional)
- LANGUAGE_PREFERRED (optional) – important for press distribution lists in BE, CH, ES
- ORGANISATION (i.e. the news company they typically work for)
- ORGANISATION_TYPE (free text, we typically use newspaper / magazine / blog / public TV / private TV / radio / podcast , general interest / special interest economy / politics / tourism / transport / railway ) e.g. “blog special interest tourism” for The Man in Seat 61
- CONTACT_TYPE (options are press staff / press freelance) – we assume “staff” when the address scheme is firstname.lastname@example.org, we assume freelance when it is a private address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- PUBLICATIONS (free text) – use this for noting the date, title, medium and a URL of their latest piece on night trains, no summaries, maybe noteworthy remarks on their content and style (e.g. “focused on high-speed criticism”, “liberalisation evangelist”, “repeatedly misinterpreting data”)
- NOTES please add here, when exactly and by which means of communication you obtained a permission (e.g. “confirmed proposal to be added to our press distribution list by e-mail on 12.03.2022, 16:45 with ‘yes, thanks’.”)
Step 2: A bit of planning
Are you commenting an event? Then no planning is needed – just make sure you are quick and publish your press release a.s.a.p. – ideally before 12:00 midday. If the topic is covered in print, then a journalist will collect informations including statements from different groups like ours in the morning and write a piece in the afternoon.
Are you creating genuine news? Then find a god day to go public. Do some research in order to avoid times when media attention is focused on trade fairs, transport-related conferences, transport minister meetings etc. If you have no idea of the agenda but you know a journalist, ask for advice, they should know the agenda . If you plan to provide selected journalists you trust with the news and background information upfront, before the locking period ends, give them some 3-5 working days to anticipate your information so plan to be ready a week before publication day. However, media attention is never guaranteed. Something else might suddenly happen and require all media attention on your planned publication day. Don’t be disappointed, It’s nobody’s fault, just hard luck.
Think of a suitable event to be associated with the act of publication of your message/news, like handing over signatures to a minister, a presentation at a conference, a flashmob … The idea is to create an image that makes the news/message “happening”. Add an information about the when and where of the photo opportunity in your press release. Have a good camera ready yourself and someone able to take a photo for your organisation’s needs.
Step 3: Write a press release
We have a template for press releases in our bulk mailer. This does offer an option for personalisation (why we might need the gender field). We have a prefab text explaining Back-on-Track what we do and what our main objectives are, below the press release text, So you don’t have to add that. Just focus on your message.
If you write a press release for the fist time, here are the basic principles:
- You write the press release in a way a journalist would write it, as a report of something that happened, from a neutral perspective. This allows a journalist to use passages of your text without having to rewrite them.
- The first paragraph should already contain all the important informations: who did what where how and why?
- The maximum length is the equivalent of 1 A4 page of text. Better stick to half the length.
- Allocate the most interesting statements, particularly valuations to a person, the main activist or the chairman/chairwoman. These people must know of and approve the citation you write for them, of course.
- Now write a good headline. This is considered to be a metier of art in Journalism. Don’t expect from yourself to be an artist right from the start. For a start, don’t forget it, keep it short (not more than two lines), don’t be aggressive, just highlight the most interesting point. That’s what a headline is for: Attracting the readers interest.
The press release (or different country versions of the press relese) should then be added to our website, as we will later link it and need the link address. The press releases can saves as a draft to be published at a specified time. Please make sure that…
- you create a post, not a page,
- they are tagged with “Press Release (Country Group)” in order to appear at the right place and optionally tagges as “News” (if they are to appear at the home page)
- the translated at least to English, so that other groups can be inspired by your activity (you may use the Deepl Add-on, this will generate a typically accurate translation in seconds)
- that they have a featured image in a 16:9 panorama format. Please help us maintaining a uniform image style ba applying some “cold / vivid cold / cool” filter so the picture fits well into our blueish & greenish colour scheme. Also help keeping our website accessible by filling in the ALT-Text field with a description of the picture, particularly when text is displayed. If data is displayed give a hint to the data source.
Step 4: Prepare your social media work
Don’t just rely on professional media. Prepare to also spread our news through our own Social Media channels. The text should be kept short typically much shorter than the first abstract of your press release, so you might have to condense the message even further. If you don’t like to produce versions for each channel keep it below 280 characters including the link (to the press release, so this must be prepared ) and hashtags. If you have a Chat GPT account let it help you producing messages tailored for the different channels.
Images: A press release can do without, but Social Media works better with images. So prepare imagery.
Ideally the image is shareable, meaning it conveys a mesage your readers might like not only to approve but to share with others, as this will increase our outreach. Either because it is newsworthy, funny, or a political statement your supporters would like to subscribe.
Keep in mind that some channels don’t like images with too much text
Regionalize: If applicable tailor the news for different countries and languages (adapting hashtags, examples and figures, however we should be careful refrain from tailoring the message too much, as we want to be seen as a European voice)
Engage friends: Try to engage others approximately 2 weeks and 2 days before publication in helping to share our news. This will only happen if you make publishing for our partners as easy as possible. A post on our channel that they can share, or a ready made text and post they could use as it is or modify according to their needs. You could share this giving limited (personal) access to a document on a coud service. our press team can help you by putting it on a nextcloud server if you provide us with the document and the adresses that shall have access. Our B-o-T EU Twitter account is associated with a Channel managed by StayGrounded into which StayGrounded members (like Back-on-Track) can push news worth being shared.
Step 5: Send it
As we use a free plan with Brevo access to our publishing system is limited to our press team. However, we can prepare a press release to be sent to a distrubution list at a given time. And of course, we can test it with your address before sending.
To optimise performance please think of an preview text. This is the text some mail clients use to preview the content of the e-mail. If not provided the mail clients uses the fist 35 characters, but you can define a different text. This is quite useful as the Mail subject, already containing “Press statement:” and the headline might be insufficient to convey the complete headline of the press release – so you might like to split it to subject and preview.
We can see the opening rate and the system counts links that are clicked, however this works only if the user permits tracking, which 50% of our users don’t, so the opening and click-rates are estimations. If you like to know these informations to optimize your press releses, let our press team know. You can also do an A/B Test with two different headlines and previews.
For publishing on Social Media we use Buffer with a free plan. So we have only three channels which we can feed with just one text and it distributes it to Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram at the ideal time for each channel. (Instagram posts will be shared on facebook, once we manage to properly set up our meta account) With Buffer, you can also publish immediately or at a set time, if necessary. So we can also timely prepare our social media publication plan.
Step 6: Evaluate
Ideally we have a section at our website, where we collect news coverage. We don’t – as we are not professionals but volunteers and so we don’t evaluate systematically. If members finds coverage they might share it in our google group. Should you like to evaluate your success a bit more professionally, please feel encouraged to do that and consider sharing your results by collecting the links (and maybe the learnings) somewhere at our website, so everybody else can see, how important we are. We’ll find a place for you.