Season 5 - Creating the brand

Episode 3 - The emergence of Midnight Trains

Adrien Aumont — Now that we’d decided to launch, we needed to act. First, we needed to decide the way in which we would do it and what exactly we would say about ourselves. The only visuals we had at that point were those of the used Spanish trains. We already knew that we weren’t going to use them, but decided to make use of the images anyway. Because even though they were intended for another kind of rolling stock, they still captured the Midnight Trains style, the spirit of what we wanted to achieve. Plus, they hinted at how the interior of our trains would be laid out.

Once that was decided, we needed to create the first newsletter with Hervé, who was heading up communication and PR for us. Together, we decided which franchises would feature in the first version of the newsletter (which some of you will no doubt remember): one dedicated to fascinating tales from the history of the railways, another dedicated to the rail industry (including Midnight Trains), a third on all the best things to do in a given European city, then a recipe from a chef, a film recommendation and a song. When it comes to the general tone of the newsletter, we have to doff our hats to Hervé. He managed to strike a good balance between serious and light, stylish and laidback, with a focus on all the good things in life (including travel). That would be the spirit of this first round of newsletters.

Next, we had to think about how we would go about approaching the press. We needed to target our comms, rather than spreading ourselves thinly by attempting to create a huge media moment. We decided to offer exclusivity to two outlets in particular: the big French business publication Les Echos and the very popular radio station RTL, which broadcasts throughout Europe. Why those two? The first because it matched our target audience and closely follows projects from innovative new businesses. The second because, while it may not have exactly corresponded to our audience, it represented a very large group of people. So we managed to bag a morning interview on RTL on June 15 2021 and an article in the Les Echos that afternoon. The story was then picked up by the Italian paper La Repubblica and The Guardian in the UK. Then things really exploded.

The speed with which the story spread around the world, thanks largely to Hervé’s massive contact book, inspired us to make another quick decision. We only had a French newspaper and decided we needed to hire a translator, Huw Oliver, to produce an English version. We then set up two acquisition channels, one in each language. After leaving the community to grow a bit over a handful of days, we sent the first version of Midnight Weekly on June 21 2021.

Romain Payet — That week, I was taking part in a sports competition and only looked at my phone in the evenings. But when I turned it on, it rang non stop, almost to a terrifying extent. I received around 150 messages from our news followers per day, as well as dozens of network requests on social media, especially LinkedIn. We’d also asked our friends and business contacts to share the press pieces and the newsletter. LinkedIn was overflowing with talk of Midnight Trains for weeks. In the first ten days after the launch, we reached around 10,000 subscribers, split roughly equally across the French and English-language versions.

This was a really significant moment for us. We realised that the message we had conveyed to the media – the fact that the sleeper train could well have a bright future ahead, if only it was reinvented – had resonated. And better still, it appealed to people. To the point that we were contacted by incredible people from all walks of life, including creative directors at big international brands who wanted to offer their services. But above all, we heard from loads of people who were passionate about sleeper trains, saying they were behind us and couldn’t wait for our trains to start running.

Adrien Aumont — We were actually slightly taken aback by all of this. But still, we adapted.  But even though we knew this would aid our relationships with all sorts of industry people, plus help us hire, we also saw that this was a challenge. At that point, our trains wouldn’t be available for several years. So we needed to create quality content over a long period of time. And that’s what we’ve been making sure to do ever since.

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