I am an extremely competitive person.
I regularly pitch bloggers and journalists. It’s part of my job. I’ve sent thousands and thousands of emails looking for opportunities to write for new audiences, promote infographics and interactive pieces like this one, or earn my clients mentions around the web.
But I am always looking for ways to get better. I track my response rate and frequently test my email templates, my subject lines and even my email signature to find ways to improve, just like the rest of my team.
So when we all got the idea to have a sort of pitching competition, to each pitch 100 different blogs and gauge our response rates, I was all for it. And I would have been even if there wasn’t a Starbucks gift card on the line. (I’m just that competitive.)
Just think – it’d be like a microcosm of our pitching! A standardized test to try a specific type of pitch for a day and see how well it performed! I was psyched, and eagerly began building my list of blogs to pitch.
Let me tell you… it was hard to find 100 blogs I wanted to pitch. Admittedly, part of the problem was that I’ve been doing this for several years, so many of the obvious blogs in the design/social media space were ones I had already targeted. But there was also the factor of making sure the blogs I collected were of decent quality and relevant to my clients. Between qualifying the blogs and finding contact information, this was shaping up to be a laborious project just in the preparation.
We mutually decided on a few rules; for one, we opted to confine the pitching to a span of five hours, with a break in the middle. We set guidelines for what a true, countable “response” consisted of. We also decided that it was for everyone’s benefit to provide breakfast right before starting, because donuts.
The day of the pitching spree was basically chaos. I had this looming sense of anxiety the entire time and was slightly jittery from a combination caffeine/sugar rush. But I powered through my emails, and by the halfway point had pitched…34 sites. Oh dear.
Now, 34 sites in 2.5 hours is not bad (that’s about 13 sites per hour) but I obviously had to pick up the pace.
During the second half, I focused on strategically grouping mail merges by specific subject areas. For instance, I pitched all my print design contacts in one mail merge and all my WordPress contacts in another. At the start of the second half, I was coming up with a few unique topics for each site I pitched, because I pride myself in my ability to come up with lots of topics, even about sort of boring clients. (Shh!) Later I was just pitching the same list of topic ideas, and by the very end I was just stating my interest in writing for them, without listing specific topics. I clocked in at 100 sites with about 45 seconds to go.
I have to say, I wasn’t incredibly proud of the pitching I completed that day, especially near the end of the time limit. These definitely weren’t the carefully-constructed, highly-tailored messages that I typically sent to bloggers. By the end, I would say they more resembled what I tended to do when I was first starting out, and they definitely had that “templated” feel.
But there is something to be said for it…wow, that is a lot of work done in one day! Some of my teammates had even gone on to pitch another dozen or sites before the time limit ended (or two… damn overachievers), which was really impressive.
Next, it was time to sit back and wait for the responses to roll in.
An immediate thing I noticed was that the newer members of our team were the ones who pitched most prolifically. In fact, the very newest person on our team pitched the single highest number of sites. And this trend continued, all the way back to the oldest members of the team (me), who struggled to hit the goal in time (me). What gives?
I like to think that it was the type of sites I had chosen to pitch or that I had tended to pick more high-reaching, authoritative places to contact, but I think in reality it all came down to each individual’s level of personalization of templates. Obviously, the less personalized the emails, the more quickly you can send them.
I’d like to say that I had the highest response rate of the team, but I did not. (I wasn’t that far behind though!) So instead of moping around, I decided to take the competition to the natural next step… competing against myself.
Of the 100 sites I emailed, by a week later 39 had responded, giving me a response rate of 39%. That isn’t too shabby. It compares pretty well against my overall response rate of 38%. But that is the response rate I have been working on for several years at this point; obviously it has improved since I first started. So I looked back at my response rate for just the last six months, which worked out to 46%, and my last three months worked out to 48%.
I’ve worked hard in order to make less work for myself. The higher my response rate, the less people I need to email in order to get my work done. So I have carefully built on my templates and strategies to the point that recently, about half of the brand new contacts I write to get back to me. So while the competition we did worked out to be about as decent as my overall outreach results, I have the potential to do so much better… without burning through that many contacts at once.
After having survived pitching 100 blogs in one day, I have some advice for anyone who wants to give this a try:
1. Grouping your contacts thematically really helps. At the beginning of the day, I was just going down my list trying to email one by one as quickly as possible. During the second half of the day, I took time to organize them by subject area and did related mail merges to batches of about 10-15 people each. I think my first few mail merges actually got the most responses compared to any other part of the day’s pitching, though that’s not a particularly scientific judgment.
2. Careful with that mail merge. Double and triple check your template before you send it. Go on, waste a few of the 100 automated email messages Gmail allows per day so that you can send a test email to yourself. The mistakes you catch will be worth it.
3. Don’t send the same topic ideas to dozens of bloggers. Inevitably, two or three (or four… or five…) are going to ask for the same topic, then you’re stuck writing the same exact post multiple times.
4. Make sure you carefully track and measure your results. If you’re going to do this, it’s a perfect time to do some pseudo-scientific investigation. Try different templates, subject lines, salutations. Try scheduling one batch to send at 9 a.m. and one to send at 11 a.m. and see which batch does better. This is honestly in my opinion the biggest benefit to trying this kind of thing, because your results just aren’t going to be as good as personalized outreach.
5. Please don’t give this a try. You will provide more value to the people you contact and to yourself if you take ample time to construct well-thought-out, personalized emails that address what each individual is looking for. You’ll also avoid wasting a bunch of carefully discovered and vetted contacts when you send them the wrong mail merge template and totally come across like a spammer. Aren’t your contacts worth more than that?
Adrienne Erin is an earned media analyst at WebpageFX who has pitched thousands of bloggers and journalists. She writes for SiteProNews, Search Engine People, and Socialnomics. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter or visit her blog, Design Roast, to see more of her work or get in touch.