The 7 deadly sins of pitching journalists and bloggers
Journalists and bloggers are busy people. With strict deadlines, demanding responsibilities and typically, an overflowing inbox, they already have a lot on their plate. If you hope to pitch something successfully, be it a product, an infographic, an interview opportunity or a piece of writing, you need to strategize.
Even if you took the time to find the right publications, select the best contacts there and have something brilliant to pitch, it could fall flat if you look insincere, make dumb little errors and drive them insane. If you do, you might just enter the running for the worst pitch of all time.
You’re almost there… don’t screw up your campaign with these stupid mistakes.
1. Pitching at the wrong time.
Certain times of day are just better times to email people. While this is not an exact science, response rates tend to be higher if you send your emails around 6-7 a.m. on mid-week days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). The reason? On Monday morning, journalists have had a full weekend’s worth of emails come in–just think of your own inbox when you come to work after a weekend. On Friday, they’re finishing up important things before the weekend, and less important things will be put on the backburner to be forgotten. The sweet spot is mid-week, but not just any time. Send too early, and your message will be buried by others; send too late, and your contact is probably busy with work and not checking email.
Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule. Many writers are freelancers who run their own schedules and they may check their email obsessively, even over the weekend. And then you have to think about their deadlines; if they have a column due to go live on Wednesday, on Monday they’re probably not thinking of much other than their writing.
The point is, you may see better response rates if you email at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday, or you may not. But certainly don’t send out your pitches at 4 p.m. on a Friday. You can use a tool like Boomerang (if you use Gmail) to schedule emails in advance.
2. Not personalizing your email.
“Dear webmaster” and “To whom it may concern” are just about the biggest turn-offs that exist on the internet, and yet website owners, bloggers and even journalists receive emails with these introductions every day. Just don’t do it.
Even if you take the time to figure out someone’s name, it can still be obvious that you’re using a template. Not that templates are bad–anyone who has to send copious amounts of email pretty much has to use them–but if you can tell it’s a template, that’s where you’re in trouble.
I tend to leave my templates open-ended; there are the token spots for a first name or a website name, but I also tend to leave blanks at the ends of sentences like “I really enjoyed the article from the other day about…” and “Loved the ___ article–I completely agree! In fact…” It doesn’t take that long to check out a recent article that interests you and find something to say about it; this kind of tender loving care will make your response rate skyrocket.
The most important aspect of personalization is sincerity. If you are sincere about the connections between you and the person you are pitching, or sincere about an article that you enjoyed, it will come through in your email–even if you’re sending a similar email to a dozen or a hundred other people.
3. Making stupid mistakes.
Have you ever opened up a message and been confused because it was addressed to someone other than you? Specifically, someone with a very similar name, perhaps a letter or two off? Oh, wait. They just spelled your name wrong. There’s no quicker way to make a terrible first impression (except perhaps the aforementioned “To whom it may concern”) than spelling someone’s name wrong.
Another big problem is using the wrong name for a publication, especially with bloggers. The domain name does not always reflect the name of the blog. For example, I also write for Havahart’s Critter-Free Community, but their URL is simply community.havahart.com. Calling their blog “Community Havahart” would probably raise a couple eyebrows. Calling a blog by their domain name when they use another name is an automatic tip-off that you aren’t actually familiar with their site, and that you aren’t actually sincere.
The worst dumb mistake of all, though, is accidentally sending an email before you’re done personalizing the template. It’s easy to do–pressing Enter when you’re not in the message box does it in many programs. There’s nothing more awkward than sending an email that begins like this:
I’m a longtime reader of PUBLICATION and got really excited when I saw your recent post about SUBJECT. The reason is…
These embarrassing moments are when you really wish you had an undo button. Well, in some cases, you might! In Gmail, a feature in settings called Undo Send gives you about five seconds of delay during which you can frantically unsend. Just go into Settings > Labs and enable Undo Send. You can’t retroactively turn it on after you send an email you wish you hadn’t, though, so it’s probably wise to go turn it on right now.
In case you use Outlook instead of Gmail, there is a feature called Recall that does something similar, but it’s not quite as reliable.
4. Writing a novel.
If a journalist takes the time out of their hectic day to open your email, the last thing you want to do is assault them with an email that takes ten minutes to read. When you’re pitching something, you want to convince your prospects as quickly as possible–not laboriously over the course of eight or nine wordy paragraphs. Keep this introduction short and sweet.
During my time sending pitch emails, I have encountered several journalists who have a rule that they don’t read past the second paragraph. I’ve even run across journalists with email systems that force you to get your point across in 200 words or less. I love it when people do this–no, really! (Editor's Note: Muck Rack has an awesome feature that requires senders to pitch journalists in 300 words or less)
In my opinion, email should be the digital equivalent of postcards, not long-form letters. Fifteen second blurbs, not thirty minute infomercials. Say hi, personalize, make the sell, wrap it up and leave them wanting more. Long content is for stories, articles, blog posts. Your pitch is none of the above.
5. Being boring.
There’s nothing worse than getting an email from someone who sounds bored. Why even bother? If you’re bored, what makes you think the person you’re writing to won’t be?
Some of this involves a little common sense. You wouldn’t pitch an infographic about Delaware to The BBC or a Solinst Model 122 review to Popular Mechanics. Even if you find industrial machinery invigorating does not mean a fashion journalist will.
More importantly, why would a reporter or a blogger want to cover something boring? They want stories that will spark discussion, generate social shares and drive up their traffic. What makes the thing you’re pitching exciting, edgy or controversial? Play that aspect of it up.
6. Sending huge attachments.
Do you open attachments from people you don’t know? Journalists get attachments all the time, so they are usuaully pretty wary about opening them and they may have a policy not to open them at all if they are unfamiliar with the sender.
Infographics are the big offenders here, as they are typically quite large. They can range from about a third of a megabyte to several megabytes in size. By sending out your infographic as an attachment, you are not only bogging down your email server, but the servers of every publication you’re asking for a favor. Not a great way to make a good first impression. You might not even make that first impression; some servers will simply bounce back emails with large attachments. Send your infographic (or large photography files) to the journalist as a link instead.
7. Driving your contacts insane.
Take the time to write a personalized pitch to the right person and send it at the right time. And then sit on it. Don’t email them the next day or two days later to ask if they got the email and what they think of your infographic. Unless it bounced, they got it. Give them some time to see it.
That said, this doesn’t mean don’t follow up. You most certainly should! From personal experience, I recommend following up twice after sending the original email–any more and you’ll drive them crazy, any less and you might be missing out on a good opportunity just because your email got buried.
I like to give my contacts a full week to get to my email, but if your pitch is based on something timely or trending right now, you could compress the follow up time a little. Send a polite email asking about their thoughts. If it’s an infographic, I like to mention if it has gotten press somewhere recognizable already. Although some publications like to avoid “old news,” others can have a “me too!” mentality and are actually more likely to publish something that has already been featured elsewhere.
What’s your proudest pitching moment? What mistakes make you want to run and hide? Please share your thoughts and and any faux pas I may have missed in the comments below.
Adrienne Erin is an outreach specialist at WebpageFX who has sent pitch emails to thousands of bloggers and journalists. She has written for Content Marketing Institute, Search Engine People, and SiteProNews. Catch up with her on Twitter to see more of her work.
Photo: Keep Calm and Pitch On courtesy of Keep Calm and Posters