- When attempting to impress influencers, press and analysts alike, pitch emails are much more important than actual press releases. By that I mean, among other things:
- The old cliché that your first few seconds of impression-making are much more important than all the rest applies in this case.
- Unless the pitch email succeeds, your press release won’t even be looked at.
- Unless the pitch email succeeds, you won’t get to have a verbal conversation with the influencer.
- Pitch emails can, just by themselves, harm somebody’s impression of you, in two overlapping ways:
- They can damage your credibility.
- They can insult the recipient, by giving the impression that you think he’s dumb enough to be fooled.
- Few companies act as if this is true.
My support for these views includes:
- My own reactions as an influencer.
- My conversations with other influencers.
- My knowledge of how PR and AR work get done.
- Common sense.
My top tip for pitch emails is: Approve the pitch emails a PR firm writes before they are sent out!!!! There are two big reasons for this:
- Your PR firm’s objectives are dangerously different from yours. If they don’t generate attention in the short term, you’ll probably fire them. So if they get a few influencers to pay attention to you, at the cost of trashing your relationship with most of the rest — well, that’s a price they’re willing to pay, but which you should not be.
- Your PR firm’s knowledge is dangerously inferior to yours. They don’t necessarily know whether they are saying something painfully stupid.
My next tranche of tips is:
- Don’t oversell. Hostility engendered by overselling can damage a relationship for years.
- Some influencers are in ongoing conversations with the company. Some are being asked to meet with the company for the first time. Address those two groups differently. In particular, if you already have a relationship with somebody, don’t address them as you would a stranger.
- When addressing strangers, it is usually necessary both to remind them of why they should care about the company in general and also to pitch them about specific news. Frankly, most pitch emails already do a good job in this area, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
Perhaps the safest template for pitch emails starts:
- Initial boilerplate.
- A full-sentence option is “ABC (company and/or product) is XYZ (desirable and interesting characteristics)”. This can be prefaced by “as you know”, “as you probably know”, or “as you may know”, to differentiate among different groups of influencers.
- A partial-sentence option is “ABC, the [tagline] is/will …”
- The news you’re pitching (if any), and why (briefly) it matters.
- Don’t oversell here. If somebody notes the news as progress on your part and doesn’t report it, that’s still a good outcome; maybe they’ll write about you next time. But if they feel you’re BSing them, then your relationship with them is damaged, and they’re less likely to write about you next time.
- Keep the “why it matters” part very concise. For those readers who conclude you’re wasting their time, waste the minimum amount possible.
- The call to action (if any) – usually a meeting request.
- This part should also be customized for specific recipients.
- Offer to talk with the recipient about other subjects as well. Why not?
That all should fit in the opening paragraph, or else in the paragraph after “Hi! I hope all is going wonderfully in your life, and that it has been filled with chocolate and unicorns!”
Next comes a paragraph (possibly a longish one, or perhaps two shorter ones if that fits your writing style better) with more details on the news and its importance. This part need not be concise; in particular, the news part should be long enough to be clear. You might want have versions for two or more groups of recipients, because:
- Some are more knowledgeable than others.
- While it’s OK to use analyst quotes to impress press, it’s not OK to use analyst quotes to impress other analysts. I.e., don’t tell people that they should bow to the authority of their direct competitors.
- If you want to mention awards and similar kinds of nonsense as social proof, those should only be cited in emails sent to people you regard as idiots. Nobody at all astute will care, although some are polite enough to pretend to.
Ideally, you’ll totally customize this part for those influencers you talk with more frequently.
You should end with a boilerplate reminder of who the company is. Some recipients will welcome that, and the rest generally won’t mind.
One last note: It’s actually a good idea to hit people with several kinds of news at the same time. If a company is introducing cool new technology and has sold its older versions to impressive customers and has other momentum (hires, funding, whatever), that can all add up to persuading busy people to pay attention. But lumping that all into one email (likewise into one press release) increases the degree of difficulty in communications. Each kind of news should have its own press release and pitch email.
- My 2010 survey of PR options provides some of the reasoning behind this post.
- I did a short piece on Sizzle vs. smoke in 2012. The first paragraph anticipates this post in pithy terms.
- I wrote about a mind-bogglingly awful example of social proof worst practices in 2011.