Unsolicited emails are an annoying fact of life. I begin every morning by wading through dozens and dozens of them, deleting at least 90 percent.
Ironically, once I’m finished, I often begin sending unsolicited emails myself. This is probably true for many businesspeople. While person-to-person networking, inbound marketing and social media interactions are all important tools for proactive outreach, email contact is also a necessary component. In many ways, it has replaced the Old School “cold call” visit or phone query – and, on balance, that is a good thing, since it is quicker and less intrusive for both parties. For PR professionals, email pitches are particularly important, as most reporters and editors prefer contact online versus on the phone.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of pitch emails are poorly constructed and yield no results. Worse yet, they can actually be counter-productive, getting their senders added to spam lists. Here are six tips to make sure your emails do no harm – and might even bring spectacular results!
- Personalize them through research. While there are times when a mass email is appropriate (such as a new product or event announcement), try to avoid them in all other instances. At the very least, customize at least a part of the pitch, indicating that you’ve done some research on the company or reporter. (And no, adding the person’s first name in the mail merge salutation doesn’t count.) Spend twice as much time researching your targets and half as much time sending spammy, lame duck pitches and everyone wins.
- Use an attention-grabbing headline. Your headline shouldn’t be an afterthought! If it doesn’t resonate with the target, your email will die on the vine, deleted unread. Keep it short and to the point – and if it can be humorous, that’s even better. But above all, make sure it is relevant to the recipient. (See Tip #1)
- Speaking of short and to the point… If someone does open your email, don’t lose ‘em with a long-winded intro paragraph. Immediately get to the crux of the matter and highlight what could be of interest to their company or their readers, their viewers, etc.
- Look to start a conversation. I often get responses back that, while not an immediate “yes,” indicate the recipient is interested in a related topic or future discussion. That is an excellent reply! Get back to them quickly and with any additional relevant information you can provide. Above all, try to position yourself as what author Chris Brogan calls a “trust agent” – somebody who can be helpful to them on an ongoing basis and isn’t merely a one-off pitchman for a company or story.
- Don’t use attachments. Want to trip a spam filter? Add a large attachment or three. Better to embed a link or a low-res photo.
- Follow up gracefully. There is nothing wrong with following up on your email with a call or another email. But if they don’t respond after the second try, take them off of your hit list. Naturally, if they give you a different person to contact, make that change in your database. And, for God’s sake, if they ask you to take them off…TAKE them off! (Unlike the CHR Group in New York who, despite my repeated “unsubscribe” requests, continues to send solicitations to my email address for someone named Pierre-Olivier…)
The bottom line here is that pitch emails are something many of us have to do. Whether you handle them gracefully and effectively – or like a myopic, hung-over bull in a China shop – is completely up to you.