At a conference recently, a group of entrepreneurs asked me how to get an editor’s attention by email. They wanted coverage for their business, and, in true entrepreneurial style, they demanded specifics. How long are effective emails? They asked. How do they start? What do they contain? But here’s the problem: There’s no one way to succeed. There are, however, many specific ways to fail -- and by understanding how things go wrong, you can better understand how to make them right.
That’s why I just dug through my deleted emails and unearthed three pitches that represent three very common problems. Below are direct quotes from them -- sorry if you wrote one of these! -- and what every entrepreneur can do to avoid their fate.
“Hi, I’m a huge fan of your articles and wanted to pass on something new that could be a nice fit for your Game and VR section.”
People often begin their pitches by professing a love of my work. It’s very nice -- except, you know, when it’s clear they’re totally lying! Sniffing that out isn’t hard. Often, the person will give a sweeping compliment like “huge fan of your articles” but never mention anything specific. Other times, they’ll go on to reference something that clearly shows an ignorance of the publication they’re pitching. (In this case, we don’t have a “Game and VR section.”)
Journalists appreciate flattery as much as anyone else, but they don’t require it -- and, to be honest, they’re often skeptical of it. However, you will definitely impress them by being knowledgeable about their publication. Spend time with it. Pay careful attention to what kinds of stories it runs and how, based on what you’ve read, it might cover your business. This isn’t unlike researching a potential business partner before a meeting. If you can communicate how you’re truly a fit, the other side is more likely to agree.
“I need your help to get the word out about this product and would like to set up an interview with one of your journalists for an article/blog.”
I’m amazed at how often entrepreneurs are blunt about their self-promotion. Another recent pitch told me that a story in Entrepreneur “would be great exposure for our brand.” That’s obvious -- but if you’re going to reach out to an editor, you have to see things from their perspective, not your own.
A journalist’s job is to find good stories. That means they aren’t concerned with what’s good for you; they’re concerned with what’s good for their readers. You need to communicate why you’re a great fit -- which, again, is why you need to understand a publication. When you read a newspaper, magazine or website, try to see it through an editor’s eyes. Who’s the audience, and how are they being served? (The answers may not be obvious. Every business magazine, for example, approaches the subject in a somewhat different way. Entrepreneur stories focus mostly on people and their experiences, while, say, Bloomberg Businessweek focuses more on companies and industry trends.) If you give editors what they want, you’ll have a better chance of getting what you want.
“I have attached a short video that gives a brief overview of my journey.”
This line came from a three-sentence-long email. It told me who the entrepreneur is and what he does, and then it invited me to watch a video to learn more. I often get notes like this -- asking me to read an attached PDF, set up a call to discuss or click on a link to an article (sometimes from a competing magazine!). I delete them all.
Reporters and editors are bombarded with pitches, which means they don’t have an incentive to dive deep into any individual one. You have, at best, a few sentences to hook a journalist -- which means you need to do it right there in the email, by explaining what makes you interesting and relevant to their readers.
This may sound discouraging. But here’s the bright side: Most of the emails I get are full of mistakes like these. That means if you put in the time and really learn to think like an editor, your note will rise above the rest.