5 pitching mistakes that’ll guarantee your email winds up in trash
So you’ve got some really exciting news from your client that everyone needs – NEEDS - to know about (according to the client, anyway). You’ve gathered all your information, written the press release, done a cheeky bit o’ research on the best journalists to hit up with the story and given them a tinkle to run the idea past them.
Whether the journalist in question is genuinely interested, just being polite, or hasn’t really listened to a word you’ve said (probably the latter), the chances are that any phone conversation like this is going to end with the immortal words: ‘Could you drop it to me in an email please?’
Now journalists (particularly at the nationals) get roughly ten squillion emails arriving in their inbox every day. If you want your message received, read and reported on, your email has to be un-ignorable. It has to be a shining beacon of un-shitness in an ocean of tripe and twaddle (now there’s a metaphor and a half for you). Here are five common email-pitching mistakes that, if rectified, will stand you in better stead for pitching success:
1) Having a crap subject line
The subject line of your email is your trump card when it comes to getting that all-important ‘open’.
Don’t: make it anything generic like ‘Press release’, ‘[company name] announces new…’ or ‘Editorial enquiry’ unless you want your email to die a death at the hands of the delete button.
Oh and don’t indulge in that age-old trick of slapping ‘RE:’ in the subject to make them think they’ve emailed you before. Even if they do fall for it, it makes you look like a jackass and you’ll go straight on the ‘blocked’ list.
Do: say something that makes them want to open the email. Easier said than done, I know, but a provocative statement or something mysterious and intriguing (i.e. ‘75% of pigs can fly, says survey’) could work wonders.
CHEEKY TIP: If you’re emailing a journalist about an article they’ve written, having a subject line of ‘Your piece on [bla bla bla]’ could prove successful, as everyone wants to know what other people have to say about their handiwork.
2) Not getting to the point
Here’s something that PROs often forget: journalists don’t really give two hoots about who your client is or what their company does. It’s the information on offer they care about. Email pitches must get to the point within the first two sentences else you might as well have not bothered.
Don’t: feel like you have to introduce your client, the CEO, the CEO’s wife and children, what he had for breakfast and where he plans to go on holiday in 2018 in the first paragraph of your email before you get to the good stuff. Sure, it’s tempting to give an introduction, but you’ll quickly lose the journalist’s interest.
Do: get straight in there with the nitty gritty – the details can follow later. Bullet points are a great way of condensing what you want to say, so use them wherever you can. Here’s an example:
“Dear [insert journalist’s name],
My client, Shoes4Sheep, has recently conducted a survey showing that, contrary to what was previously thought:
- 80% of sheep feel there is a lack of variety in footwear for farm animals
- £35m was spent on shoes for cows last year, but only £12m on shoes for sheep
- Polyester shoes were less popular last season on account of the poor weather.”
3) Pitching a topic rather than a story
Handing your story to a journalist on a plate, telling them exactly what’s on offer will make it irresistible, whilst being vague and sketchy with your details will be a massive turn-off.
Don’t: pitch a general topic. ‘My client has something interesting to say about the government’ ain’t gonna cut the mustard, I’m afraid. Likewise, not doing your research and failing to tailor your pitch to a publication’s format is a massive no-no. For example, pitching a bylined article to a national news editor is just plain silly. Likewise, I frequently get pitched with news stories for the blog I write for, when there’s patently no news section. D’oh!
Do: Give them the facts, and then tell them what’s available. This could include:
- Exclusive access to the results of a survey
- Expert comment from the CEO of the company on the results of said survey
- Comment from an independent expert
- Details for an up-coming event to do with the results
4) Poor spelling and grammar
I’ll keep this short and sweet: poor spelling and grammar in an email is unacceptable and makes you look like a pillock. Here’s a checklist of things to do before you send:
- Check you got the journalist’s name and publication right
- That there aren’t any spelling or grammatical errors
- That any hyperlinks included work
- That the dates on any press releases included aren’t set to five days ago (nobody’s interested in old news, darling.)
Working for an online publication as well as in PR, I’m still baffled by the number of email pitches that I receive that say ‘Hi, think this might be of interest to you – please see the attached’ with no further explanation. Are you serious? Like, actually?
Don’t: send press releases as attachments expecting journalists to open them. Same goes for large images that clog up your inbox – that’s what sharing links in DropBox is for.
Do: copy the press release into the body of the email (underneath where you’ve signed it off). Then you can refer to it in your pitch and say ‘see below’ instead of ‘click open, download the file, wait for the programme to load, curse as you don’t have a compatible version of Microsoft Word and then explode in a fiery ball of rage’.