Self-promotion is a tricky business. There are times when even the most independent entrepreneurs must reach out to strangers for help – to launch a new product, reach a wider audience or bolster their content with expert opinion. But how do you pitch if you don’t have a network? How do you get an absolute stranger to want to help you? What pitching best practice should you follow? Whether you’re contacting trade publishers, journalists or CEOs, here’s how to pitch to complete strangers with repeat success.
1. Target it
The first thing to consider when pitching is who you’re actually outreaching to. Trying to link up with the wrong people is an enormous waste of time and energy, so put time aside at the beginning to research who exactly your target audience is. If you’re approaching a company, do your research and seek out the person who actually pulls the strings. The same goes for news publishers – unless you get the appropriate editor, don’t expect your email to even be read. In general, the more targeted the email is, the higher the click-through rate, so always begin with a list of relevant, targeted recipients.
2. Personalize it
Once you’ve targeted your pitches, it’s time to personalize them. This doesn’t just mean using their name in your greeting – although obviously, do do this; studies show that it increases the open rate by 58%. You should also include unique information that helps you connect with the reader, e.g. when emailing a journalist, start by referencing a recent article they wrote, then link it to your reason for pitching. That way, from just reading the first line, the journalist will be able to tell that not only has thought has gone into the pitch, but that it’s actually relevant to them too.
3. Be punchy
Journalists receive hundreds of pitches every day, so figure out how you’re going to make your email stand out. Your title should be punchy, powerful and intriguing – if it isn’t, the email won’t be read. Consider different ways to pique your reader’s interest. Our recent blog post on how to write a really good press release should help with this, but if you need further inspiration, just scroll through a news website and consider which stories make you want to read on. You should always sum up the point of your email in the first couple of sentences: who, what, when, why and where.
4. Keep it short
Never make the mistake of overloading your pitching email with info. Long emails just put the viewer off. Be short, sweet and to the point – and never waffle! Around 300–400 words is fine, but any more is too much. If the journalist is interested, they’ll ask for further information.
If your pitching email isn’t urgent, consider trying to build a relationship first; send a short, succinct email stating how much you enjoy their writing, perhaps ask a few questions, and let them know you’re looking forward to their next piece.
5. Give an incentive
Whether you believe human beings are inherently selfish or not, we can all agree that people like to be rewarded. When pitching strangers, consider what the incentive is for them to help you, and if it isn’t clear, spell it out, e.g. if you’re emailing a CEO or industry expert because you want to quote them in your content, highlight the extra publicity the content will get them, or emphasize the fact that it’s an easy way for them to reach a new audience.
Similarly, if you’re emailing a journalist, let them know this is an interesting and relevant story their readers will enjoy, and you want to offer them the scoop first, as an exclusive. People are much more likely to help you if there’s something in it for them (sad but true!).
6. Be upfront
Nothing is more frustrating than cagey, evasive emails that skirt around the subject! Be upfront about what you’re asking for and why. If you want a site to post your guest blog, summarise the article and why it’s noteworthy, and give the reader motivation for placing it on their website, e.g. “It will increase traffic to your site.”
If you’re asking for an expert quote for your own content, be clear about why you want it, e.g. “We’d like to include an expert opinion, and thought your experience with [include personalized info here!] made you the ideal candidate to quote.” (NB: A little flattery is OK, but don’t butter people up too much… It’s more transparent than you think!)