Another day, another dozen emails from various tech startup marketing departments asking for my attention. I get it: firing off a few dozen (or hundred) form emails asking writers and editors to promote your product is easy. It doesn’t take much time and you perceive any placement or media coverage as worth the effort.
But is it really?
I’ve been working as an editor for a long time, and as a writer for even longer. I’ve had articles published on sites like Mashable, Smashing Magazine, Thought Catalog, and dozens of others.
And I’m constantly bombarded with emails from people who want me to update an article to include their product, website, or service. Here’s the thing: in a lot of cases, I’m not even the right person to ask to make such an update. And in almost all of these cases, the article in question is pushing a decade old.
The best case scenario in these cases is that I delete the email. The worst case is that you send enough emails to annoy me, and then I mark them as junk. Which means not only do I never see your emails again, but you increase the likelihood that other people won’t either, since Gmail will start assuming all of your emails are spam and filter them out universally.
So is emailing editors pointless?
Not necessarily. But there are some pointers I’d like to offer to help you actually get some traction from the cold emails you’re sending.
1. Writers often don’t have editing power on their own articles.
Sad, but true. Even on sites where I have the technical ability to edit an article I’ve written, I can’t just go in and make changes. I have to talk to the editor or site owner and see if it’s an update they want made. And honestly, you sending me a link and a tagline about your product isn’t going to motivate me to go through the hassle of doing this. I have enough on my plate, and so does the person I’d have to talk to about it.
2. What can you do for me?
Almost every single email I get asking me to feature a website or product is asking me for a favor. It’s all about why it would be great for the company if I could include them. Even on the rare occasion where they talk about the benefits of their product to my readers, it’s still mostly talking about it in the context of the way it benefits them.
The few emails that generally get a response from me talk about what that person can do for me to make my life easier or help me do my job better. Instead of asking me to write a piece about your company or include you in a roundup, consider pitching an idea that includes information I can’t easily get elsewhere, or does a lot of the legwork for me.
For instance, instead of asking me to profile your company, pitch me an article about people changing the face of your industry and include your company among others. Yes, you might have to share some screen real estate with your competition, but it’s better than no coverage at all. And if you keep pitching me one-sided pieces that are supposed to just be thinly-veiled advertorials, then no coverage is exactly what you’ll get.
3. One follow-up email is fine. Four is not.
Confession: I hate email. It’s so inefficient as a way to communicate. But I understand that with cold contacts, email is generally the best way to reach out. And that’s fine. If you pitch me with at least some semblance of an interesting subject line (that isn’t misleading), then chances are I’ll open your email.
If you don’t hear back from me within a week or two, it’s fine to send a follow-up email. But if you still don’t hear back, stop pitching me the same thing over and over again. I don’t need a third (or fourth) follow up email from you. Really. Even when you try to make it “cute” or whatever. Move on.
4. Stop asking me to update 10-year-old articles.
Yes, I know it’s still showing up on the second page of Google’s search results and that’s why you want to be included. But I’m not going to add a new link to a 10-year-old article. The best you could possibly hope for is that if I write an updated article on the same subject then I might include you. But if you’ve sent me a ton of emails asking me to update an ancient article to add you, then I may also conveniently forget to include you in any future updates.
5. Talk to me like a human being.
Probably 75% of the pitch emails I get are full of marketing jargon and irrelevant information. I’ve worked in content marketing. I know when the jargon you’re using is virtually meaningless.
Instead of bombarding me with a bunch of marketing-ese, talk to me like a person. No, that doesn’t mean throw in a bunch of emojis and slang (please don’t do this unless we’re BFFs). But it does mean that you should talk to me the same way you would if we were to meet at a networking event or conference or in another professional setting.
6. Perfect your elevator pitch.
You have an elevator pitch, right? This should be a short, to-the-point description of who you are and what you do. It should be benefit-focused. And should give at least a hint of your personality. Make it interesting. One of mine reads:
I give people who yearn for a creative career the tools to find their creative bliss and turn it into a viable business.
That’s the one I use if I’m talking to someone who might be interested in my creative consulting services (which I don’t do much of at this point, but at one point was my focus). It’s quick and to-the-point. It takes less than five seconds to read. And it gives a clearcut benefit to those I work with. This would be an excellent elevator pitch to use in an email pitch.
Template for Successfully Pitching Editors
(or at least how not to annoy them)
Here’s a basic template for how to pitch an editor. This isn’t going to guarantee success, but it’s definitely going to help your emails at least get read, and hopefully keep you out of the spam filter.
1–2 sentences about the idea you have and how it will benefit the editor and the editor’s readers. This can be why it’s topical, how it’s been in the news, or why it’s something no one has covered before but is the next big thing. Bonus points if this could be an exclusive or the editor could be the first to cover it (just make sure you express why it’s worth covering).
1–2 sentences about how you can save the editor time and/or effort in creating an article on this subject. Editors are busy. Make it clear that you can make their job easier for them to do and you’ll be one step closer to success.
Your elevator pitch that shows why you’re the right person to help with this story. Again, keep it short!
End by offering to hop on a call with the editor or to answer any further questions they might have via email. Some editors prefer phone calls, others hate them and will prefer to communicate via email. Make it easy for them.
Sign off and include links to your social media or other pertinent links in your email signature.
Follow Up Email Template
If you don’t hear back in 1–2 weeks, it’s fine to send ONE follow up email. Keep this one short and sweet, too.
Just wanted to check in to see if you received my email last week and to see if you have any questions. I have time to jump on a call on Thursday afternoon if that works for you. Otherwise let me know if there’s a better time. Thanks!
Make sure your original email is included.
Now, here’s the thing: DO NOT EMAIL THEM A THIRD FOLLOW-UP. Seriously. I roll my eyes when I see a third follow-up, completely involuntarily. It’s just my natural reaction.
If you don’t hear back, then feel free to reach out to them in a few months with a completely different idea.
If you do hear back, even if it’s a polite pass, you should also pitch something else to them in a few months. Any response is the beginning of a relationship you should nurture. So be sure to nurture it and don’t do anything to jeopardize the goodwill you’ve started to build.
TL;DR: Editors are busy. Treat them like humans, respect their time, and figure out ways you can help them instead of the other way around.