How NOT to Pitch Your Story to the Press

This morning I woke up to this email in my inbox, from a guy I’ll call “Bob”:

Normally I don’t respond to emails like this at all, but Bob did at least one thing right, in the first line he referenced my posts on Quora, which was specific enough to let me know this probably isn’t a bulk email sent to 200 other writers, but that he meant this just for me.

Bob did one more thing right — he kept it brief. It’s not that I don’t want to read a long story pitch, it’s that I may not have time to read it at the time I open the email, which means I’m going to mark it for follow up to read later, and I’ve got 266 emails marked for follow up right now (that’s a huge improvement over the 3,000 I had in there before), and the chances of me ever getting to Bob’s email once it goes into Follow Up Purgatory are slight, at best.

I already knew I wasn’t going to write a story about Bob and his company, but I wanted to give him some advice, so here’s the email I sent back to him.

Thanks for reaching out…this is where I would put your name in, but actually, I’m not even sure what your name is, I guess it’s not in this email. Ah, there it is, in the first line. I kept looking everywhere else for it :)

I’m not going to write a story about you, but I am going to give you some advice that will help you in your business and your goal to get some coverage of what you’re doing.

  1. Use your name, not your business name, right here:
(his email address was a company name, not his name)

2. Get a website and use that domain for your email, not gmail. Gmail is not professional.

3. Create a simple signature that goes in all your emails with your name, title, and link to what you’re working on. You’ve pitched me on writing about you, but it was hard to find your name while skimming the email quickly, and you didn’t even give me a link to anything to look at. Having a signature means you’ll never forget these two things.

4. Use the same font throughout your email. Otherwise it looks messy and unprofessional.

5. Double check your writing for proper spelling, punctuation, typos, etc. Here are some errors in your email:

“I’m Bob from Denver. founder of XYZ corp.” — F in “founder” should be capitalized since it comes after a period.

“I believe you can help me to get my story to published…” should say “story published” not “story to published”

“9 to 5j ob guy” should be “9 to 5 job guy”

“…nothing else.Finally started…” should have a space before “Finally…”

Again, this makes you look unprofessional.

6. “This will definitely help your audience to get inspired”

When you’re pitching someone to write about you, don’t tell them what will get their audience inspired. A writer is the expert on his audience and knows best what will appeal to them — that’s the writers job. Ok, ok, maybe the writer doesn’t know best, but the writer thinks he knows best, and that’s what matters here. When you tell the writer you’re going to give them great content that his audience will love, you make it sound like you know their job better than he does, which doesn’t make you very appealing.

7. “I’m expecting your help in this”

This makes you sound entitled, and nobody likes working with someone who is entitled. I think it’s probably just a poor choice of wording, not that you really “expect” me to help you, but a better way to phrase it would be “I hope to be able to work with you.” After all, what you’re asking for is for me to provide you with hours and hours of work on an article about you, which could potentially make you tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. How about some gratitude rather than entitlement? When you’re pitching someone to do you a favor, especially one that could be huge for your business, you need to talk about what’s in it for the person doing you the favor, and you need to use language that shows your appreciation at the huge favor you hope they will do for you. If you way “I expect you to help me,” then it sounds like you don’t have any gratitude.

Hope this helps with your pitches to other people!

Some follow up tips I should have put in the email but forgot to:

8. Offer something of value.

As a writer I want things like great stories, people reading my stories, people sharing my stories, and things that help that happen are case studies, data, etc.

9. Write the story yourself.

If you write a story and pitch the whole story to me I’m not going to copy and paste it onto Mashable or anywhere else, so don’t get your hopes up, but the process of you writing the whole story will help you figure out what you want out of a story, what you want to share, and you’re going to be more likely to give me the raw materials I need to craft a great article.

10. Include promotion.

If I write a story I want it to get read. I want it to get shared. I want that article to show up everywhere on social media and for 100,000 people to read it. How are you going to make that happen for me, so that I’m more motivated to write an article that includes your business?

11. Don’t focus on the feature.

Everyone wants an article that is all about their company, but unless you’re Tesla or Uber these stories don’t get a lot of attention. They boost your ego, but they don’t necessarily generate many sales. Articles focused on topics tend to get more attention, but this means instead of the article about your company, it’s an article about a topic or trend and you or someone at your company is going to be quoted as an expert on that topic or trend. While the portion of the article focusing on you or your company may be much smaller, this article may get 100x the attention and lead to many more sales than the article that is only about your company.

Got other tips, or questions? I’d love to hear your comments. If you want to read more stuff like this, check out my blog where I’ve got a lot more to say about PR and marketing, and you can sign up for my email and learn how to become an influencer and thought leader.