Email subtext and system, it’s all in here
As a journalist, I’ve sent thousands of email interview requests over the years and wasted countless hours struggling over how to structure them, what to say, and how to say it.
Fashioning these requests used to be time-consuming and frustrating because I wasn’t getting any responses. I spent a lot of time writing and sending them out. If you are sending these email requests out cold, you need to start sending more.
As I’ve said before if you want more interviews send out more request.
- Maybe you’ve also agonized over how long the request needs to be?
- What do I need to say?
- How do I come across as sincere but knowledgable?
- What do I need to include, and how much is too much?
I’m going to answer all of that here right after this short disclaimer.
This system is no guarantee that you’ll land the interview you want. You can and should develop your approach, but my hope is this will be enough to get you started.
This type of request is suited for when you have time and need to send out a high volume of personalized requests, say, ahead of a conference. If you need a quote for a news story, you’ll need to pick up the phone or hit the street.
Actually, pick up the phone and call the person or company you want to speak to first. Don’t just write an email to the firstname.lastname@example.org address, and please don’t use the ‘contact us’ form on the website unless you absolutely have to.
But you know what? I like emails, they are lazy and make you feel like you’ve done a lot. It also means this hermit can avoid speaking to anyone.
If you want to address the email to someone real, you need a real name. The fastest results always happen by finding a real person to message. You can research that on the web or use something like Hunter.io and figure out the person’s email. Or if you really want to you can pick up the phone to find out.
Having that someone on the phone will also give you the chance to just set things up on the spot. No need to waste time fashioning that perfect email.
In some cases, because people are busy and like to have a written record of your request, they’ll ask you to file something via email. Fine.
So, here’s the basic format of your email. It should include these elements:
- Who am and whom am I writing for
- Please go check me out, so you know that I am real (establish credibility)
- Here’s why I’m reaching out to you right now (relevancy)
- The conditions
Here’s the mock-up; feel free to tweak and use it:
Dear / Hi [FORMAL OR CASUAL]
Thanks for taking my call earlier. [SCRATCH THIS IF SENDING OUT COLD]
I’m a journalist writing for [PUBLICATION], [ONE LINE ABOUT PUBLICATION]. Find out more about me in the links below. [INCLUDE LINKS TO PUBLICATION / LINKEDIN / WEBSITE IN YOUR SIGNATURE]
I’ve been tasked with researching/writing about [SOMETHING BELIEVABLE ABOUT WHY YOU NEED TO SPEAK TO THEM] and seen that [COMPANY/ PERSONS NAME] has [RELEVANT NEWS ITEM]. I’d be interested in speaking with you about [REFER BACK TO THAT GREAT NEWS!].
[WHY THIS IS INTERESTING TO OUR READERS]
[WHY YOU SHOULD CARE]
[INTERVIEW DETAILS / WHEN / HOW MUCH TIME / DEADLINE]. I’ll do my best to work around your schedule.
Let me know if that interests you.
Let me start at the end. I usually sign off with my first name. Sometimes I write “best,” but I question why the heck I do that, as it doesn’t mean anything.
[FORMAL OR CASUAL?]
Back to the beginning. You’ll start off with ‘Dear so-and-so.’ Duh! No, wait. It’s not that easy. If I’m writing to Americans I’ll usually go for “Dear Jack,” so, I’ll use the first name.
I could also go for Dear Mr. Dorsey if I want to create distance to the person. Which one is it? It depends on what you want to achieve, and remember that phone call you just made? That’ll give you an insight into whether you need to be formal or not. I want to achieve a relaxed atmosphere, so I’ll roll on a first-name-basis, even with CEOs and other high-flyers (mostly).
If I’m writing to someone in public relations, I’ll go with first names. I consider us on the same level. I’ll be formal with most Germans as its a cultural thing, but even here, things are loosening up.
[INCLUDE LINKS TO PUBLICATION / LINKEDIN / WEBSITE IN YOUR SIGNATURE]
Now, I’m confident enough to point you to my LinkedIn profile, MuckRack, or website to show you my work. I don’t need to spell it out, they’ll have the publication your writing for, and once they’re done reading the email, they can do their checks. The main thing is, I’m controlling where to send them by providing the links.
In the next section, I pull one little fact about the company from a press release or from somewhere else to show that I’ve at least looked at the material or researched the topic. This is not some just cookie-cutter email (well, actually it is), but I’ve just made it far more personal. You need to mention the company name or the exact name of the person you want to talk to. Don’t skip that.
[REFER BACK TO THAT GREAT NEWS!]
I also tend to take a recent news item that is positive. People remember you by how you make them feel. Make them feel good and that will put them in the right mood, you’ll be non-threatening and they are more likely to respond. Don’t flatter, that’s a cheap trick. All we’re doing here is referring to the positive news they’ve already communicated. No false flattery here.
Next, tell them about why your readers care to hear from them and then hammer that home by saying exactly why they should care. If you are writing to public relations people, they always want to know what’s in it for them.
Public relations specialists get tons of requests and are thinking about malicious media inquiries and how to protect their clients, as PR professional Curtis Sparrer writes. ( Dubious Media Inquiries: How Agencies Can Protect Clients)
Tell people in public relations, hey, you’re going to reach these 10,000 specialists if your client is mentioned in an article. (If you’re at a significant publication everybody knows, you probably don’t need this line, but it’s good to remind the email recipient how darn important it is to get their name in front of your audience).
Finally, leave them with an option to respond. I tend to use something that, again, speaks to them. “Let me know if that interests you.” I’m intentional about not making them commit. A lot of people will ask a question, or be brazen and ask for a timeslot to speak. It’s best to leave more detailed planning for the next exchange, that’s my thought.
This is a request, not a demand, so being soft here also shows that you are not desperate. Imagine I would have written: “So when would be a great time for an interview?” It sounds like please, please, please find time for me.
Leave the door open just enough so that they feel like they have to commit. People write back to me and say this is not interesting, which then allows me to open up a conversation about what is interesting to them and find a way in.
There is no guarantee that you’ll land the interview with this email formula, but taking the time to think about the purpose of each line in your email in this way, will show that you care and may undoubtedly increase your odds of an answer, even if they politely decline.
What this is, is a template. You can tweak and use this email and send out ten requests, and then you’ll get a few responses to work with. That’s pretty good for 30 minutes of work.
If there is no response in a week, resend the email and say: “Hey, I know things get busy, and your inbox is flooded, so I’m just pushing this email up in the queue. Have you had a chance to think about my request?”
I sometimes have running tabs on people I’ve been trying to speak to and will send them the same email with a similar update three or four times until someone answers. I’ll take no for an answer, but I won’t accept silence. Use a tool like Boomerang for Gmail to be intentional about those reminders.
Before I head to a conference or trade fair, I don’t always have time to call each person or company, and then I plug in what I need into the template.
The opener and lead-in will stay the same. All you have to do is substitute the name of the person at the top and the company or person’s name in the second line once you’ve worked out a few other details.
The main thing is you’ve put a minimum amount of thought into your approach, personalized it just enough in this way and then just run with it. Don’t beat yourself up if nothing comes back. If you really want a response just remember most people are just a phone call away.
Thank you for reading this article. If you like what you read and got something out of it sign-up for my newsletter with irregular updates on my work, projects and other random goodies. I’m researching my second book “Behind the Scoop: why you should think and act like a journalist.” If you sign up to my list right now you’ll get a free copy of my first book “Break into Journalism: contact-building tools and tactics.” No catch. You might learn something about journalism, or about being a journalist, which might help make you a better a person. No guarantee though.
Originally published at http://www.jarkoch.com.