About that pitch you sent me…
OK – enough.
Let’s try to sort this out politely.
Hi! My name’s Mike. That’s my name, and I’m rather attached to it. You’ll find it on the landing page of this blog, right next to “Hi, I’m” – just to make things super-easy for anyone writing in, except for the handful of people who send me e-mails like yours every single week.
Otherwise, I’m basically nobody. I’m an average blogger. Occasionally this keeps me up all night in a cold sweat of existential dread, but today I’m embracing it. I’m no big deal and have very little to feel entitled about. You are almost certainly a bigger deal than I am right now. That’s not faux modesty.
Under these circumstances, it’s entirely understandable if you got my name wrong – except it’s on my landing page, of course, in h1 type. Not sure how you missed that – unless you didn’t even look?
Sorry, I have a suspicious mind.
Anyway, I sent you to this post because you’ve sent me a really inept pitch for something, and there’s an excellent chance it started with you getting my name wrong (eg. “hunter”, the first word in my e-mail address), or omitting it altogether.
Normally, that’d be enough to consign your e-mail to my Spam folder. But not today. I want today to be productive, for both of us. I want to help make both our worlds just a little bit better.
Otherwise, I suspect you’re going to spend the rest of your life looking like this whenever you check your e-mail:
If you send a lot of these kinds of pitches, you’re probably used to three main categories of reaction from average bloggers like me:
- Bottomless Silence
- Rage and/or Sarcasm
- 2) and then 1)
Firstly, if you’ve ever born the brunt of 2), I’d like to thank you.
Replying sarcastically to terrible PR pitches is enormously satisfying for most bloggers, and often allows us to flex our creative muscles after a long, hard day of wondering what the hell we’re doing with our lives. For example, a fun exchange I had last week:
“Hello Mike Snowden [sic],
I am a Marketing Professional and myself and my team would like to brand you – for free! We can do this in April 2017.
That’s the most extreme form of advertising I’ve ever heard of. Unfortunately I have an extremely low tolerance for pain, so I’ll have to pass, however generously I’d be paid for this new and really quite horrific-sounding form of marketing. Did you get the idea from livestock farming? Would I need to be chipped as well?
Hello Mike Snowden,
We can do this in April 2017. Will you do?
Hi again [Name],
Unfortunately I’m under quarantine for foot & mouth disease this month, so I’ve really throttled back on the work I’m doing. I *am* willing to provide you with some really top-quality bespoke fertilizer – I can give you references from former clients if you wish. It comes in 1kg sacks, frequency depending on my diet. Or for a one-time fee of $100,000 payable to my estate, I’m willing to be humanely slaughtered.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
I can’t tell you how good it felt to write those responses. Mean? Yes. Small-minded? Oh yes indeed. Good? Ahhh!
(Later, I feel bad about it, because you’re a human being. But in the moment I feel pretty good.)
And sarcastic replies to bad pitches have created gloriously funny posts from other people, like this, and this.
Edit: And this, which is magnificent.
A few years ago, I even made a game out of it all:
So, THANK YOU.
In a way, I don’t want to write the rest of this post in case I help kill all that creative magic. Why would I want to rob future generations of bloggers of all that fun? Party pooping: check.
But then, it’s also not fair that we’re all wasting massive amounts of our precious time on this.
You and I, I mean.
Your time too.
Why pour all your time into doing this stuff when it never works?
If you just replied in your head that it’s a numbers game and I don’t get it, that if you send 100,000 e-mails out and 20 bloggers actually take you up on your offer, that counts as a win?
Well, it’s also 99,980 bloggers who will never reply to anything you send them in the future. It won’t even reach their Inboxes next time (thanks, e-mail spam filters, we love you a ton).
In a minute, I’ll give you a few tips on how to actually pitch us and not get instantly deleted.
And bloggers really do want to be pitched. If someone came along with a guest post that was a really fantastic and perfect fit for this blog and that I wish wish wish I’d written myself, I’d run it for free (I don’t do sponsored posts). Say, someone pitched me this post (which Oliver ran at Thought Catalog). An instant Hell Yes. Or something as thoughtful as this. Or I could point to bucketloads of posts written by my very talented travel blogging/writing friends that would be an instant Hell Yes, which would fit my blog because I love their work and it would be an honour to feature it.
Beyond the writing, there are many other reasons we like being pitched. Money, for example. Those of us who take sponsored posts and advertising (I don’t take either right now), we expect to get paid – especially if you’re asking us to do any creative work for you. More on that expectation shortly.
But before we get to the constructive stuff, I want to really hammer something home for you.
Let’s imagine you’re in charge of interviewing candidates for a position at your company, and it goes like this:
You: Hi! Welcome. Please sit down.
Them: Hello Name!
You: Uh. It’s actually [you say your name].
Them: Thank you for your excellent feedback!
You: Hm. Okay. Anyway, thanks for forwarding your CV…
Them: It is a great pleasure. I am an enormous fan of your company!
You: Ah! That’s good to hear. What do you like most about it?
Them: Your content.
You: What “content”?
Them: Your excellent content.
You: Yeah, but what?
Them: Thank you for your excellent content.
You: Right. Well, okay, let’s talk about your CV.
Them: Contact me day or night!
You: It says here under “Experience”: original, non-promotional, informative and grammatical error free work.
You: What work? Where have you worked? What did you actually do? What skills are you bringing to this role?
Them: Unique content.
You: What? Where?
Them: Resources with trustworthy sources that would be great resources for your company.
You: I don’t….
Them: I have created related content as well, that is in the same niche as your company.
You: Tell me what this company is called. The building you’re sitting in, right this second. Tell me.
You: Come on. Give me one word that’s in the full name of this company. Just one word.
You: With the greatest respect in the world…
Them: I will start work tomorrow! Here is $25 for your time.
You: …piss off.
See? I’m doing it again. And I promised I’d be more constructive than that. Forgive me. Sarcasm is so easy. And kinda useless. I’m stopping now.
Also, if you’re bridling at the implicit suggestion in that imaginary exchange that you’re applying for a job with the bloggers you’re pitching, I get how that’s a misleading analogy, however you feel about the bloggers you’re contacting. But it still rings true in many ways. You’re asking to rent (for $ or for free) the virtual real estate they’ve spent years pouring their heart and soul into, and in some cases, building a business around. Any successful blogger is emotionally tied up in their blog in a way only authors and startup founders really understand. Either you’re renting space in their fledgling creative business, or you’re renting it in their public diary. Both feel utterly precious to them. No, you’re not pitching for a job. In some ways, it feels more important than that.
So – here’s how you get this right.
How To Pitch Any Blogger
Read Our Damn Blogs. Display a basic knowledge of what we do, who our audience is and what we write about. If you can’t do that, our alarm bells will shriek from the very first second we open your e-mail. Spend a couple of minutes learning who we are and you win 50% of the battle for our attention. I know this takes time. I know you’re in a rush. And I respect the numbers game (see above). But if you want established bloggers to listen to you, read their damn blogs first – and make it really clear that you’ve done so in your pitch.
Get Our Names Right. It’s mindboggling to me that I have to say this. But I do. I really do.
Learn How To Pitch Like A Journalist.There’s a formula. It’s not complicated. Those of us that freelance-write for bigger publications have to adhere to this method of pitching – because it’s the only thing that works. Otherwise, editors simply don’t answer our e-mails. Same thing here.
Be Honest. So you’re just after the link? Why can’t you just say that? If you’re willing to pay us to play chicken with Google’s guidelines on selling links, admit it and let us make that call with open eyes. If it’s a sponsored post designed to advertise your stuff, admit it. If you’re guest-posting because you’re keen to build authority towards your work and maybe towards a particular page on your blog (which is 90% of legit guest posting), why not admit it? We get the need for these things. We work in the same space. Honesty goes a long way towards us saying Yes – as long as it’s the kind of honesty that’s relevant to our site, our interests, our sustainability, our online ethical policy, and our ability to not burn all our carefully-built bridges by pissing off our audience with nonsense they couldn’t care less about.
We still need a good story (see below) but if you’re up-front honest about what that story is for, we’ll really respect you for it.
Pitch A Story. We don’t care if it’s “unique content”. I don’t care if you have a “team of experts”. The only thing that matters is What is the actual story you want me to run? Is this story a good fit for my blog? If I put this in front of other people, will this hurt my reputation as a reliable voice of quality blogging? We care about this. We need to know this. Tell us up front. Get specific. Now.
If You’d Pay A Contractor Or Consultant For This Work, Respect Us Enough To Offer Us Compensation. A common refrain in bad pitches: “We will give you this article FOR FREE.” Fun fact: bloggers never, ever need your free articles. We’re never so desperate for material that we can’t tap out something halfhearted in the time it takes the kettle to boil. You’re assigning a value to your pitch and your imaginary article that would never even cross our minds. You know what would cross our minds? “I wonder how I’m going to make money from this blogging lark.” Speak to that need, respectfully, championing quality work that makes the internet a little better and doesn’t get us blacklisted by Google, and you’ll command our full attention, I guarantee it.
Oh, and we’ve all read this chart. You should too
The Word “Infographic” Is Now Blogging Shorthand For “Insultingly Crappy Pitch”. Maybe your infographic is different, in which case, pitch away. But don’t be surprised if bloggers get stroppy. We’re scarred by these things. They remind us that some PR firms regard bloggers as unpaid employees on their social media team. We get stabby. Stand well back when you click “Send”.
Quantify “Exposure” Or Strike It From Your Vocabulary. We do sometimes work for exposure – but you can’t use that word without a ton of evidence to back it up. We need numbers, and those numbers should be meaningful. If you have 255,000 Followers on Google+ and the last time you got a +1 on anything in your feed was June 2012, we’ll spot it. Do the work. Spell it out. Get real.
Don’t Treat Us Like Clueless, Entitled Assholes. Most of us are just like you, except doing a different job (or hobby, if we’re keeping business out of it). Despite what The Daily Mail and Fox News would like you to believe, bloggers aren’t pretentious, uppity 20-something layabouts with incredibly annoying hair* and a vastly inflated sense of their own importance in the world. Bloggers are mainly normal people with blogs. You’re pitching an alternate-reality version of yourself (not a mirror-universe, with black leather and studs and stuff – this universe.) You’re writing into a mirror. What would you like to receive in your Inbox tomorrow morning? Try writing that.
Ask Us For Ideas. If you’re out of ideas that don’t involve violating all of the above, try asking us. As for our help. No, don’t pitch us to blindly share your stuff far and wide, or playtest your new app. Ask for our help. Exactly like how you’d ask some other professional for help. And allow us to respond the same way a professional would – maybe giving you a few ideas, maybe offering to formally work with you on it, maybe steering you towards someone helpful. However you do it, make it worth our while somehow – and make us feel respected. Don’t treat us like a customer with benefits (to you).
Keep It Short. Good journalists keep it short. Bad journalists write 2,314-word blog posts about pitching strategies (hi there). Don’t be me. Keep it under 100 words to start with. Respect the extreme old age of some of us (hi there), who are so phenomenally past it that we may actually expire before we reach the end of your pitch. Put one last smile on our sad, wrinkled faces. Keep your pitch short. Thanks.
I sincerely hope to see you in my Inbox again soon.
* I’m bald and 45 years old. Thanks for bringing this up.
- A fine, fine rant by designer Paul Jarvis on spammy “pitches” from “growth-hackers”.
PS. Thanks to Mariana, Pam, Kurt, Gavin, Jess, Jodi, Candace, Tasha, Dick, Robert, Kate, Kristina, Steve, Billie, Dan & Audrey, Kash, Shannon, Dalene & Pete and everyone else I’ve chatted to down the years on this issue. I’m proud to share the trenches with you.