November 29, 2011

Detailed analysis of the perfect blogger pitch

email

Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

Chris AbrahamOver the last five years that Abraham Harrison has been pitching bloggers on behalf of clients, we have learned a thing or two about how best to reach bloggers, how to engage them, how to get them to carry our client’s message to their readership. Whether we’re doing an outreach to the bloggers of mainstream media and celebrity blogs or to someone who has just set up a blog for the first time, it all begins with the message model.

Below is an example of a message model we developed for Miriam’s Kitchen for National Homelessness Month. We didn’t use it because we focused on Give to the Max Day instead, but I think it is an example of our best work and I’ll put it aside and we’ll use it next year for sure. I will share the entire email pitch in total below but then I will go through a line-by-line explanation as to what we did and why we did it:

From: Chris Abraham <[email protected]>
Subject: November is National Homelessness Month

Hi <<First Name>>

November is National Homelessness Month and I’m reaching out to you to discuss the issue of homelessness in America. I’m also hoping that you’ll discuss this issue with the readers of <<Blog Name>>. I am a volunteer at a small kitchen for the homeless in DC and while working there it occurred to me that this issue affects every town, village, and city in America.

I have put together a microsite that puts the issue of homelessness in perspective and also uses Miriam’s Kitchen, the kitchen where I volunteer, as a model for addressing homelessness and untreated mental illness in the US capital city. There are a multitude of news, facts, videos, photos, and banners so please feel free to repost any of it:

www.miriamskitchennews.org

If you are able to post about this issue in any form, it would really help spread the message of homelessness in its many diverse forms and maybe suggest ways to help improve many lives. Please let me know if you have any questions and if you are able to help. Thank you so much.

Chris


Chris Abraham,
On behalf of Miriam’s Kitchen
www.miriamskitchen.org

OK, now I will go into more detail, section by section.

From: Chris Abraham <[email protected]>

The first thing you’ll notice is that I am doing the outreach in this example. Though not the norm, I personally volunteer and donate to Miriam’s Kitchen and people know that, so I decided to reach out as me because that’s the most authentic relationship. In other cases, the names of Abraham Harrison team members fit the bill. The next thing you’ll notice is that the email doesn’t come from either miriamskitchen.org or abrahamharrison.com domains. Instead, we virtually always reserve a completely new and unique domain name for each campaign, in this case miriamskitchennews.org. Why? Three reasons:

  1. Clients protect their domains. Most companies and organizations have very restrictive IT policies that limit the use of their domain and the allocation of email addresses. This makes it almost impossible to place social media news release content on their site, so we reserve our own because it gets around any of those issues.
  2. Bloggers don’t trust PR firms. We prefer to reach out to bloggers as the client instead of as Abraham Harrison on behalf of our clients. Why? Not to be deceptive but because a strong majority of all the bloggers we reach out to are not trained in public relations processes and don’t generally feel comfortable being communicated to via a broker, so we always try to communicate as clearly and as simply as possible, so choosing something in-between the two is best, in this case [email protected]
  3. Spam detectors are always a risk. Because we reach out cold to upwards of five-thousand bloggers at a time, it is essential that we don’t put ever put mission-critical domain names in jeopardy of being black-listed as spam or being taken away by a fickle registrar such as GoDaddy.com. While we’re exceedingly careful when we target and how we engage each blogger, it is amazing how few email recipients need to report a single email as unwanted before the gray-bearded email wizards can ban and block an entire domain from being deliverable–we never want to put ourselves or our clients in that precarious position. While this has never actually happened to us or our clients, we have felt enough saber-rattling and there have been enough shots over our bow that we make sure we never put anyone into a defensive position. Ultimately, protecting our clients’ brands as well as our own is of top priority.

Let’s move on to the all-important subject line.

Subject: November is National Homelessness Month

The first, and sometimes only, thing a blogger sees when she receives our email pitch is the email subject line and the sender. Choosing a title is super-hard because we want to be as neutral and as informational as possible. Teasing or tricking a blogger into opening by being cute, mysterious, or clever in the subject line has almost always blown up in our faces. The simpler the better, especially when you realize that we follow up a couple times after the first outreach–something I will go into more in a future post. But first, the salutation.

Hi <<First Name>>

When we research bloggers to pitch, we always do our very best to discover the full name of the blog, the first name of the blogger, and the best address possible. We also make sure the name is correct because it isn’t always clear. I can’t tell you how many pitches my blog, Because the Medium is the Message, and my corporate blog, Marketing Conversation, get from marketers who address us wrong, mostly as Abraham. “Dear Abraham.” Those go straight into the trash. Next, our mailer, nicknamed “The Cloud,” has a mail merge feature, allowing us to personalize our email a little bit, within reason, and appropriately.

What’s behind that first paragraph?

November is National Homelessness Month and I’m reaching out to you to discuss the issue of homelessness in America. I’m also hoping that you’ll discuss this issue with the readers of <<Blog Name>>. I am a volunteer at a small kitchen for the homeless in DC and while working there it occurred to me that this issue affects every town, village, and city in America.

The most important thing is to make sure the first paragraph of every pitch is simple, clear, concise, and immediately addresses why you’re emailing. Yes, answer who, what, when, where, why, and how–but in very short order, so get to it! Who? Miriam’s Kitchen. What? Homelessness in America, an issue that affects every town, village, and city in America. When? November. Where? On your blog. Why? To share the issue with your readers How? Posting to your blog. I added the last sentence to proactively address why I was the person to be writing at all–because I am personally invested and this is meaningful to me, for real.

I am lucky enough to have Dan Krueger and Phillip Rhoades on my team. They’re both excellent BS detectors and masters of minimalism. For a pitch like this, Dan or I generally create a first draft. Then, the other two of us go through the draft line-by-line. As if it were poetry. We cut to the bone. This process is a direct result of three things:

One, you only have a blogger for a few seconds–if she opens it at all–so you must cut to the chase.

Two, we have all received enough pitches ourselves to know who does and doesn’t read our blogs, so the entire “I am a real fan of your blog and have been reading you a long time” are generally lies. So, after you write your first draft, cut out all the inauthentic praise. Truth be told, if your targeting is good and you have a great offer and are clear as to what you want, you’re effectively doing the blogger the favor of providing good content that they can easily and quickly pop onto her blog–and you really don’t need to flatter. I am not saying that you should be short, rude, or curt, but surely be very clear as to who you are, what you are, what you want, and what you need.

Yes, I do volunteer at Miriam’s–many times-a-month. If I didn’t–or if I sent the email out as someone else in the company, an online analyst, and that person hadn’t ever graced Miriam’s, I would never make that up. Everything in the email must be honest and true. This isn’t a con job, this isn’t a cheesy 11pm pick up, this is the sharing of relevant information–don’t feel like you have to sell to someone or fool someone to cover you. Also, be very careful about playing the heart strings too loudly when you’re doing an outreach on behalf of a charity. To be honest, the less said the better–allow the blogger to come up with her own conclusions–you really don’t have to tell the blogger what to think. Not only isn’t that necessary but it can be downright insulting to bloggers, who are by their very nature free spirits.

Now, on to the meat of the pitch.

I have put together a microsite that puts the issue of homelessness in perspective and also uses Miriam’s Kitchen, the kitchen where I volunteer, as a model for addressing homelessness and untreated mental illness in the US capital city. There are a multitude of news, facts, videos, photos, and banners so please feel free to repost any of it:

www.miriamskitchennews.org

One of the results of making the email pitch so efficient and tight is that there’s a lot left behind. Most folks who pitch to bloggers still include the kitchen sink in their email pitches: PDF or MS Word attachments are still very common. The majority paste their rich-text traditional press release inline in the email, along with inline images, logos, and graphics. We refuse for three reasons.

  1. Our email pitches are all about starting a conversation. We’re more interested in getting an email reply that we can respond to than we are in firing and forgetting.
  2. We always send plain text emails. We do not include anything that might result in spam-boxing. We don’t even include any “http://” prefixes in our links, assuming that the webmail or email client will activate the link when the blogger opens up their email and views the content.
  3. We don’t take the blogger’s interest in our pitch for granted. The email, to me, is a speed date. We don’t want to waste anybody’s time or good will, so we allow the blogger to decide whether she wants to go on a second date. We like it best when the chemistry is so intense that our client and the blogger drive to Vegas immediately and get hitched–by which I mean we reach out, the blogger immediately likes our pitch, immediately posting to their blog as well as Facebook and Twitter–but we don’t want to assume any of that. We like to play it cool because a heavy sell never works, especially in an earned-media PR campaign.

On to the end of the email:

If you are able to post about this issue in any form, it would really help spread the message of homelessness in its many diverse forms and maybe suggest ways to help improve many lives. Please let me know if you have any questions and if you are able to help. Thank you so much.

Chris

As I said before, being clear as to why we’re writing is essential. Being clear what you want and what you expect is essential, too. Too many pitches I receive simply share their message but are never bold, brave, or courageous enough to make an ask: please post it anywhere, anyhow, to help spread the message of homelessness in America.

The most essential thing, however, is that this is really just a speed date. If we pass muster but the blogger just isn’t sure who we are or why I am emailing her, we need to be painfully clear that this email is not a fire-and-forget. That this email is the beginning of a connection and that simply hitting reply will result in swift answers. Also, accountability. We end just about every email with a direct request to the blogger to please let us know if she ends up helping and sharing–and that we’re appreciative either way. At the very least because she’s spent some of her time opening and reading our email.

Finally, the signature.


Chris Abraham,
On behalf of Miriam’s Kitchen
www.miriamskitchen.org

If you’ll notice, we don’t misrepresent ourselves–or myself–as being on the staff of Miriam’s Kitchen; however, we also don’t want to confuse the purity of the message by bringing a second brand into the brief message model, such as would be the case if I included Abraham Harrison LLC in the signature. So, we chose to split the middle.

What you’re thinking right now is “how in the heck could you blog so much about such a short email?” Well, it is because we spend a lot of time, many revisions, and three or more staff cutting, editing, re-ordering, and BS-detecting each message model. We’re very intentional, very formulaic, and also very careful. We don’t want to tell bloggers what to think. We don’t want to put words in their mouths, and we surely don’t want to alienate a blogger because we color the copy in such a way that they reject our pitch based on style instead of content and mission.

It is like a first date, especially for a man like me: it is more important for me to remember to be a good listener and not to spend the entire meal making it all about me. The longer my message model and email pitch is the more likely the blogger will feel like I might have sent them an email in error. I want each email pitch to be as neutral and factual as possible. All dogma, passion, color, interpretation, and story should be provided by the blogger–and don’t forget that everything that you cut out of the email message model can possibly find a happy home in your Social Media News Release.

While the email might seem very casual and conversational, winging it is not an option when you’re officially reaching out on behalf of your brand. This is doubly so when you’re reaching out on behalf of a client. The message model is a getting-to-know-you process and not simply a product. Before I explain what goes into an email blogger pitch, I need to explain this process and the philosophy that we have developed through trial and error since the Fall of 2006.

Being completely familiar with the client, the brand, the product, and the services, before moving forward with the pitch is essential. Anything we don’t use in our message model and email pitch we aggregate it into a social media, multimedia, social media profiles, news release.

This process of collecting all of the client’s assets and collateral material, including videos, photos, ads, bios, history, background, context, interviews, case studies, testimonials, and media mentions, help us then decide if there are any missing pieces that we need to request from the client or create ourselves.

Then we can interview the client to discuss what the subject of the pitch should be, what the ask is, and then which blogs and bloggers should be included–or excluded–and who to exclude is often more important than who to bring into the pitch.

My next blog post will focus on what I am all sure you’re curious about: the social media news release (SMNR), that “kitchen sink” catch-all supporting document that provides all the details, content, media, images, and greater story that has been pruned from the initial pitch but surely deserves being told.

A future post will be about the value of following up a couple times with any bloggers who don’t reply or post. We have evolved a process that does not email just once but also sends two follow-up emails to those bloggers who don’t reply at all. Funny thing is, we get only 25% of all posts from the first email. We get 50% of all our total earned media posts from the first follow-up email and another 25% from the final outreach, so I really want to go into the why and how of that–and how we handle something that might very well be scary to some of you and and might feel like we’re being a pest to others–and I will address all of those fears and perceptions.

Please feel free to ask any questions or make any comments you might have on your mind after reading this blog post and I will do my best to respond.

(Via Biznology)

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Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

7 thoughts on “Detailed analysis of the perfect blogger pitch

  1. I wonder though, out of all your sent pitches what percentages actually responds and participates with the invite? Would it be right to give them an initiative or a reward of some sort to get a better percentage, or is it wiser to stick to the release as straightforward as possible?

    • If we say reach out to 2,000 targeted bloggers, we'll generally garner between 150-500 earned media mentions, which is a very high conversion rate if you compare it to direct mail, anyway, and at the end of the day, you have hundreds of earned media posts on hundreds of diverse blogs, working for the brand for months or years past, because of search and because those posts stay indexed.

  2. Great post Chris with very useful analysis. I couldn't agree more with your point RE Brevity which takes time to master. It reminds me of a Samuel Clemens quote “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

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