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PR Cheat Sheet: 10 Elements of a Savvy Pitch Email

If you're going to go to the trouble of pitching journalists over email, make your messages count.
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I often witness amazingly good public relations at work. In my job as a reporter, I've worked with PR reps who know their stuff, develop a camaraderie with me, and know my tastes and leanings--and those are companies I tend to work with again and again. Here's what I've learned from those savvy companies, summed up in a cheat sheet to help your new startup connect get noticed by the media.

1. Finely tune your emails.

Mass emails sent to random people can sometimes work--after all, that's why MailChimp exists. But they rarely work with me. Most of them actually end up in a spam folder or one of the "promotion" tabs in my Gmail. Pitches that arrive in my inbox with specific examples of how the company is breaking new ground, intended just for me? They are pure gold.

2. Learn about the writer.

I love when PR pitches start out with a comment about one of my articles or a blog entry. That tells me the sender took the time to figure out my beat and the stories I usually end up writing. There's a real person on the other end trying to communicate with me. When a pitch just seems like it is intended for any working journalist, I usually ignore it out of hand.

3. Fix the errors.

I've been known to post on Twitter when I receive a PR pitch with a misspelled word in the subject line. How is that even possible? It's important, when you want to sell the services of a new company, to make sure you read over every email carefully. It's one of the worst ways to draw attention to a pitch. Sure, I might scoff at the email at first but I'll still delete it. And the misspelling forms an indelible impression about whether the company is really legit.

4. Get the facts straight.

Make sure everything you say about the startup is factual--include stats as appropriate and even link to research papers. Honestly, the more the better. But be careful if you try to stretch the truth.

5. Don't exaggerate.

Speaking of getting the facts straight, another major PR mistake has to do with exaggeration. I've written about this before, but if you claim to have the best of something, you better be able to prove it. Or if you say this is a product that's first to market, make sure you have thoroughly examined the field. If one of the claims you make isn't true, the pitch quickly loses credibility.

6. Follow up--but only once.

If you have customized a pitch and learned a bit about the writer, so you're not just sending mass emails to total strangers, then there's a good chance I'll read your pitch. In fact, I use Gmail labels and mark pitches I want to come back to later. I've been known to ask a question several weeks after the fact. Following up with me is fine--but pestering is not. When you follow up more than once, it actually makes me think you don't realize I know how to manage my email properly. 

7. Make your follow-up brief.

I learned early on in my writing career to use this proven tactic. Go ahead and send an initial pitch that spells everything out in detail. It can be quite lengthy--you want to tell the whole story--as long as it's well-crafted. However, when you do a follow-up email, make it short and to the point. I sometimes will follow up once with an editor or a company founder and just ask, "What do you think?" so the recipient knows I'm not pestering. I really do just want to find out if they are interested.

8. Name your competitors.

I suppose this one is controversial--the minute you name a competitor, you might point the journalist in a different direction. However, journalists need to know the whole story--and you're doing them a favor when you put your company in context. If you're a new competitor to Path, go ahead and name the company and even include a link. Then, explain how your company does something better. You should even list a few other competitors--but be careful not to diss them.

9. Don't forget the social-media links.

I'm surprised how many PR pitches don't bother to include a link to the company's Facebook page and Twitter account. These days, journalists want more than just a link to the company domain. They want to see what everyone else is saying about the company and find out the latest news. It's also a quick way to see how many followers are into that company.

10. Always be professional.

One last word of advice on your email pitches: Let's keep this professional. I've received many emails that had some inappropriate comment right away (some of you who know me are going to send me a message right now with a joke, and that's totally fine). But that is risky behavior for an initial pitch. I don't tend to take such messages seriously. In fact, crude remarks in an email or some unflattering statement about the competition don't help sell a company at all. They hamper your chances for success. 

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Apr 21, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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