I receive a lot of emails – not so much that I can’t get around to all of them, but enough to have a preferred method of receiving email pitches. A while back, a friend asked me to tell him the 5 best & 5 worst pitches I receive, and what I like to see. “Maybe send me an example of a bad pitch, if you have one” he said. I didn’t have one in mind, because bad pitches just go in the trash. Mediocre pitches, however, always get a response, and if I get a good vibe from someone, I respond and ask for more details, or fewer details, and ask them to answer a few questions so that I can better understand.
For me, helping startups pitch better is part of my job. I know that I’m not talking to the director of PR for a major company. I’m talking to a hacker who decided he doesn’t want to work somewhere else. So I’m lenient. When companies send me stuff too soon, i say “Not now. Email me in 3 months.” When the pitches are long, I ask for one sentence answers. It takes me little time, and ultimately i get to see more startups, because I don’t just write them off.
Which brings us to today’s email exchange.
Oh look: a short email referencing a previous email and an attachment to a PDF. Yay.
I’m not a huge fan of PDFs – they usually make me feel like I’m one of 10,000 people you’re emailing today, and I don’t really enjoy racing to dig through your PDF and find the most title-worthy figure or fact.
The problem with saying something like “hey, we met at X, Y, and Z” or “as we discussed earlier” is that, if I don’t remember that discussion, it means it probably wasn’t important to me. This tells me that I probably won’t be interested in what you’re about to tell me, but it’s not a game-changer. Just a rough start.
In addition, despite the fact that it was a follow-up to previous discussions, I can see that it’s coming into firstname.lastname@example.org, and not my own emails, which tells me I never bothered to switch him over before.
Mea culpa. I didn’t answer the email – I checked my download history and I didn’t even download the PDF. 11 days go by.
#Founder follows up. I respond.
A short reminder that I didn’t answer: I like that. I still didn’t look at the PDF, but this time I responded. Here you can see me imploring : “I really don’t want to read your PDF, but why don’t you send me something small I can read in order to learn more.” One of my favorite questions is : “What have you accomplished in the past 6 months,” because it is bullshitter proof. Rude Baguette, for example, has organized 5 events + 1 day conference, planned 2 day-events for September, and started working on one or two secret things that I look forward to sharing later. We also nearly doubled our monthly traffic since January.
These questions will be different for every journalist – I’m a big fan of “past, present, and future,” I like films more than pictures, actions more than words. Some people like breaking news, big names, figures & exciting sectors (I like those, too, it’s just a question of priorities).
PS: Notice that my email’s response time was 5 minutes. Just saying.
Here’s where #Founder messes up.
My dad taught me one great lesson about emails – Mark Suster also talks a bit about it here – the short & dirty of it is : “if you’re feeling emotional, don’t hit send.” Nothing good comes out of it. I’ve done it twice this year, and regretted it both times, and followed up (not in as timely a manner as I wish I had) to own up to my mistake.
Nevermind the fact that this email is longer than an email answering my questions would’ve been, there are a lot of presumptions in here that #founder is making. 1) That I remember speaking with him 2) That “follow up with me” means “I love your company. Specifically, you, send me something ASAP, just not the thing you just sent me.” 3) That I am above copying and pasting an email exchange in order to prove a bigger point about #founder #journalist relationships.
As it turns out, I will remember this company. I read into them and they are a service company – we don’t write about service companies (often), but we do write about founder mistakes when it comes to PR – like that time someone tweeted “remember when you sucked my dick…” to me.
Conclusion: forget best practices, just don’t leave a bad impression.
You’ll read a lot about how to reach journalists, what to say, how short or long to make emails or press releases, and all the messages will end with some version of the same advice: “The important thing is developing a relationship with them,” and that’s true. But before we start a relationship, let’s get the first impression under our belts first. Running at someone yelling “WHY DON’T YOU ANSWER MY CALLS” with withered flowers in hand is definitely going to leave an impression on a first date – just not the kind of impression you were hoping for.
At least I’m honest, right?