Cold emailing journalists is not a very easy thing to master but with the right amount of knowledge it can be done. One thing is for sure – journalists are always looking for stories that are worth writing about. This can be a very strenuous exercise especially when everyone who is emailing them just wants coverage for no good reason. Using this guide, startups can improve on how they cold email journalists and be sure to get that desired reply from reporters who you pitch your business to.
First things first: 10 Tips for Mastering How to Cold Email journalists correctly
1. It has to be a story
Journalists are not investors. They are not looking for product pitches and the most amazing ideas in the world. They are looking for stories to write home about. Approaching your email from this point of view gives you an edge over everyone else who is just pitching and marketing. Make your pitch to journalists a newsworthy story. This involves beginning with what unique problem your product solves and putting some interesting numbers in there to prove it.
What amount of research have you done and what is your background? Don’t mention going to MIT and starting this cool idea in your garage – that stuff is boring. In fact, almost every startup today starts in the garage. It has become too mainstream to even mention that fact, so have an interesting story about yourself and what you were doing when you realized you could change the world with your idea which led to a business.
The story the journalist is interested in is what problem your product solves, what numbers you have to back up that, how your product fits into the macro view of the whole industry, what your story is, how you stumbled upon your business idea and how you developed your product. These are the first things you should have – in very brief statements, in order to get that call or email back.
2. Interest their readers
Readers are everything to journalists. If your story won’t interest the readers of the journalists you are emailing then you are done there. Sometimes it might take a lot of persuasion to convince the journalists that their readers will be interested in the product and story. Make sure your story is geared toward the readers, and journalists will take it. To find out if the story interests the readers, the best thing is to read some of the most popular pieces by the journalists you are targeting. Their most popular pieces show where their hearts are, and what they enjoy writing about.
(Bonus point) Stay on topic
At Pressfarm, the journalists are categorized into their preferred niches to make it easy for you to get such details from checking their previous work. Most journalists receive tons of stories every day and as you can imagine, they are always looking for an excuse to drop an email by deleting it forever. Don’t give them that option by choosing to stay off-topic. Be in the niche of the journalist you are approaching and they will go the extra mile of reading your email keenly.
3. The subject line is important
Your email copy could be outstanding but what’s the point when your subject line is the crappiest on earth and nobody ends up opening your emails? Take time to craft a subject line that will pique the reader’s interest.
a) Put the journalist’s name on the subject line
Evidence shows that most cold emails don’t do this, meaning if you did this then you will be among the 10% who send cold emails with the journalist’s name on the subject line. The open rate for doing this increases to 83% and a 14 % response rate has also been witnessed by people who have done this before.
b) Quit with Catchphrases
“15 Second Question on Data Conservation.” Using this as a subject line means that you are unrealistic. This could be a good concept, but you are not sure if it will take the recipient 15 seconds to actually answer that question. It may turn a journalist off, especially if they know that the answer to said question won’t be that quick and requires a lot of thinking. Instead, think about framing the same subject line as: “Quick Question on Data Conservation.”
The second question is based on the fact that you know it will be a quick question but might take longer than 15 seconds. At the end of the day, the second question is more realistic with expectations.
Quit using such catchphrases as the one in the first subject line we mentioned, and be real. Don’t send emails saying “This tool will increase battery life by 50%” if you don’t have the data to prove that.
c) The shorter the subject line, the better
Short subject lines get the highest open rates. However, more open rates might not necessarily translate into high reply rates. At the end of the day, a nice, short subject line with a crappy email body results in zero replies. However, assuming that you have a very good email body, having a creatively short and comprehensible subject line leads to higher open and reply rates.
Most email inboxes truncate the email subject if it’s too long. That translates to more journalists ignoring your pitch because they have to open the email to finish reading the subject line. You can only get away with a longer subject line if the first few words are appealing, otherwise it is back to square one. Around 5 to 7 words is a good measure for a short subject line or about 50 characters. Make it speak for itself.
4. Do your homework
Research the journalist’s work as much as possible. Believe me, if you haven’t done your homework about whom you are contacting, it will show in your email. You won’t be able to see it, but the recipient will. Come on, this is the 21st century, and information about almost everyone is online, especially when the “everyone” we’re talking about is a journalist. Doing your due diligence in finding out about the journalist’s line of work is a solid way of getting their attention. Mentioning a few of your findings in your email copy shows you have gone to the personal level of actually knowing them.
5. Why are you reaching out to this specific journalist?
Is it because of a piece they wrote an article on ‘Artificial Intelligence’ or is it because of their coverage of some Architecture convention? Be specific when cold emailing your contacts because it shows that you know why you are reaching out to them. Usually, a huge mistake startups make is to write one email copy, then send this to like 50 journalists expecting to get a reply back. To be honest, sometimes you will get replies back, and sometimes your open rates will be fine.
However, to get massive replies back and crazy open rates, write your emails one by one. When you sending out 50 emails at once, it becomes very difficult to capture why you contacted each of these recipients. How about sending each of these 50 emails separately and getting personal a little bit in the email, then ending up with more replies? If you do this really well, you could find that about half of these turn out to be solid connections you can rely on in the future.
6. Have your numbers ready
Numbers are proof of results. Attracting attention from top journalists in the game is very dependent on how much you have achieved or how much your product can achieve. You can use your numbers to show the response rate you are getting from clients who use your product and how fast your adoption rate is. Let’s assume you sent an email saying you have grown from just 100 customers to 100,000 in a period of six months, and indicate what percentage of users stay after using your product the first time. This could land you a very good post on some of the largest publications online.
Numbers put everything into perspective and make it easier for journalists to see whether you deserve their time. If you grow that fast in six months it can only mean that there is so much good and innovation in your startup. No journalist would want to miss the opportunity to find out what that could be.
7. Keep your email copy short and simple
Journalists skim very fast through emails. The shorter they are, the higher the chances are that they won’t stop halfway and delete your email. Very long emails just drain the energy out of any reporter. Just put yourself into a journalist’s shoes. You probably have 60 emails to check today, and one of those emails is a really long one.
The length of that unsolicited email will be a very good excuse to trash the email with no further thought. Don’t be the startup that puts journalists in that situation where they find it easy to delete your email. Make it harder for them to ignore by writing a short, quality email pitch.
8. Follow your instincts
If you read through your email and something tells you it won’t be answered because it doesn’t work then it won’t be answered. Why? Because it doesn’t work. If you think it sounds too much like a marketing email then it probably sounds too much like a marketing email. Most of the time, our guts never lie. Listen to your instincts and revise that email until you start feeling like you actually nailed it.
Hint: The first piece you write is bad, and the second and the third pieces won’t be very good either. You only start to get it right on the fourth try, and you might still revise that one two or three more times for perfection.
9. Ask questions
Questions are usually an experiment to see if the recipient will answer. However, if you have the edge to actually ask a question in your email pitch, then go for it. The best that could happen is the journalist answering. That will ensure you have your conversation started and it’s now up to you wherever it may lead. The first approach to asking questions could be in your email copy, where you expect the journalist to reply with an answer.
The second approach is including the questions in your subject line and going on to answer these questions in your email copy.
10). Balance the subject line and email copy
If your subject line is a 5/10 and your email copy is 9/10, it means you have fewer open rates, which usually translates to very few replies eventually. And if your subject line is a 9/10 and your email copy is a 6/10 that will translate to high open rates and very poor reply rates. If you balance this and have the subject line at 9/10 and the email copy at 8/10, it means both the open rates and the reply rates will be relatively high.
Here’s an example of the perfect message layout
Subject: Have you figured out how to solve [insert common problem that your product solves] (Include a name if appropriate)
First paragraph: Your name, the name of your company and your position at the company. What you are aspiring to do with regards to this connection you are looking to create.
Second paragraph: Discuss how much you admire the contact’s work and be particular in mentioning one or two pieces that you really liked and why. Congratulate them on the good work they are doing in that particular industry.
Third paragraph: Pitch your product to them and also include why you thought they were the best person to contact in this regard. Provide value by discussing briefly how your product solves a problem. Ask questions and let them know that you are looking forward to hearing from them. If it’s a product launch tell them when you will be launching.
Close the email.
This is an example of an email that has usually worked for many startups that are looking for coverage from various publications.
What to do After Sending out the Email
1. Have your press kit ready
When the journalist gets back to you, they will be requesting more information about your startup. You should have your press kit ready so that you can easily attach it to an email and send it to them as a reply. Having this press kit ready is very important because sometimes the journalists might need it almost immediately. If it isn’t ready you will create the impression that you are not serious.
2. Follow-up Email
If the recipient of your pitch email didn’t reply, we work on the assumption that they could have been very busy and forgotten to get back to you, or your email was probably buried into the hundreds they receive per day. It’s therefore good to send one follow-up email to check the status of your proposal to them. If they reply you are good to go. If they don’t reply to your follow-up email it’s time to move on, because it is a sign that they are not interested in your product. Don’t keep sending follow-ups non-stop. One or two is good enough.
Mastering these tips of cold emailing takes a lot of time and practice. However, the more you do it, the better you become at it. Always send a batch at a time so that you can see what worked in the last batch and what didn’t before you send the next one. Ideally, you should give the first batch two weeks or so, before sending out your second batch with adjustments from your first one. Just to be clear, by batches I mean a group of contacts that are not replicated when you send your second batch.