Whenever I’m working on a linkbuilding campaign for a client, I’m always trying to think of it from a journalist perspective. I worked at The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, when I was in college, and constantly proofreading my colleague’s work for spelling and grammar errors isn’t the only thing that’s stuck with me. Lucky for me, I know people who remained in the industry who I could pester with my questions. And even luckier, they happen to be my best friends.
Anna Orso, Reporter/Curator at Billy Penn
Dan Norton, Technology/Education reporter at The Philadelphia Business Journal
Liz Dennerlein, Features reporter at The Asbury Park Press
Stephen Pianovich, Managing Editor at City of Basketball Love
Chapter 1 (Added April 22, 2016)
In this chapter, I wanted to know about the many pitches my friends get per day, what bothers them most, and what makes a pitch stand out. Granted, some of these are story ideas rather than an already-created piece of content, but the message still stands. My hope is this information will be helpful to all the great marketers reading this post.
Read along for the inside scoop as I ask and get answers from 4 journalists on their impressions of link building, tips to make your emails stand out, and more.
Realization 1: They know your tactics.
My friends aren’t stupid. They know what linkbuilding is, even if they didn’t know that’s what it was technically called by SEOs. Anna said, “I probably knew what it was and that it’s a positive thing in terms of SEO but I didn’t realize there was a specific word for it.” Once I told them what it meant, though, they all recognized it immediately.
Takeaway: Know that they know! They know what we’re up to, so get to the point, don’t spam them, and be polite. But if you’re a more modern SEO who cares about other benefits than just the PageRank, you might need to explain your overall goals, in addition to the value you’re bringing the writer. Hopefully you’re not trying to simply use them for a link, because you might just come off that way without realizing the writers might have preconceived notions about SEOs.
Realization 2: They get a LOT of emails.
On average, my friends said they get at least 7 pitch emails a day, not including emails from sources, press releases and all the other work emails they get on a regular basis. Probably why Anna said that sadly, a lot of the emails she receives go directly in the trash. But, there is good news!
“That depends on what we’re considering a “pitch.” I probably get 30+ press releases every day and maybe five or so actual pitches where public relations officials are giving me a story idea in the hopes I’ll write about it.
The vast majority of pitches I get go directly into the trash, but if it seems like a pitch is going to be good then I’ll read it. The pitches I most appreciate are from people who clearly understand what the goal of our website is. No reporter is going to write a story about something because it’s good for the company being written about, but they will write about something because their readers might actually be interested in it.”
Takeaway: Get to the point and be relevant. With so many emails, all centered around asking a reporter to do you a solid and write about you or link to your great piece of content, remember that they’re working hard to create great pieces of content, too. Help each other!
Realization 3: They deal with some rude people.
I could just imagine how frustrating it would be to get tons of emails a week, essentially all saying the same thing. So I wondered, while I’m sure every pitch email could be considered somewhat annoying, what is the most annoying part of the pitch emails my friends receive?
“When someone insists they have news and shames me for not covering it. Happened recently when someone pitched a story about Ford happening in Detroit and complained to my supervisor when I ignored her. I don’t cover the automobile industry, or Detroit.”
“I really get annoyed by generic pitch emails sent every day from the same person who is just essentially spamming me and begging to me to write about their organization, event, company, etc. I’m probably never going to respond if you don’t offer me or my news organization a unique opportunity — or at least tell me how it can benefit our news organization and our readers.
“Biggest pet peeve – when a PR person writes an email to the entire newsroom, then after no one answers to me like, ‘Hey Liz, we thought you’d be interested in this…’
Also, when they call right after sending an email. Or when they add you on Gchat to harass you — yes, this has happened.”
“Most annoying thing about pitches to me is usually the tone. I completely understand that PR people are sending these emails to multiple people, but they so often come across as something that was just copied and pasted and lack much sense of who they’re even reaching out to.”
Takeaway: Remember there’s a person on the end reading your emails. It’s simple humanism. Don’t be rude or annoying. These reporters probably all work in the same office, and although I know we think we’re being savvy when we send emails to everyone in the same office, they (probably) are quite in touch with each other. Instead, in your follow up emails to other staff members, mention that you’ve reached out to another reporter. It’s honest, and I bet they’ll appreciate the transparency rather than trying to pull a fast one. It might mean creating more than one template, or taking the few extra 30 seconds to customize, but worth it when you remember the person on the other end who’s reading it.
Final realization: There’s hope for us linkbuilders yet.
Even though lots of these pitch emails go straight into the trash, some of them have to be good enough to get read, and even responded to. It’s a worthwhile effort to make. What, if anything, could we do to actually help reporters with their job, rather than just adding extra emails to their inboxes? What would make a reporter actually include a link or citation in their story? Would they ever?
“It’s very rare when a PR person convinces me with their language to cover something. Usually, it’s just the bare news that appeals to me. [A local company] was an example of a PR person who failed to convince me of the importance of a company that I should have been paying more attention too. She should have communicated revenue figures as evidence of their success, but private companies are very hesitant to release those numbers.”
“If someone makes an effort to get my name/company right, maybe even read something I’ve recently written and discuss that a little bit in an email, I’ll be more likely to listen to them and there’s a much better chance that we could help each other out.”
“I am way more likely to respond to a pitch if it’s personalized. One of the best pitches I can recall was from a woman who represented a tourism agency in the Philadelphia suburbs and she was pitching me a story about how Visit Bucks County was afforded the opportunity to trek around the county with 360-degree cameras worn on their back that were provided by Google. Then, their images would be part of Google Maps.
We rarely cover the suburbs. But this particular PR professional pitched the story in a way that felt personal: She knew that Billy Penn catered to young people, many of whom are interested in tech. So rather than framing her pitch around this cool opportunity for Visit Bucks County and the local woodlands scene, she framed it around this 360-degree camera backpack from Google and pitched it as something our tech-savvy readers would be interested in. So because of that, we covered the suburbs.”
“Someone knows I cover the arts community. They said Hello Liz (used my name). Then, they referenced an article I recently wrote — said they enjoyed reading my work and follow my articles. They pitched their idea, included a press release, offered to send HI-RES images, etc. They really were willing to give me everything I needed right away — basically be prepared and do your research.”
Takeaway: Don’t just know the article you’re pitching, do some research about the outlet, too. Here at Greenlane, we make an effort to send each outreach email with a person’s name, and something specific about them: a past article they’ve written, the beat they cover, etc. We believe in the relationship building side of link acquisition. But reading these responses from my friends is making me wonder if we can’t do more. Not just mention the title of the article in a (templatized) email, say something about how good their lede was, or how funny the quote was from the crazy person they interviewed. The times that I’ve done that, my response rate has been much higher.
I hope you found these real insights from actual writers helpful. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
And thank you again, friends! I owe you each a beer.
Chapter 2 (added 6/15/2016)
After some positive response to Chapter 1 (Thanks for sharing!) I decided to follow up with some outreach template reviews, since my friends weren’t too annoyed with me the first time around. Link builders and PR professionals know, it’s all in the pitch. Your success of getting a response lies squarely in the way you present your pitch. You could have an outstanding idea or piece of content to share, but if you don’t communicate it correctly, you risk throwing away a great opportunity.
I sent five different email (aka “outreach”) templates to my friend Anna Orso, who is a Reporter/Curator at Billy Penn, and got a no-holds-barred opinion from someone who certainly knows a thing or two about what makes a good email.
I found this exercise really valuable because, as we noticed from Chapter 1, it’s often easy to forget that there’s a real personality you’re trying to appeal to. Even a little thing like “Hi” vs. “Hey” in a subject line can be a dealbreaker.
Read on, and feel free to leverage some of these templates for your own use! Just remember – be polite, don’t spam, and try not to be too annoying.
Jen: Before you review the templates, I had a question about email follow ups – how many times does it take to annoy you?
Anna: Emailing me twice about the same thing is OK, but anything more than that and you’re getting blacklisted in my email.
Jen: Do people usually follow up a lot?
Anna: Some people do. I would say less than half.
Jen: We always try to do 2 follow ups, is that typical or would you find that annoying?
Anna: That’s annoying. I would say one email and then one follow-up.
Jen: Do you ever answer to let people know you aren’t interested?
Anna: Eh, not usually. But I will if I know the PR person well or if the pitch is an exclusive.
Jen: Does that change if they follow up a few times? (I.e. do you ever answer just so someone stops emailing you?)
Anna: No, deleting is faster than responding.
1. Subject: Anna, We’ve got a Philadelphia resource we think your readers might like…
My name is Jennifer and I’m getting in touch with you regarding your website Billy Penn. I’m working with (client) to announce their new resource The Exhaustive List of Christmas Activities in Philadelphia, and thought this might be of interest to you and your readers, as it provides an easy and intuitive way to check out activities in the area. You can review the article at (link). If you find the resource to be of value to you and your readers, I’d appreciate it if you could add it to your website or announce it to your readers at your own discretion.
As someone who has an interest in Philly news, I’ve signed up to your site’s newsletter and look forward to learning more about your business. Please let me know if the above provides you with the information you need to review and consider our new section for linking.
Subject line is a little creepy (I guess because of the ellipses?) and it seems like a robo email because it starts with my name. The email isn’t too bad — and thanks for signing up for the newsletter! Maybe lead with that? Also you don’t need to say you’re working with a client. If you’re a PR person, I assume a company is paying you to pitch me. I would maybe just say, “(Client) is announcing a new resourced called…”
A major thought about this one is that it seems pretty stiff. I would recommend making it a bit more casual.
2. Subject: Hey Anna
I just wanted to let you know that you’ve been featured in our Holiday Guide! We scoured the web for the best holiday events in Philadelphia – from Reading to Center City – and we came up with a great list. (link)
I hope you enjoy, and I’d be thrilled if you shared it on your site and social channels!
I like this pitch a lot. Short, sweet and to the point. Very casual.
3. Subject: For your Review: Greater Philadelphia’s Guide to the Holidays
The holidays are such a busy time, and it’s hard to figure out what to do and when, especially with young children. We wanted to make it a little easier by compiling everything that’s out there – from Reading to Center City. Enter the Holiday Resource Guide. It has nearly 100 holiday activities for families, covering Reading to Center City, with an awesome interactive map component with all the details.
I wanted to send it along to see if you have any feedback, or if you know of any events I missed. I’d also be thrilled if you wanted to share it with your readers!
I hope to hear from you – we worked super hard on this and I’d love to know a local’s thoughts!
This is probably my favorite subject line because “For your Review” makes it seem like this is an exclusive for me and there’s nothing reporters love more than feeling important.
4. Subject: Hi Anna
Hate to add another email in your inbox – but I’m doing it anyway 🙂
I wanted to share this Holiday Resource Guide that I think your readers would get a lot of use out of. It has nearly 100 holiday activities for families, covering Reading to Center City, with an awesome interactive map component with all the details. (link)
Hope you enjoy,
No to the beginning. You are adding an email to my inbox, so don’t apologize for doing it. But I like the second part.
5. Subject: Question for you, Anna
I’ve created a Holiday Resource Guide that I think your readers would really love. I’d love to hear your feedback, let me know if you’d like me to send it your way!
There’s not enough details in this one, I would delete.
What do you think about her feedback? Have you found great success with an email template and care to share?
I hope to continue the chapters of this post until my friends get sick of me. Let me know if there’s anything else you’re dying to know about outreach through the eyes of a journalist and I’ll work on it for the next chapter!