Why Your Pitch Sucks (and how to fix it)…

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about pitches.

The pitches I get, the pitches I send, and the sad world that is people-wanting-things-from-people-and-not-knowing-how-to-ask.

To start, let me say that no discussion of pitch failures would be complete without a shout-out to this amazing video the Mashable folks posted. Entitled, “Hardly Working: Start Up Guys“, I both died laughing and died realizing how many times my real life has imitated (this) art:

See more terrible pitches here.

With the laugh track put away now, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty and address the #1 reason that your pitch sucks (and the #1 reason the “influencer” you want to write back isn’t doing so). Ready for it?

You have no agenda.

Every pitch (in person or via email) needs an agenda. Let’s say that again: Every email pitch should have an agenda. (At least if you want a shot in heck of someone actually responding to your ask.)

In the drive to “build relationships” we have forgotten the trees for the diminishing Amazon. Huh? We are forgetting our specific objectives (the trees) in favor of a vague, larger dream (the Amazon). And forgive me if that metaphor sucks, also.

Here’s the point: if you don’t make the “ask” you won’t get what you want.

It is my theory that the origin of the long, autobiographical email that perhaps suggests a “coffee to chat” or “brainstorm” probably comes from the fact that people hear over and over again about the importance of networking and building relationships before making asks. We read great books like Never Eat Alone, and come away inspired to buy Jacqueline Novogratz or Tim Ferris a double soy latte.

The reality, though, is that very busy people you want something from almost never have time to brainstorm with you. They also don’t have time to prioritize “building a relationship” with you. Might it happen randomly? Yes. You sit next to Scott Stratten on a airplane, say. Deanna Zandt complements your similarly spiky hair and you strike up a conversation. But it won’t happen by you asking for it. This is why autobiographical intro emails that hope for vague relationship building and end without an ask never work.

So what does work? How can you get an influencer to read or listen to your request and even (gasp) respond?

Here are Three Tips to Giving a Great Pitch to an Influencer:

  • If you want an influencer to help you, make your ask up front. Influencers are busy. If they can help you, they need to know what you want, up-front. If you had 100 freelance writers emailing you each week for “advice on getting a book agent” would you answer? No. If you had 1 of these authors asking for “your favorite book on publishing”, would you answer? Maybe. Go where the odds are good.
  • Never ask an influencer to brainstorm. Asking to “brainstorm” is not an ask. Asking to chat over coffee is (almost) never an ask. Asking to “get on a quick call” without an agenda is equally absurd. Influencers rarely have time (or incentive) to brainstorm with you, simply because the whole world wants to brainstorm with them. If I send an email to Seth Godin suggesting we jump on the phone or (worse) meet in person to “bounce some ideas” off one another, there is a 100% chance he will not respond favorably. If I send an email to Seth Godin asking him to do something specific (say, review my new book, Twitter for Good), there is a slight chance in heck that he just might do it.
  • Influencers are always doing you a favor, even when they aren’t. If you want something from someone, you should go into your “ask” with the assumption they are busier than you, even if they seem to spend lots of time tweeting about jwoww. More importantly, if you’re the one asking for something, you can be pretty darn sure you value the importance of your ask much more than they value the importance of answering it. This is not a mutually beneficial opportunity, and don’t treat it as such. If they do read your email, if they do write back, or if they do decide to help you, they do so as a favor. Treat it as such. Got a deadline on your favor? Send it way in advance. Keep pinging without being annoyed they missed your last email. Don’t hear back? Don’t take it personally. Did hear back, but didn’t think they way they answered your ask was particularly helpful? Deal with it. Be gracious and thankful for their time. Always.

Now it’s your turn.

Do you have any tips for getting influencers to listen?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “Why Your Pitch Sucks (and how to fix it)…

  1. It may seem odd in this millinium but I don’t have a good grasp of all this computer stuff. I do know it has the potential to reach alot of people,
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  2. […] of gold? If I wasn’t already married, I might just stalk them on match.com (email them a non-sucky date pitch) in a flat second. Cancel […]

  3. Claire, you’re point on “influencers always doing you a favor” is dead on. That’s also why I think it’s so important to be direct AND transparent with what you are seeking. Don’t try to make it seem like your product/eBook/whatever else is going to fix all of their problems that you have no idea they may or may not have a need for.

    Here’s an example, getting a high profile blogger to mention or review your product/eBook is going to do YOU more than it is him/her. Perhaps take that product to a best seller on Amazon’s rankings. Is your product of good quality…maybe. But, don’t forget it wouldn’t happen without that influencer in your corner sharing about your product. Perhaps a pet peeve of mine is someone being amazed at their product’s success when everyone looking in sees that it was the influencer that helped make it happen.

    As for PR folks (to Jamie’s comment above), if you pitch us an idea and we come back with another idea or suggestion RESPOND back to it. Your pitch may not have met our needs but if you don’t respond back, as a blogger I’m less likely to respond to your next pitch since I did take time to give you a more optimal solution for partnership on my site.

    And finally…like you said about the Amazon :), it IS about relationships. No, we can’t always build relationships with some of these influencers but one avenue that has helped me is twitter. I see many more people conversing on twitter, it’s easier and sometimes more efficient to respond (and hello, short – 140 characters). Try to make a connection there and the next time you send an email, they *may* remember your face or name.

  4. I love this post Claire. You are so true – the pitches I have taken time to write and don’t come off as “canned” are the ones that I always get the best response with.

    Plus a good pitch back the PR company, flags you as someone with some business savvy and someone they will want to work with in the future.

  5. I’m telling you – this is EXACTLY why I started working as an outreach consultant! As a blogger, I was so sick of seeing email after email of terrible pitches and knew that I could do it better. Because, let’s be honest: NOTHING is worse for a brand than a terrible pitch.

  6. Great post, Claire. This kind of repeats your brainstorming point, but if someone asks to “pick my brain,” I always say no — why would anyone want their brain picked? If anyone wants my advice on something they could get from a book, i.e. how to find an agent, I always say no. If anyone wants me to do something that’s going to take me hours and hours and hours, like read their freaking book, I always say no. Direct, specific, and doable might get a yes — and charm and flattery go a long way too.

  7. Awesome post, Claire. Most people are busy. If you want a response, give them a way to respond quickly and easily. If you want engagement, get their attention by focusing on a question or subject that is obviously relevant to them as much as it is to you.