Catching the attention of a journalist, blogger or editor is typically a tough task.
Their inboxes are overflowing with similar pitches and hundreds of industry updates, active projects, and upcoming assignments. Standing out from the crowd to get that coveted response from the media takes some strategic work and persistent determination.
Getting your product featured or your information shared requires some finesse. An email targeted for the press is not as strictly formatted as a business letter, but it is not as casual as an email to a friend or coworker. Media pitch emails also need to be catchy but authentic.
At eReleases.com, we’ve gained some insider knowledge on how to write a follow-up email after no response to the initial press pitch. If you are struggling with writing a follow-up email and when you should send it, this in-depth guide to writing effective follow up emails will get the results you are seeking.
Our staff often gets asked, “How do you properly format an email for a journalist?” While there is a specific format for most marketing collaterals, including the basic press release template, there is not a standard follow up email template that you must follow. However, some best practices significantly increase your success in getting emails opened, read, and in gathering responses to them.
If you already know how to write a business email, then you have the tools to write a professional media pitch. Much of the structure and etiquette borrow from traditional business email etiquette. However, an email pitch to a journalist has its own set of rules for tone and content so that it can be a bit tricky. When sending a press pitch via email, the content is both your introduction and outline. It is your one chance to convince that reporter your service, product, or event deserves more attention.
Patiently waiting for a reply to the carefully crafted content you sent out can be an excruciating task. You should not sit idly by, holding onto hope for a response, but you also do not want to alienate your contact by being too pushy. Reaching out too soon or too often can get you blacklisted, yet not following up quickly enough means the story becomes outdated.
A perfectly timed email can jog the reporter’s memory about the story they put in a tickler file or might be more relevant to a topic they are now researching. They also may have simply missed some genuinely great news among the hundreds of other emails clogging up their Inbox. Nearly 7 in 10 journalists reported in a Fractl survey that they prefer to receive pitches in the morning hours. You should also be aware of the publication’s news cycle and deadlines.
The type of story you want to be covered determines the amount of time you should wait to check in with a reporter about a past media pitch. Wait two to three days for a priority topic that is time-sensitive or seasonal. For feature stories, profiles, and other evergreen content with a longer shelf life, wait at least a week before emailing a follow-up inquiry. These writers are likely working on urgent deadlines and simply have not had the time to respond.
If you find yourself needing to write a follow-up email, then the subject line could be part of the original problem. A punchy but informative subject line is critical to grabbing the attention of busy journalists with cluttered inboxes. An eye-popping 85% of journalists, reports the Fractl survey, indicated that they open an email solely based on the subject line.
Since this is the first impression of your pitch, it is probably the most critical sentence in the entire email, so you must treat it as seriously as the headline. The subject line for a follow-up email is short, informative, and catchy. Your task is to clearly and concisely capture the topic in six to 10 words or about 60 characters, including spaces.
Be careful about using gimmicky tactics that are misleading or try to be funny but fall flat, and never use “Just Checking In” or “Urgent! Please Read!” A subject line that contains all caps or symbols, including exclamation points, will probably hit the spam folder before the reporter. You also want to avoid vague subject lines like “Potential Feature Story” or “Awesome Idea for Your Blog.” Without quality clues about the content, the email will likely languish in the Inbox.
Some strategies that you can use to grab the reporter’s attention are creating curiosity or personalizing your connection. Your best chance at getting that click is to deliver a robust and vivid description in the subject line that includes a working title and the type of content you are pitching. You can even do some A/B testing with subject lines to see which ones have the best open and response success rates.
In the State of Journalism 2019 Muck Rack survey, 93% of respondents said they prefer personalized pitches by email. Only 19% like to source material from mass pitches. Best practices include sending a single email to each person with a customized greeting. If you are bulk emailing a broad announcement to multiple press outlets, you should use the BCC (blind courtesy copy) address line instead of the To line. Doing this hides all other recipients from the person who receives the message and protects the sharing of private email addresses.
A query that appears generic at first glance will end up in the trash bin. When you start an email with a general salutation, such as To Whom It May Concern or Dear Features Editor, it looks like you did not do your research. The best chance you have at success in getting published is pitching to the right person, which means you should already know their name before sending the query.
Open the email with a simple:
Dear [first name] followed by a comma.
Do not use over-friendly or intimate language if you do not already have a relationship. You should also avoid using honorific titles like Sir, Mr., Mrs., or Miss. These start the conversation in too formal of a tone. Additionally, the female titles imply marital status, and it is challenging to guess gender based on a name. Make sure to check the spelling of the recipient’s name since that mistake is impersonal and a mark against your credibility.
The message’s goal is to concisely outline the framework of the story in 200 to 300 words. You want to communicate the newsworthy elements, key messages, and emotional insights in a helpful, friendly way.
Journalists receive hundreds of pitches a week, so you must get right to the point. Experienced writers quickly glance at the first few sentences and know if the topic is worth reading. Avoid using clichés because they make even great stories sound generic. The first paragraph should clearly state what idea you are pitching and why it is relevant for the news outlet. Be transparent on the type of content you are offering and indicate if you can provide original research, deliver an interview with an executive, or want to share news about a new product.
Personalize the pitch so that it feels relevant to the writer, publication, or audience. A localized story will score bonus points if connected to a broader interest story. You do not need to become an expert on the writer’s portfolio, but you should demonstrate that you are familiar with their previous work. If you did not do this in the original message, mention how you first found their work. Perhaps it was through social media, a colleague, or because you consistently follow them. In your follow up email, call out a detail that you found interesting from a piece they have written since the last time you sent a message to prove you are staying updated on their work.
Connections also develop from authenticity. You want to express enthusiasm but not cross over to marketing hype. The story cannot be purely promotional, and you should edit out overused adjectives and adverbs like exceptional, fascinating, fabulous hand free. The email also needs to be personal. One way you can break from the business conventions is to use contractions to make your language feel conversational.
Your job is to make the journalist’s job as easy as possible to see the story and get it published quickly. You can achieve both by including a professional package of information that provides for engaging photos or infographics that are shareable on social media and a one-page fact sheet that highlights relevant facts, features, and background information.
However, you are not sending out a fully polished piece. According to the Fractl survey, nearly 70% of journalists said they prefer to collaborate, so give them the outline for a great story and the supporting materials they need to put their spin on the subject.
It is best practice to announce that you have sent attachments with an email. It signals to the recipient that any attachments are safe to open and calls attention to the extra documentation, so they don’t miss it. For example, you might say, “The attached fact sheet on our latest product can guide you through the features and benefits that your readers will find useful.” Alternatively, you could write, “Attached are three publish-ready photos that can accompany the article or be used to promote the story on social media.”
It is important to note that some journalists do not ever open attachments. To avoid this situation, upload the documents to a press page on your website and then include the direct link in your email message.
The best way to end an email is with a clear call to action (CTA) that tells the writer what you want and why they should do it. Remember that you are a professional offering a mutually beneficial service. You are not asking for a favor, so do not beg or use hedging words like “hope,” “believe,” and “if.” Directly state that you have an interview opportunity or follow up story and are happy to provide more details if they are interested. For example, instead of saying, “If you are interested in the story, then please reach out,” you might ask, “Are you available next Monday between 10 and noon to discuss the story?”
Wording the complimentary closing on a professional email is often awkward. This final sign-off phrase, which is followed by a comma, appears two line spaces below the last paragraph. Formal business letters traditionally end with the word “Sincerely,” but other customary expressions include “Thank you” and “Regards.”
In a two-word phrase, the second word is always lowercase. Avoid personal expressions like “Yours truly” or “Sincerely yours,” as well as ones that are too informal, such as “Talk to you later,” or worse –”TTYL.”
After inserting two blank lines, type your first name. To establish authenticity and authority, and to make it easy to contact you, include a signature block at the bottom.
Adding your email address may seem redundant, but not all email programs make it easy to copy a sender’s address in the From line.
While you are adjusting your signature settings, delete any stock sign-off information, such as “Sent from my iPhone.” Check to make sure your name and organization are displayed in the From line. Each email program has a different process for personalizing this content in the backend settings.
There is no need to write the same email over and over again. Creating a follow-up email template for media pitches is a great way to save time, remain consistent in your communication, and ensure you hit every necessary point to sell the story.
I sent you an email Tuesday morning about an opportunity to feature Linc Teen Technology Center on your blog, TeensTalk. I just finished reading your recent article on building self-confidence through promoting positive body images, and I agree that negative self-talk is among the most harmful behaviors. Our program also focuses on helping teens gain the confidence and skills they need to pursue STEM-centered careers, which sets them up for successful futures.
We have an upcoming event to celebrate our local teens’ achievements and raise funds for future program development, like our latest workshop on robotics. Attached is a fact sheet on our current classes.
If you are available next week to focus on this story, I can arrange an interview with the CEO, a program coordinator, or even a few participants, depending on where you want to take it. Are you available next Tuesday or Thursday around 10 a.m. to chat? Thank you for your time, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.
Your second follow up email should be the last one on this specific story. When there is no interest, you must gracefully move on to another reporter or topic. Unless there is a good reason, pushing beyond this point crosses into annoying behavior. Becoming an unwelcome pest in the eyes of journalists will jeopardize your chances to get the current story covered but also any future articles.
Your final pitch might start with a natural, “Hi Miranda, I know your time is valuable, so I want to follow up one last time to gauge your interest in the story I sent last week. If you need more details, then I am available anytime this week to provide them.” Highlight recent developments in the story or a growing connection to a trending story.
You can use several strategies to continue the conversation beyond this point, but you must have useful information to offer.
You may have a great story but not a newsworthy or inspiring angle. Perhaps another reporter has already picked up the story, so it doesn’t feel fresh. Including two or three alternate storylines, lead points, or interview perspectives in your follow up response might spark interest.
Sometimes the story is simply not a good fit at this time. However, you might have another great tale waiting in the wings. You could write, “If this story is not a great fit for publication right now, then you may be interested in [topic].”
You can submit yourself or your client as an interview source for upcoming assignments. The purpose of this strategy is to develop a relationship. You may not get to sell this story, but the next time that reporter needs information on a similar topic, they will think about emailing you because you have become a valuable, credible source for original, newsworthy content. Six in 10 journalists indicated in the Fractl survey that a personal connection was an important factor in deciding to write an article.
Asking a question is a great way to keep the conversation going. Always include it in the CTA section so that it isn’t as easy to overlook.
So maybe it’s not 100% true that “you only have one shot at a good first impression.”
Effective follow up emails can be literal gold for your business when it comes to getting the word out there about your business, creating new leads, and more.
Knowing the perfect time to send, finding that killer subject line, and maintaining simplicity (instead of getting lost in the weeds) are all vital elements of a successful follow up email.
In addition, you need to make sure that your text is:
Direct and to the point (don’t waste their time!)
Connected to a story (make it relevant to who you’re writing to)
Authentic (don’t try to be something you’re not, people see through that every time!)
Repeating your strongest pitch points
Ending with a professional conclusion
Also – don’t forget that call to action in your email!
The money is definitely in the follow up – if you do it right. Whatever you do – don’t give up!