Poor Elle Darby. I watched with dismay this week as her pitch to a Dublin-based hotel and pub went viral on twitter, after the owner shared her pitch email with ridicule. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case ( social media bullying of a 22 year old girl is never acceptable, and the owner is clearly some sort of antagonistic Daily Mail reader), there are some good lessons that influencers and aspiring social media creators can take from the whole debacle.
Firstly, that the wider world still doesn’t understand influencer marketing. For those on the outside, consuming mainstream media and perhaps not hanging out on social media as much, blogging and influencer work is still classed as “not a real job“. I’m not entirely sure what classifies a job as real or not (Income? Check. Long hours? Check. A dodgy christmas party?), but it’s clear that the general public have still to fully grasp this huge new genre of marketing. Whether that’s simply because it’s so new, or is a more insidious reflection of how the world views work mainly done by women (hello teachers, childminders, secretaries, PAs…) is up for debate, but the level of anger and hate directed at the industry on social media this week has been enough to have me reaching for the (#NotSponsored) gin.
It doesn’t help, I think, that the conventional press has never been required to openly disclose in the same terms as influencers have. From holiday review shows to magazine makeup tips, freebies in the press world are normal and commonplace and rarely revealed in such clear and transparent terms. And these are journalists who take home a salary each month, too – and yet nobody labels them blaggers or freeloaders for it.
As influencers, then, it’s more important than ever that we are open and transparent about our paid work in order to help people understand the model. With conventional print readerships increasingly dwindling, and influencer reach growing daily, influencer advertising is absolutely here for the long haul, and in order to be taken seriously we need to show that we are skilled and knowledgeable professionals.
Which brings me to point 2: the pitch. While certainly not the worst I’ve seen, there were definite areas for improvement in Elle Darby’s email to the hotel in question. You get the distinct impression that it was one of many, sent in a flurry as she tried to arrange her trip.
To be clear, I certainly don’t think this justifies the response she received, but over the years of pitching to companies, sponsors, editors and more, I’ve learned that there are definite ways to help your email be received with an open-mind. Brands and business owners are rightfully wary when dealing with unknown influencers – there’s always the risk of getting ripped off, shafted or slandered online.
So as both a linguist (that was my degree, way back when!) and an experienced influencer, here’s how to write persuasive pitches that hopefully land you some work, and don’t leave you vulnerable to critisism. (scroll right down to grab my free templates, too!)
How to write a successful pitch email
Do some research
This is always the most important step – and arguably in this case could have saved the blogger an awful lot of drama. Google the company – add in keywords like “sponsored” or “blogger” to see if they’ve worked with influencers before. Check their instagram. Get a feel for their voice and general social media style, and what they’re trying to do – then show you understand this in how you word and approach your pitch. In the case of this business, they were already famed locally for antagonising vegans, parents and other groups of people. A little research would have told most of us to steer clear.
Find a name
If at all possible, address your email to a named individual. Try searching for the company name plus “PR“, “press” or “social“, and check sites like Twitter and Linked In. If you’ve found a name, you can often guess the person’s direct email address by using the business’ website url. Failing that, try reaching out directly on social media and asking who you can best contact to discuss collaborations.
Use bold type, and a clear subject
Social media teams get a lot of emails, every day. Take a tip out of Janet Murray’s book and make it clear right from the heading what your pitch is about. Once they’ve opened it up, get straight to the point with a one-line opening pitch, with the essential details highlighted in bold.
Keep it short
One opening line about your email. One short paragraph about your work. One short paragraph about what your detailed proposal. Close. If you tend to be a talker, write it, then go through and cut out as much as you can. Time is money, and the longer the email, the less likely it is to be read.
Be friendly but professional
Social media work in general has a more chatty, informal style to much of its communication, and this can extend to emails sent between yourself and professionals. That said, keep it on the right side of the line. Be respectful, polite, stay on topic and save humour or excessive friendliness for the closing line. Avoid emojis. Thank them for their time, and be clear about how you would like them to respond.
Cite your stats
If a magazine or newspaper were approaching for a free press stay at a hotel, or a sample for review, they would certainly include distribution stats. It is your job as the influencer to do the same – tell them about your audience – where they live, how many of them there are and how many views/likes/comments/subscribes you get in response to an typical post. A monthly average is fine, and you don’t need to include screenshots, but be honest, always.
Link to other work
Elle referenced other big name brands she had worked with, which is a great way to show that you’re a trusted influencer. However, it was left up to the email recipient to investigate the validity of these claims and the quality of the work, which anyone un-social-media-savvy might struggle to do. If you’re referencing previous clients, link directly to one of the sponsored posts you produced for them, to show you have nothing to hide. If you have testimonials from previous clients, consider adding one at the bottom of your email, or linking to a page with them on. Show that you’re trusted, and trustworthy, to put the prospective client at ease.
What will you do/share? How many posts? What will the focus be? What do you expect your audience to like about it? If there was anything you came across in your research for this brand that gave you a specific or unusual idea for them, mention it here. The more you can paint a picture in the business’ mind of what you will do, the more likely they’ll want to take you up on it. Be mindful about sharing too much, though – there’s always a chance they’ll take your brilliant content idea and create it in-house instead.
Be positive about yourself
As women, we’re often not all that good at talking ourselves up and selling our own work – but this is one occasion where that simply will not do. You must sound confident and sure about your work in order for anyone else to feel that way too. We can’t expect others to value what we do not value ourselves.
Get into the habit of re-reading your pitch emails and taking out any hedges or mitigators (quite, I think, might be, maybe). Be enthusiastic and optimistic. Don’t sell yourself short! Weird as it sounds, I find adopting an American accent inside my own head helps me write much more positive and generally cheerful emails. I think it’s because we so rarely hear a British person speak well of themselves! Check out Tara Mohr’s podcast with me where she talks more about how we can do ourselves an injustice with the language we use in emails, and her checklist for striking it out.
Be reasonable – and flexible
Elle’s email was asking about 5 night’s accommodation over Valentines’ day – which is a pretty big ask. Typically press stays offer one or two nights, and additional nights might be offered at a reduced ‘media rate’, unless you’re featuring a package holiday. They prefer them to be taken at less busy times, when there are rooms going spare and they don’t have to turn paying customers away. This is perfectly sensible and reasonable, and plain good business sense. It’s fine to be specific about what you would need for a collaboration, but be open, flexible and realistic. An email saying “I’m seeking accommodation options between the following dates” would leave it open for the hotel to offer what they felt was appropriate, and be less likely to be interpreted as demanding or entitled in tone.
Use jargon, but lightly
There’s a reason business jargon exists – phrases like “a complementary stay” or “press rate” just sound much better than “a free stay” or “a discount”. They feel more professional, informed and business-related, and less like someone just out on the grab. Jargon can be alienating if used too much, but using key phrases for your area of work shows you’re professional, informed and take your work seriously – and that they can too.
Include your links
Be sure to include a signature with links to all your social media presence that the brand will want to see. I use Wisestamp, which automatically adds a professional-looking signature to all my outgoing gmail messages, including a snapshot of my recent Instagram posts to give a visual cue. It shows you use your email account soley for work, and saves them having to dig around to check you out further if needed.
If you need more information to make an informed pitch, or would like to know more about their way of working, don’t be afraid to ask. “Do you have a press rate?“, “have you worked with an influencer before?“, “what’s your budget for this project?“, “are there any particular focuses for your marketing this quarter?“. Asking questions shows you’re interested in creating something tailor-made for their business, and not just looking to grab something for free. It also statistically increases the likelihood of a response, which is never a bad thing.
We shouldn’t have to be super-friendly all the time to be taken seriously, but cold pitches can be annoying, and someone has taken the time out of their day to read what you have to say. Always say thank you, and that you appreciate their time.
It is absolutely a-ok to send a brief follow-up email a week or so on if you haven’t heard back. We all get busy, and often emails go on our ‘I’ll reply to this later’ list then slip our mind entirely. A polite forwarding of the original message with a one line question – “Just wondering if you’d had chance to consider my pitch?” – is perfectly acceptable etiquette. If you don’t hear back assume it’s a no go, and chalk it up to experience. Rejection is all part of the process, and the right collaborations are worth the work.
What was your take on the whole twitter drama? Any pointers for emails you’ve sent or received that helped you out?
A few weeks back, in the interval at an event where I was speaking, I bumped into a woman I knew. She'd been a student on The Insta Retreat so this was our first time meeting in real life, and we [...]