Last week, a friend of mine contacted me for advice on pitching a story to a reporter. If there’s one misconception that some have about people in relatively high places, it’s that they want all the information up front.
People don’t need all the information right away. They don’t need some. They need enough.
Enough of what, you ask? Enough to make an informed decision on whether to proceed or decline (side note: offering not enough is to guarantee almost certain rejection).
I advised my friend against sending his entire stack of documents, recommended that he keep the information short and concise and that if the reporter was interested at all (he was) that said reporter would respond and ask for more information (he did).
I’m a firm believer that most people fail simply because they don’t ask (a post for another day). But the ask, when you work up the courage to make it, also has to be tight. Here are three simple rules for a tighter “ask.”
Teasing is okay
If you’ve ever watched a newscast or any other show, you may have noticed that the host or main character “teased” what was coming up later in the show to keep you watching. You can do this as well. Make your headline (if making an ask by email) stand out and make the target want to read further.
Don’t waste valuable real estate
I once bought a book about pitch letters with sample pitches that were near a page long. This may have been a good look when snail mail ruled the day, but the digital era allows you to say more with less. You don’t necessarily need to introduce yourself in great detail (though, if you’ve been referred, say so… up front). Save your biographical information for your email signature (which should include links to other work you’ve done and/or a LinkedIn profile). Skip the pleasantries and tell the person why you’re writing – without using the phrase “I’m writing because” or anything synonymous.
Taking someone by the hand isn’t patronizing
To backtrack to the original story: My friend had quite a bit of information to be digested. In similar cases, there’s nothing wrong with directing a person to the relevant areas (i.e. “On page 75, you’ll find…; bolding relevant passages; summarizing the main ideas with bullet points). It’s not rude to let people know what you think is important. Dropping unfamiliar things on them and expecting them to find what you think is relevant may rub some people the wrong way.
There is a time and a place for the 2,000+ word treatise on the subject of your choice. An introduction is not that time. Respect people’s time. Get to the point. Get what you want.