Three Steps to a Successful Cold Pitch
Written by Jessica Hatch
Thank you for your consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.
It was a late on Thursday last June, and I was following up on requests for proposals for my editorial business. I hit send and looked up from the screen to give my eyes a break.
Across the alley from my desk, a woman stood at her office window. She was arranging a handful of greeting cards on the sill, and, considering that the holidays were months away, I guessed that it must be her birthday. I’d seen my “alleyway coworker” every workday for months at this point, but we’d both pretended the other didn’t exist.
If cold and "lukewarm" pitches were working for my editorial business, then they could work here, too, I thought. I snagged a sheet of printer paper and a Sharpie, and got to work.
"Happy Birthday Over There!" my makeshift sign said, along with a smiley face in a birthday hat.
I taped it to the window and then returned to my desk, keeping a watchful eye to see if my alleyway coworker would notice before the day was out.
Cold pitching has been a major part of my career, from landing a job in New York publishing and pitching national media outlets for my authors at St. Martin's Press, to securing new business as the principal editor of Hatch Editorial Services. Pitching is likely a common occurrence for you, too. Whether you're a sales babe or a marketing maven, a lady on the job hunt or one who's asking her boss for a raise, being able to cold pitch well is a skill that will benefit your career.
With that in mind, here are three pieces of advice from the lessons I've learned along the way.
1. Get no's out of the way early
There is a well-known adage that, in business, it takes a lot of no's to get to a yes. If that's true, then why not get the no's out of the way early?
This has been my ethos throughout my career. When I first started my business, I calculated that I needed six authors at a time to make a living. So, I pitched as many per day as I lacked. If I had three authors scheduled, then I pitched or followed up with three prospective projects. At first, I got more no's than yeses, but because of my efforts, the yeses I earned led to my schedule regularly being booked two months in advance. And thanks to my rejections, I learned what customers did and didn't respond to. You can do the same if you see your rejections less as failures and more as learning experiences.
Reject the impulse to internalize rejection or take it to heart. Your pitch is your business as much as a commercial is the product it advertises. You already provide so much value; now you need to learn how to present that value in refined and sleek packaging.
2. Provide value and support in your pitch
This may be your first interaction with your lead, but chances are they got three emails just like yours in the same 24-hour period. What does this mean for you? For starters, your pitch needs to stand out as both memorable and valuable.
The best way to do this is to heat your cold pitch up to "lukewarm" status. Perhaps you met this person at a networking event, or maybe you share a friend or acquaintance. If this is the case, a subject line like "Jessica Hatch suggested I contact you" or “Jane Doe following up after BWH coffee date” will be more effective than a flashy, salesy one.
Whether you have an "in" with your pitch or not, make sure to delight the recipient. As marketing guru Dan Kennedy says, your prospect is tuned into WIIFM: "What's in It for Me?" Radio.
A friend who runs a literary magazine in Jacksonville uses the following pitch email formula to answer that question for the reader: after explaining the reason you're contacting this person, you need to shift perspective to explain the value they’ll get out of working with you.
One way to provide this value is to think about what you can offer that others can't. A point of difference should be a deciding factor in your sales conversation. For me, it's that I offer prescriptive checklists that give my clients a roadmap forward for their revisions. Maybe you're an all-in-one event planner, while your competition has to outsource catering and flowers. Whatever your point of difference is, make sure you mention it in a way that shows its value to your existing clientele and to the person you're chatting with.
3. Follow up for success
Once you’ve built up your confidence, you'll realize anyone can pitch (and they do, more often than not). But not everyone follows up, and this is how you'll set yourself apart for a greater percentage of pitch success.
Follow up for the first time three days after your initial pitch. Follow up again a week after your first follow-up. Update this schedule accordingly, based on whether they contact you at all. If possible, make sure to contact your prospect at least once over the phone.
There are so many memes out there joking about being afraid of using the phone, and I know that, as part of the iPhone generation, a lot of us identify with this. ("Finally!" a friend crowed when she discovered GrubHub in 2011. "I can order tikka masala without having to talk to another person!")
If no one is using the phone, you should do it to set yourself apart. If you take the risk of calling another person, they'll have a better sense of who they may be working with.
I did all of this when I worked in St. Martin's Press publicity and still do for myself and my clients. In fact, I've landed clients in influential mom blogs and regional newspapers specifically as a result of following up. That said, have self-respect. If you've followed up twice to no avail, it's time to knock the dust off your sandals and move on to a more receptive conversation.
It took a while for Sam, as she later introduced herself, to look up, but once she saw my paper in the window, she did a double take.
"Me?" she mouthed and pointed to herself.
I nodded and asked, "Is it your birthday?" in pantomime.
Sam nodded emphatically. The birthday girl took a photo of the sign, and I did, too, from the other side. When she left for the day, she smiled and waved at me. I smiled and waved back.
Because I went out on a limb and took a quirky risk, I now had the start of a beautiful friendship.
What’s stopping you from cold pitching effectively? After all, the worst thing anyone can say to you is no. Like any risk in life, pitching can be nerve-wracking, but when it works, it feels so rewarding. I have cold pitched (and lukewarm-pitched) my way into many opportunities in this life: New York publishing, a full stable of freelance clients—even a friendship with my alleyway coworker.
Jessica Hatch is a professional editor and publicist who got her start at such New York literary establishments as St. Martin’s Press and Writers House. Her words have been published on LearnVest, Fast Company, and Money.com. Jessica lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where she enjoys providing story consultation services to aspiring and established writers alike, through the use of a prescriptive, practical editing system. Say hello at www.hatch-books.com