During the holidays, my youngest daughter apparently had cabin fever after being in the house for a couple of days. While exiting the bedroom, my wife found the note below on the floor, after the former had slyly slid it under the door.
Though tired and not really feeling like leaving the house, we had to reward the youngster for her industriousness. And her charm.
Her effective “outreach” earned plaudits from my wife.
“At least she did it the right way,” she remarked. “She cleaned her room, washed dishes, and read books all day, obviously part of an attempt to make it hard for us to say no. After all she did, though, she earned it.”
She earned it.
Can you say as much about your outreach?
We’re missing out on a great opportunity
Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about outreach, specifically email outreach.
It initially got my attention because I see it so badly handled, even by savvy marketers.
But I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of the problem until I started thinking about the resulting impact of bad outreach, particularly since it remains one of the best, most viable means of garnering attention, traffic, and links to our websites.
What I see most commonly is a disregard of the needs of the person on the other end of the email.
Too often, it’s all about the “heavy ask” as opposed to the warm touch.
Heavy ask: “Hi Ronell … We haven’t met. … Could you share my article?”
Warm touch: “Hi Ronell … I enjoyed your Moz post. … We’re employing similar tactics at my brand.”
You’re likely saying to yourself, “But Ronell, the second person didn’t get anything in return.”
I beg to differ. The first person likely lost me, or whomever else they reach out to to using similar tactics; the second person will remain on my radar.
Outreach is too important to be left to chance or poor etiquette. A few tweaks here and there can help our teams perform optimally.
#1: Build rapport: Be there in a personal way before you need them
The first no-no of effective outreach comes right out of PR 101: Don’t let the first time I learn of you or your brand be when you need me. If the brand you hope to attain a link from is worthwhile, you should be on their radar well in advance of the ask.
Do your research to find out who the relevant parties are at the brand, then make it your business to learn about them, via social media and any shared contacts you might have.
Then reach out to them… to say hello. Nothing more.
This isn’t the time to ask for anything. You’re simply making yourself known, relevant, and potentially valuable down the road.
Notice how, in the example below, the person emailing me NEVER asks for anything?
The author did three things that played big. She…
Mentioned my work, which means she’d done her homework
Highlighted work she’d done to create a post
Didn’t assume I would be interested in her content (we’ll discuss in greater detail below)
Hiring managers like to say, “A person should never be surprised at getting fired,” meaning they should have some prior warning.
Similarly, for outreach to be most effective, the person you’re asking for a link from should know of you/your brand in advance.
Bonuses:Always, always, always use “thank you” instead of “thanks.” The former is far more thoughtful and sincere, while the latter can seem too casual and unfeeling.
#2: Be brief, be bold, be gone
One of my favorite lines from the Greek tragedy Antigone, by Sophocles, is “Tell me briefly — not in some lengthy speech.”
If your pitch is more than three paragraphs, go back to the drawing board.
You’re trying to pique their interest, to give them enough to comfortably go on, not bore them with every detail.
The best outreach messages steal a page from the PR playbook:
They respect the person’s time
They show a knowledge of the person’s brand, content, and interests with regard to coverage
They make the person’s job easier (i.e., something the person would deem useful but not necessarily easily accessible)
We must do the same.
Be brief in highlighting the usefulness of what you offer and how it helps them in some meaningful way
Be bold in declaring your willingness to help their brand as much as your own
Be gone by exiting without spilling every single needless detail
Bonus: Be personal by using the person’s name at least once in the text since it fosters a greatest level of personalization and thoughtfulness (most people enjoy hearing their names):
“I read your blog frequently, Jennifer.”
#3: Understand that it’s not about you
During my time as a newspaper business reporter and book reviewer, nothing irked me more than having people assume that because they valued what their brand offered, I must feel the same way.
They were wrong 99 percent of the time.
Outreach in our industry is rife with this if-it’s-good-for-me-it’s-good-for-you logic.
Instead of approaching a potential link opportunity from the perspective of “How do I influence this party to grant me a link,” a better approach is to consider “What’s obviously in it for them?”
(I emphasize “obviously” because we often pretend the benefit is obvious when it’s typically anything but.)
Step back and consider all the things that’ll be in play as they consider a link from you:
Relationship – Do they they know you/know of you?
Brand – Is your brand reputable?
Content – Does your company create and share quality content?
This content – Is the content you’re hoping for a link for high-quality and relevant?
In the best case scenario, you should pass this test with flying colors. But at the very least you should be able tp successfully counter any of these potential objections.
#4: Don’t assume anything
Things never go well when an outreach email begins “I knew you’d be interested in this.”
Odds suggest you aren’t prescient, which can only mean you’re wrong.
What’s more, if you did know I was interested in it, I should not be learning about the content after it was created. You should involved me from the beginning.
Therefore, instead of assuming I’ll find your content valuable, ensure that you’re correct by enlisting their help during the content creation process:
Topic – Find out what they’re working on or see as the biggest issues that deserve attention
Contribution –Ask if they’d like to be part of the content you create
Ask about others – Enlist their help to find other potential influencers for your content. Doing so gives your content and your outreach legs (we discuss in greater detail below)
#5: Build a network
Michael Michalowicz, via his 2012 book The Pumpkin Plan, shared an outreach tactic I’ve been using for years in my own work. Instead of asking customers to recommend other customers for a computer service company he formerly owned, he asked his customers to recommend other non-competing vendors.
Whereas a customer is likely to recommend another customer or two, a vendor is likely able to recommend many dozens of customers who could use his service.
This is instructive for outreach.
Rather than asking the person you’re outreaching to for recommendations of other marketers who could be involved in the project, a better idea might be to ask them “What are some of the other publications or blogs you’ve worked with?”
You could then conduct a site search, peruse the content the former has been a part of, then use this information as a future guide for the types and quality of content you should be producing to get on the radar for influencers and brands.
After all, for outreach to be sustainable and most effective, it must be scalable in an easy-to-replicate (by the internal team, at least) fashion.
Bonus: Optimally, your outreach should not be scalable — for anyone but you/your team. That is, it’s best to have a unique-to-your-brand process that’s tough to achieve or acquire, which means it’s far less likely others will know about, copy or use it or one like it.
Awaken your inner child, er, PR person
Elements of the five tips shared above have been, singularly, on my mind for the better part of two years. However, they only coalesced after I read the note my daughter shared, primarily because her message delivered on each point so effectively.
She didn’t wait until she needed something to get on our radar; never over-sold the message; was selfless in realizing we all likely needed to get out the house; didn’t assume we were on the same page; and activated her network by first sharing the note with her sister first, and, through her mom, me.
Now, the question we must all ask ourselves is if the methods we employ as effective?
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