This week’s podcast outlines our thoughts about how to be more successful making pitches, and cutting deals, via email.
Ahead of that episode, TMBA’s producer Jane, has agreed to share some thoughts about how to reach out to podcasts – and other media outlets – drawing on her experience working at the BBC and with shows like ours.
Although the details here are about media and podcasts specifically, we feel the principles apply to all sorts of email interactions.
Take it away Jane…
Hello .. is this mic working? Jane here…;
What do all producers want – and frankly desperately need? Good ideas – lots of them.
Developing something from, ‘I wonder if this might this be interesting?’ into a fascinating interview, or a compelling narrative, is what producers live for (that and dry white wine, speaking personally).
The seeds of those ideas can be sparked from anywhere – a blog post, an ad, a movie, a chat with a friend, snippets of a conversation overheard in an elevator. But, in my experience, some of the best radio programs and pod episodes have their origins in something that has magically appeared in my mailbox. And for this I am truly grateful.
Sometimes they arrive in the form of a forwarded article or link, usually with some deeper personal insight attached. Occasionally they are copies of strange, rambling and wonderful online conversations. Other times they start out as pitches – ‘I want to appear on your show: here’s why … ‘ or ‘This would make for great episode. Let me explain ….’.
However, I think there’s quite a lot of confusion about what producers want in a pitch. And I can understand why. Pitching to This American Life might seem completely different from pitching to Zen Founder or to approaching a podcast with a smaller audience. But the good news, for those seeking attention for their projects, is that it doesn’t need to be all that complicated.
Below I lay out 13 principles (OMG I’ve done a ‘listicles blog post’, is it all downhill from here?) to help define what, in my opinion, makes for a successful pitch.
All of these come from experience – not just of receiving pitches but also making them because I’m also in the game. I’m constantly pitching myself – for interviewees to come on shows, to get my ideas commissioned so I can turn them into documentaries etc., etc.
I also share some of the things that it may be best to avoid.
The examples cited are real-life, actual emails that I’ve received, albeit slightly modified/composite, partly to preserve anonymity and, in some cases, friendships. It goes without saying: feel free to take from this what you find helpful, ignore the rest and, most definitely, disagree with me as much as you like – producers love ‘tension’ and ‘creative discussion’ almost as much as ideas (and wine).
1. Before you hit ‘send’, do a reality check
Read your pitch back to yourself. Several times. Leave it for a few hours, go for a walk or take a bike ride and come back. Be critical. If you received it in your inbox would you find it interesting, intriguing, compelling, cool? Or grating, irritating and self-serving? Would you reply to it? Would you book you as a guest? Maybe you need to re-work your email based on a second reading.
Bear in mind that producers receive tens of pitches every day/week. How will yours stand out? “But it’s from me” probably won’t cut it unless you’re Elon Musk or J.K. Rowling.
2. Show don’t tell
My name is Nate Brown. I am an international best selling author, solo-preneur and epic world traveler. Would you like to have me as a guest on your Podcast, as I believe I am a perfect candidate?
Don’t just state that you believe you’re ‘a perfect candidate’; show me why by pointing to some kind of evidence.
You don’t need to have invented the wheel and/or the Internet. You could just direct me to something intriguing, or quirky, or niche that you’ve done – maybe all three. Perhaps your idea will be strong enough in itself. But what you say must be authentic and sincere. It needs to capture my attention and make me want to learn more. Because, if I do, then it’s likely our audience might feel the same.
3. Make an effort
Few things are more irritating than receiving a pitch that is quite obviously a ‘generic email’. If you can’t be bothered to listen to some episodes, and offer some kind of proof that you have, why would a podcast want you as a guest? Show some respect.
Hi I’m a big fan of *|INSERT PODCAST NAME|* and really enjoyed your *|GIVE EG|* episode where you talked about *|SUBJECT|*. It was a great listen.
Yep, that is drawn from an actual email we received at the TMBA pod recently (clearly before it had been ‘artistically reworked’).
You don’t have to kill yourself: just be honest and upfront. What do you actually like about the pod or, even better, what could be improved? And what’s your contribution going to be?
A good way to ‘fish’ for what might be interesting to a particular show is to leave a thoughtful comment in the discussion forum after an episode. I often follow up these up when I see them.
Or why not ask Dan and Ian a question? We love those and might even feature it on one of our Q+A episodes.
4. Define your story
Compelling, surprising narrative ‘arcs’ are at the core of great programs. You may think your story is special but, again, be honest with yourself, is it really? Check out other podcasts. If you’re hearing a lot of similar experiences to yours, how can you stand out?
Here are some of the subjects we get offered on a daily basis at the TMBA podcast:
- ‘I left my corporate job to travel and, after many failures, I’ve founded xx successful business. Now my passion is to mentor/coach/provide online courses/I’ve just published a book to enable others to do the same.’ ‘
- We’re a family of five who have been traveling and homeschooling for xx years across xx countries.’
- ‘I’m a passionate digital nomad. I’ve been blogging about my life for the last xx years to empower others to do the same.’
- After xx years living out of a backpack and traveling across xx countries I’ve decided to settle down. I’ve bought, and am currently renovating, a farm in Ohio (I’ve even acquired a horse!)’.
- ‘I’m a bestselling author.’ Almost every emailer seems to be a ‘bestselling author’ of some sort.
What are the ways in which you could offer something different? I’m sure there are much better ideas out there, but here are a few, just off the top of my head. Remember, at its heart, TMBA is a business, rather than a lifestyle, show:
- Notice an episode that the podcast did a while ago and suggest a way to update or enhance it. We often return to subject areas. See Make An Effort above.
- Have you noticed something happening in an area that has real relevance to the businesses we cover? Bonus points if you’ve spotted a trend before others.
- Do you disagree with a ‘take’ we had on a subject, might that make for an interesting ‘response-type’ episode?
- Maybe you have an idea for a discussion about a theme, with suggestions for others who could contribute with different perspectives (rather than just an interview with you)?
5. Be open
It might be more constructive to start a dialogue with a show, rather than just having a one-way conversation. Not in a crass, ‘I’m going to bombard you with follow-up emails until you relent’ way, but in a genuine spirit of enquiry and collaboration.
I’m wondering if this might be interesting to your audience, or if there were other elements of David’s story that you think might be? Very happy to chat further if you think there’s anything there.
View your pitch as a way of potentially starting a relationship with, and informing yourself about, the podcast you are approaching. Don’t presume that you just ‘know’ what is interesting to their audience, or that all pods are looking for the same. It might be that they’ve seeking to take a different direction, or want to explore certain concepts, or are after people from certain backgrounds.
6. Don’t just view the show as a marketing opp
Hi, in a couple of weeks I’ll be launching a course. It will teach people how to become successful self-publishers just like me :) I’m doing quite a few podcast appearances to coincide with the launch and I hope you’ll be interested in having me on your show?
This is supposed to be a podcast pitch rather than a marketing opportunity for you. Ok, we all know that it is the latter too. Here’s a good article by Taylor Pearson explaining why, and discussing the issue at greater length. But why would we be interested in just promoting your book or online course? And, if you’re going to be doing the rounds of the ‘usual suspects’ podcasts, won’t hearing you once again on ours be a turnoff for the audience? What are you going to offer our show that is different from all your other appearances?
Mark Manson was very open to, for eg, doing some readings, and analysing specific portions of his book, ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k’, when he appeared (obviously also publicizing it) on the TMBA pod.
7. Don’t suggest a ‘tit-for-tat’
Hi .. I’ve got a successful ECommerce podcast. It gets around 40,000 downloads each week and I’ve also got a great social media presence, including over 5,000 followers on Twitter. I’ve been listening to the TMBA show, on and off, since you started. Are you interested in having me on the podcast? In return, I can interview you on mine and we can promote each other via our social media channels, for mutual benefit.
Don’t make demands. We know that people give up their time to come on the TMBA podcast, and we really appreciate it. We post links and additional information about guests in our show notes. We’re open to interview requests for Dan and Ian. But don’t be a presumptuous dictator. It’s just icky.
8. Don’t be pissed if you’re not successful first time
I know a lot of producers and hosts just ignore pitches they’re not interesting in. Generally, out of politeness, I try to respond (honestly) to every email I receive.
Sometimes I regret this because people come back to me with irritated-sounding responses (see below) because they’ve interpreted what I’ve said as hostile or tardy or .. whatever. Actually I’m just trying to be helpful. Like you, I’m genuinely busy and I’m not (usually) looking to be mean spirited or to shut down communication.
Thank you for eventually replying to my email. We’re both busy people you know. Checking through recent TMBA episodes, as you suggested, I still don’t understand why ‘How to support a digital nomad adventure through blogging’ isn’t what you’re after. I look forward to discussing this with you further. Please choose a time on my calendar (attached).
One rule of broadcasting generally (and this applies to both potential guests and *coughs* presenters): you have nothing to gain by alienating producers and researchers.
9. Be selective about the ‘professional guidance’ you follow
I disagree with some of the advice offered by ‘podcast experts’. Here’s an example of a typical checklist you will find online:
How to approach podcasts: template
- Friendly introduction + bio
- My topic areas that I can talk about with suggested questions (around 5 Qs for each should be sufficient)
- Where else I’ve been featured (if you haven’t been on any podcasts, link to your blog, YouTube channel, any guest post, etc.…). Include as many of these as possible as they will give you authority.
- My audience stats
- My online calendar link
- My contact information
- Thanks + Warm sign off (‘hope to hear from you’ or the like)
I’d highlight the second point listed as a real ‘no no’ in my book, especially for ‘initial contact’ emails. I’ve even had people suggesting their own episode titles. I mean, come on, we haven’t even been on a first date yet!
Here’s an example I received recently:
Hi I have a great guest for your show! His name is xxx xxx and here are topics that he can thoroughly discuss:
- Technology Trends
- Business and Entrepreneurship
- Marketing Strategies
- His Success Stories from A Humble Beginning
- Why Social Media Is Your Friend
- Evolution of Mobile Communication and its Potential
- Top Tips and Tricks of Startups
If you list seven things that you can cover (which are often predictable and somewhat vague), it makes me wonder how interesting you’ll be on any of them. Maybe you’re just desperate to get on the show – and I love that! But you need to be more specific and creative. It might even be fun ….
Plus, I know not every podcast has a dedicated producer but, ask yourself: does the host of the podcast really want to be told what they should be covering – and what to ask you about – in your first contact with them?
If you’re successfully booked then, sure, offer to detail some talking points. Be open to doing a ‘pre-interview’ to chat through topics (which, btw, is a good way to learn more about what the pod is after and the direction the interview will take). But keep your first email short – five brief paragraphs or fewer – and to the point: Who are you? What exactly are you offering, and how is it a good fit for our show, based on your research? A pitch like this will be less likely to immediately hit the archive or trash folder.
10. Determine which statistics count
Is the size of the readership of your blog, your twitter following etc. worth mentioning? Does it even matter to the podcast you are approaching?
Likewise, think about the podcast appearances and blog posts you are linking to. Are those written pieces really good, did they receive great responses, did other online publishers pick any of them up? As a producer, I will check this out. Have you been on widely respected podcasts, ones that I’ve actually heard of, which give you credibility? It’s much better to list two of these than 20 shows which podfaded after five episodes.
11. Ask yourself if your tech tool could be turning people away
For eg, Dan recently wrote about why he is alienated by emails that have tracking software applied. I have a different gripe. I know people running online businesses love Calendly and ‘blocking time for certain tasks’. But, personally, I find it slightly disrespectful when someone (who has, after all, approached me) asks me to scan through their availability and fit myself into their timetable, especially when we’re clearly not in the same time zone.
I prefer, ‘let me know some days/times that are good for you and I’ll send you some suggestions to see if they work.’ Then let your VA make an appointment, if you don’t have time yourself. Or at least do something like this:
‘I tend to use Calendly to make appointments, just for convenience. Take a look and see if any of these times are good for you. If not, no problem, just let me know and we’ll work something out via email.’
12 Using VAs or Promotional Agencies to pitch for you
See Make an effort above.
13. Persistence still works
If your pitch is rejected by a certain pod right now, it’s not necessarily the end of the matter – unless you have shut the door on the relationship in some way (see Don’t be pissed above). Why not circle back to them when things have evolved in your business, or you’ve listened to their pod a bit more, or your idea is more developed, or you have a newer, even better, one to offer.
Here’s a recent TMBA episode where exactly this happened. I think it’s one of our best shows (yet).
If you feel this blog post has been ‘just about the negatives’, fair enough. In this week’s podcast we’re going to analyze, and link to, examples of really good pitches, as well as providing a simple framework so you can create one for your business from scratch. So hang in there for that.
Finally – why not email me at jane (at) tropicalmba.com? My inbox is always open. I need your ideas. I’m a producer.