How not to pitch: A lesson in awful PR

Elena Shalneva
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Jamie sends an email: “Afternoon Elena, wondering if my offer to chat with [a well-known tech company] tickled your fancy?”

No, Jamie, it absolutely did not. Few things do – and the prospect of listening to corporate drivel is not one of them. And, Jamie, a word of advice: stop using this saccharine expression altogether. Particularly in a professional context, particularly when writing to someone you have never met.

If Jamie is frivolous, another email, sent by a very old and very large British brand, is the opposite: it’s remarkably arrogant. “Hello, please see our latest press release in the attachment. I trust this is of interest. To arrange an interview, please email”

You “trust”? With such cockiness, I expect your press release to blow my mind. But of course it doesn’t, and, predictably, your attachment contains some mediocre scribbles. Had you not been so presumptuous, I would have simply deleted your sorry scrawls. But now I feel perfectly entitled to make fun of them.

Then there is bluffing, pretending that your message is highly personal and follows thorough preparation. Last month, I got an email from a mid-tier European business school. Apparently, the admissions committee had vigorously studied my CV and, upon careful deliberation, decided that I was a perfect MBA candidate. I already have an MBA - and from a much better business school. And how did they get hold of my CV? The last time I updated it was ten years ago. I am flattered, I responded, and I am intrigued to know what particular elements of my CV had appealed to the esteemed admissions committee. Predictably, I received no response.

Timing also matters. I was invited to a film premiere the other day. I got excited – until I realised that the premiere was taking place the same day. As film screenings go, I don’t expect to be top of anyone’s guest list. But by inviting me at a few hours’ notice, you are basically saying the following: I tried everyone on my A-list. Then my B-list. Then I called my friends. I invited neighbours and parents from my son’s school. Also, some guy I met on the plane. They all said no, and I still have a few seats at the back to fill. So, would you like to come to the premiere tonight?

Also, let’s establish the etiquette for follow-ups. Mark sends a report from a large management consultancy. His pitch is sensibly drafted, succinct and courteous. So what a shame that, just an hour later, Mark sends a chaser, stating that “hopefully, this is of interest”. No, Mark, this is not of interest at all – and it obviously isn’t to anyone else, otherwise you wouldn’t be so desperate. In the future, do leave at least a day before following up on anything which is not breaking news.

And then I got this email. “Hi Elena, I wanted to get in touch to pitch a feature / interview opportunity relating to XX. [One-sentence description follows]. Would you be interested in meeting XX to discuss this? Do let me know, and I hope to hear from you.”

This sort of sounds right. Brief, clear and unpretentious. The “I hope to hear from you” is a nice touch – unlike, “I look forward to hearing from you”, it does not automatically presume my interest. I am afraid I am not interested in XX - but I like your style. So keep sending your pitches, and I am sure that one day one of them will strike a chord.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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