I started my marketing career as a link builder at a digital agency. I remember the toil of spending hours finding prospects and pitching content, often achieving little in return.
Thankfully, I’ve honed my networking and cold outreach strategy since then. But the truth is, cold outreach is tough no matter what you’re pitching. It’s more than likely that you’re going to get frozen out than get a response.
In fact, non-personalized cold emails get a 5% response rate on average. So, the question is, how can you make sure your response rate is better than that measly figure?
1. Mention Mutual Connections
Busy journalists and influencers receive pitches from complete randos all day long. So, you have to find a way to make your email stand out.
A journalist or influencer is more likely to give you their time if you have shared colleagues or acquaintances. This is because you borrow the authority of your mutual connection.
Due to the phenomenon of social proof, people are more likely to adopt the opinions of people they trust. In other words, if the trusted mutual connection is willing to give you the time of day, so will your prospect.
Mention your common connection when you introduce yourself to immediately build authority. Here’s how content marketer, Gregory Ciotti does it:
Like Gregory, you can use your connections as a more authentic way-in. Remember that the greater the authority of your connection, the more authority it will pass onto you through social proof.
And this media pitch was indeed successful for Gregory:
So, be sure to leverage your common connections to make your pitches more compelling and therefore, increase your chances of success.
2. Highlight Your Professional Credentials
If you hope to win a story placement, a link to your research, an interview etc, you have to prove that you’re a reliable source.
Highlighting your professional credentials, such as accreditations, things you’ve achieved, who you’ve worked with in your industry and so on gives you tremendous credibility based on social proof.
But, the trouble is, how do you know what kind of credentials to highlight?
Growth marketer, Angie Schotmuller developed a model for measuring the persuasion quality of social proof, using the acronym CRAVENS. It stands for: Credible, Relevant, Attractive, Visual, Enumerated, Nearby, Specific.
You can use these points to ensure that you mention things that are most applicable and most persuasive. Let’s take the first point, credibility, as an example. If you’ve been awarded a degree from MIT it’s going to hold much more gravitas than one from, say, Trump University.
Showing off your credentials can be as simple as having a nicely fleshed-out email signature. But, you can go a step further and sprinkle the body of your email with social proof.
Here’s an example sent by a PR firm on behalf of app and network provider, NETSCOUT:
The purpose of the email is to have the publication connect with NETSCOUT’s product manager to discuss their soon-to-be-released cybersecurity report.
And the author of the email does an amazing job at establishing the credibility of said product manager by mentioning his credentials, i.e. he is a former cyber policy advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, he’s an affiliate of CISAC (Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation) and more. This social proof has got mad CRAVENS.
The point is to pick the most credible, relevant, attractive etc. credentials and use them to add legitimacy to you or your client’s pitch.
3. Use Convincing Data
Social proof in the form of data can go a long way to convince prospects that you’re the real deal if they aren’t familiar with who you are. It’s particularly effective when it relates to the number of endorsers you have.
Here’s an example of an outreach email featured on Backlinko:
When asking Brian to feature on their podcast, the sender casually drops in that they get 250,000+ downloads a month.
If you look in terms of social proof, it’s mighty convincing. The person who reads such an email is going to think it must be an excellent podcast because 250,000 people can’t be wrong, right?
You can do something similar by sharing the number of followers you have or the number of customers served, for example.
It’s easy to convince somebody that you’re legit when you show them how many supporters you have or how many people have wanted to work with you.
4. Name-Drop Publications
FOMO is real. It makes you go out despite the fact that you’re exhausted after a long day at work. It makes you buy that expensive new smartwatch because everybody else has one. It even makes publications much more likely to accept your pitch…
When you name-drop influential publications that have talked about your product, brand or study it makes prospects feel like they’re missing out on a scoop.
Your prospects are keen to keep up with trends. But, really, they want to do what other influential sites are doing because of social proof. To put it simply, they think, if Ms. Influential is talking about this, I should too.
Here’s a template that PR coach and outreach expert Dmitry Dragilev uses:
He drops in the social proof at point 3 by saying “We were recently talked about in…” Don’t be afraid to humblebrag in this way.
It also works for pitching guest posts to editors that don’t know you yet. Whenever I send a cold guest post pitch I always name-drop industry-leading sites that I’ve been featured on:
Firstly, I do this because it showcases the quality of my work but also because it adds a wow-factor. If an influential site like CoSchedule thinks I have an interesting story to tell, my prospect will too.
So, be sure to add some examples of influential sites that you’ve been featured on in your cold emails because it’s really strong social proof.
5. Prove That What You Do Works
If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you’ll know that the sharks absolutely hate it when somebody pitches vitamins or supplements. The reason being that they don’t want to work with an entrepreneur who makes bold claims but is full of… nonsense.
Similarly, journalists and bloggers have reputations to uphold. They want to build trust with their audience, so they’re not going to endorse a product that doesn’t work or collaborate with a person/brand that isn’t legit.
Here’s an email that blogger Ryan Robinson received that’s packed with social proof:
The sender of the email hopes to get featured on Ryan’s podcast, The Side Hustle. There are a few elements of social proof you’ll notice in the email. But, what I want to note here is where the sender shares the fact that his entrepreneurship programs have created 15 millionaires. As he says, this proves his “track record”.
You can do something similar by sharing customer achievements or success stories. It might seem a strange thing to do in a PR email because this kind of thing is usually reserved for sales emails.
However, if you can prove that what you do works, you add legitimacy to your story. And you can up the social proof factor further by including what actual customers have to say about you or your brand.
Getting a response to cold PR outreach emails is a serious struggle. You might think you have the best media pitch in the world, but so does everybody else. Plus, the likelihood of getting the attention of busy journos and influencers is minimal.
So, you have to do something different. Social proof will make your cold emails 10x more compelling. You can use borrowed authority, boost your credibility and persuade people to collaborate with you.
Now it’s over to you to improve your cold emails using social proof. You just have to figure out what your prospects will find most compelling.