Is it Time to Introduce Analytics to E-mail Pitching?

Businessman with graphI don’t usually write about the more tactical, day-to-day issues of PR and marketing, choosing instead to focus on the delicate work-life balance, thinking like an entrepreneur and why I think it’s OK to not have a traditional PR background. But today, bear with me for a bit, as I’m going to get pretty tactical on something every PR and marketing professional uses probably every single day of their jobs: the e-mail pitch.

Ahh, yes, the infamous “pitch.” Loathed by many, MANY, but in today’s smart phone-obsessed world, about as important as ever in terms of driving successful media outreach for brands and organizations. I won’t get into the whole debate about whether e-mail pitches should or should not be used, but there were a couple of interesting points I wanted to hit from Cone’s main points in the article on about how we can all make our e-mail pitches a bit more refined and increase the rate that our e-mails to bloggers and reporters will A) get opened; and B) actually get us some type of response.

How often do you think of actually branding yourself in your e-mail pitch? I know, I have bemoaned the whole “personal branding” mantra before on this site, but this time, I’m actually all for it. The reason being comes from a recent AdAge article from Steve Cone about the current state of e-mail marketing. In the article, Cone noted the best way to keep your marketing/PR e-mails from immediately getting deleted was to “brand yourself immediately in the ‘from’ and ‘subject’ lines. According to Cone, 70% of consumers (and by extension, we can reasonably assume reporters/bloggers, as they would be the “consumers” in the case of an e-mail pitch) say the “from” line is how they base their decision to open or ignore an e-mail from you, and 30% say it’s the “subject” line.

So, that begs the question: How much thought and attention are you giving to your personal brand equity with every reporter and blogger you reach out to? Are you actually announcing real news in the “subject” line, or just fishing for someone, anyone, to open your e-mail? Just like a direct marketing e-mail campaign, where most consumers wouldn’t give a second of their time to open your e-mail unless you have a pre-established relationship and some pending offer or promotion for them (Subject: Five Days Left to Buy!), the same applies to our e-mail pitches. If we’re not giving someone real news, or a real impetus to actually open our e-mail, and we haven’t already established some type of relationship with them, how we can expect a reporter and blogger to engage with us and get the ball rolling?

I’m not saying that we need to break our e-mail pitch strategies down to the granular, segmented level of e-mail marketing campaigns, but, perhaps we should give some more thought to the analytics behind our e-mail pitches. For an industry so obsessed about analytics and metrics of certain strategies, tactics and campaigns, should we begin analyzing some of the trends behind how well our e-mail pitches are received?

Do we really want to go that granular with our pitches? Is it wise to essentially target your pitches as you would a direct marketing e-mail campaign?

I don’t know. It’s certainly intriguing to think about. What do you think?

Another great article about the effectiveness of e-mail pitching (and why we need to make some pretty simple—but drastic—change in our pitches) comes from this recent PRWeek (UK) study.

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  • I've been waiting for this one to go live since the topic was first brought up.

    I've actually been known to insert a small inline 1×1 white pixel against a white background. Goes unnoticed on the receiver side but keeps a log on the server if opened (though it won't tell you if a pitch was read completely). Unlike return receipts (Outlook anyone) this 1) doesn't pop up and ask permission and 2) can show how many times a particular message was opened (and if someone promised that they'll forward a message along can confirm or deny that the receiver opened it (and to reference CT's post today can show if a message has been read by someone else not on the known list). Strategically placed it'll even get sent along if the email or webpage is copied and pasted into an email and works on a variety of platforms – emails, webpages, etc.

    Some email merge programs will allow the merging of individual codes so you can easily send out a number of messages with personalized code to track who opened it, and of course, when, from where, what platform and how often. In theory you could see if a message was read initially on an iphone or BBerry and then reread at a computer, etc.

    Even our own provider for the daily mailing can provide graphs on how many messages were opened, when and how many clickthrus.

    The tech is ripe and ready for use, but as you note most agencies aren't willing to dive down into these analytics and consider splitting their list and tinkering with subject lines, etc. to determine effectiveness and checking to see if it changes over time.

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  • keithtrivitt

    Cog – Very interesting thoughts! Thanks for chiming in on all of this. One of these days, you're going to have to show me how to do that white pixel deal in the background of e-mails to track open rates. Genius!

    You make a really good point at the end of your comment: The ability to analyze our e-mail pitches and actually figure out how successful they are is there right now with the technology available. But how many agencies or individuals are actually doing that right now? I know I'm not, at least not at the level I described above.

    But your comment does beg this question: Is the analyzation of e-mail pitches easier to do via mail merge programs, or can that be broken down to much more basic e-mail pitching outreach that is targeted on a 1:1 basis (e.g. one pitch to a specific reporter covering a specific story)?

  • jeffespo

    Keith – great post and is some real food for thought.
    Cog – Why am I not surprised

  • Cog: That is amazing. Can you insert this inline in an Outlook e-mail? Fascinating.

    Great topic Keith. I'm a huge proponent of analytics and actually using them to change and improve your activities (whether it's on a web page, in an e-campaign, blog post, or in an e-pitch). It's tough to see the numbers sometimes but a truly courageous PR person will face the music, and experiment with a better way of getting results.

    Thank you again for the post Keith. Nice work.

  • @jaykeith

    Email analytics for pitching, great topic Keith. It might be the most dangerous things I've heard of in a long time, and there's a few reasons why. First off, how do you determine success? Is it measured by open rate, or is it measured by response rate (in which case you don't need analytics). What metrics would you use, because you can't use the same ones that you would for typical sales. Also, if you do find that some minor tweak gets a lot of opens, does that mean everyone else in your firm starts copying those tweaks, and then that spreads and all PR pros start using it? The reason I bring this up is because it happens with marketing emails. The most successful campaigns are copied all the time because they succeed, but I have a feeling that would REALLY create more animosity between PR pros and journos. Mostly because there's a relationship there, they didn't “opt in” to our emails, so they aren't expecting them, to some extent. If every pitch had the same kind of subj line because it showed phenomenal results in an analytically driven environment, that might be disastrous for us all.

    Now I think that on a much lower level, like the fix (also not shocked) that Cog was talking about, it can be interesting to see what you're doing as an individual that is working and resonating. As long as that's where it stays, on the individual level. I can see that taking hold in PR firms, as a sort of one off tool to see what's working and what's not with a certain client or account. But the second it becomes “the next big thing” and there are general trends everyone follows, we should all watch out.

  • keithtrivitt

    Jay – See, this is why I value your input and feedback so much. You just put all of this completely in perspective and gave the exact thought out response I was looking for from an industry veteran.

    I honestly don't know what is the right answer, but I suspect you're on to it in terms of yeah, analytics for e-mail pitches would be great, but only if done on an individual level, and certainly not on an agency- or organization-wide basis, where one person analyzes say, a week's worth of e-mail pitches, figures out what works best, and then uses that best technique over and over for all of eternity until it's proven to no longer work.

    Like you say, that is done all too often on the direct marketing front, often to the annoyance of consumers and those receiving the e-mail.

    The main reason why I brought this idea up is partly because I like to think a little on the fringe of where PR is at right now and whether we can/should stretch the boundaries a bit, but also because I think, whether consciously or subconsciously, ever PR pro already does some form of analytics of e-mail pitches at some rudimentary level.

    Think about it: Every one of us probably sends out a pitch or three or four with similar headlines on some outreach effort, and based off the quality, quantity and speed of feedback we receive from that outreach, we make subtle adjustments to the pitch from there. Do we need to get more in-depth on those adjustments/analytics than that?

    I don't know.

  • keithtrivitt

    Rochelle – Thanks so much for chiming in, and for the kind remarks about the post. Glad you liked it.

    Interesting that you mention it will require a truly courageous PR person to face the music and utilize analytics with their pitching. Why do you say that?

    Are analytics in pitching something that will push PR too far into spam-type e-mail? I don't know. I can see both sides of the argument.

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  • Great post. I’ve been thinking about the same topic for a while.

    As both a PR guy and a blogger who gets pitched at least a few times per week by other PR pros, I can see both sides of this coin.

    Outside of using analytics to determine any measure of success, open/delete/forward/click data would be HUGE just to know what works and what doesn’t and be able to hone your messaging. There are plenty of PR agencies already experimenting with this, unfortunately none (at least none that have pitched me) are doing it very well.

    At least from what I’ve seen, too many PR agencies are simply exporting their press lists from Cision or Vocus and using them to blast out “pitches” using email marketing software, which essentially just turns into getting an email newsletter that I never subscribed to. SPAM.

    Seriously. Pitches with the Blue Sky Factory or Constant Contact logo right on the bottom of the email with the only thing targeted about it is using my name somewhere in the email or subject line. There is something inherently wrong about that.

    I’m fine with impersonal “newsletter-style” emails, but when you fade into that strange gray area between personal communication and brand communication, you start to break the unwritten rules of how people consume email.

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