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If you’re going to be fake, try not to announce it

on January 12, 2011

I receive a lot of story pitches in the mail. Here’s one I received yesterday. It has not been edited at all.

SUBJECT LINE: Story idea for Spark, David – email productivity

Message for David Spark

Hello David,

I believe this story may fall within your scope. If it doesn’t, would you mind referring me to someone at Spark, David whose beat covers this topic?

The email went on to give the pitch for the company. The sender identified my company as “Spark, David.” That’s an obvious PR fail.

But screwing up my company name wasn’t the worse problem. (It’s Spark Media Solutions. A simple Google search on “Spark, David” or “David Spark” would have revealed that.)

The real mistake was the first line of an obviously mail merged message – “I believe this story may fall within your scope.”

Don’t make personal assumptions in a mail merged document

Why would you open with a specific personal assumption on an email that has obviously been sent out to a group of people? The sender is trying to fool me into believing that this is a personal message. No one likes to be fooled. It’s not a good way to open a relationship.

The fact that they screwed up my company name made the personalization mistake even more visible. But the bottom line here is this was FAKE interest, FAKE recognition, and FAKE acknowledgment of my work. While subtle, the sender “announces” they don’t really care through personal assumptions in a mail merged document. It’s inauthentic and it lowers my opinion of the sender.

You have one of two choices here. Either don’t make a personal assumptions and simply make a pitch or…

Add personalization fields to your mail merge

Simple rule of thumb, if you want to “personalize” a mail merged email, include some additional fields to turn a FAKE personal assumption into a REAL personal assumption:

EXAMPLE: A link to a previously written article.

The reason I thought this pitch was appropriate for you was because of this article you wrote: [ARTICLE]

EXAMPLE: A comment on a previously written article.

I thought this would be appropriate for you given the comment I left on a previous article you wrote. [LINK TO COMMENT]

EXAMPLE: An engagement you had in the past.


I’m a huge fan of mailing lists and newsletters. And I know it’s simply not possible to write a bunch of personalized emails as story pitches. But if you spend a little extra time on the following, it will return better results.

Update your mailing list continuously – Every two weeks when I send out a mailing I get bounce backs and I need to update my mailing list. It’s a pain, but if I want to keep these people on my list accurately, I need to double-check their information.

Add personalization fields beyond the person’s name and company – All mail merge programs allow you to add your own fields. I’m never impressed when someone gets my name right. But I’m always impressed when they reference a story of mine, leave a comment, or remind me when we’ve met.

If you really want to make an impact on someone, then you need to acknowledge them beyond just knowing their name.

Stock photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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