The Economics of Bad Outreach
The Economics of Bad Outreach
The Economics of Bad Outreach

I received an email pitch recently that prompted me to question the economics of lazy outreach.

Is there risk to the bottom line for organization’s that cut corners in the way they reach out to prospects and influencers? My theory is that the practice of lackluster research, or worse, the lack of research altogether, combined with the use of form letters, spam and automated emails has the potential to erode business value.

Economics of Outreach
Economics of Outreach

Let’s look at the pitch that inspired this post and use it to help illustrate a business scenario:

We have heard some real good reviews about the content marketing services that you offer. We were wondering about your thoughts regarding inclusion of engaging infographics in your content marketing packages. [Company Name] can help you make your content marketing services more special and effective by creating visually appealing, viral infographics that would surely draw huge attention of the target audience.

Sadly, this is a pretty standard pitch. By investing 30 seconds and performing a Google search the person sending this email would have quickly been able to figure out that their pitch didn’t make any sense written as is. The fact that I already use infographics in my content marketing and that I wrote a book about infographics makes their pitch fall flat because it lacks relevancy. But more importantly, the lazy approach has some potential financial consequences in the following areas:

Lost Sales – Poor research blended with the lack of customized outreach can result in lost revenue opportunities. In this case, I didn’t object to the idea of being pitched but, rather, the pitch itself. Yes, I do create my own infographics but I also have a need to outsource infographic designs. If the pitch was written with that in mind it would have kept the door open with respect to future relationship management and business development.

Trust Erosion – A lack of care when it comes to outreach reflects the potential of a greater service problem. If the organization doesn’t cover off the basics when it comes to their outreach what possible gaps or flaws exist in their service delivery and support? This manifests itself in a couple of different ways: people sharing the outreach story with friends, colleagues or across the internet (see next point) or simply removing them from consideration when it comes to using or recommending their products and services.

Negative WOM – I chose not to call out the organization that contacted me in a public forum like SME. Not everyone shares the same view. There are many examples of organizations being used as case studies to highlight poor or misleading outreach practices. Haphazard outreach can definitely result in negative word of mouth that can erode the value of your brand.

Outreach Tips

So how can you avoid some of these potential economic pitfalls when it comes to your outreach?

I like to think that common sense is your best guide – treat the people you are approaching in the same manner you would like to be treated. Be honest, do some research, don’t waste people’s time and offer a value proposition.

Here are a few of the things I like to do prior to reaching out to a prospect or influencer:

  • Blog Subscription – One of the first things I research is a prospects blog or website. I like to subscribe to RSS feeds using Google Reader and tend to skim through a number of posts going back as far as 6 months. My objective when it comes to referencing  blog posts in any outreach is to be genuine – the best way to accomplish this is to actually dig into some the content and extract value from what you are reading. It’s very rare that you won’t find something interesting, thought provoking or debatable when you conduct this research. Remember, you don’t have to love or agree with everything someone says on their blog in order to genuinely engage them in dialogue. Sometimes offering a counter-point or different perspective is a great way to start a conversation during the outreach process. Also, I don’t like to pretend I’ve been a long time subscriber if that’s not the case. There’s nothing wrong with telling a prospect you just subscribed to their blog and have been catching up on old posts. Be transparent in any outreach you do.
  • Blog Comments – After reading a few posts and picking out the ones that really resonate with me I may submit a comment or two on some older posts. Normally I like to continue following a blog for a few weeks and comment when it’s appropriate. Remember to try to add value every time you submit a comment. Don’t simply placate or agree with what is written…try to offer an opinion or unique perspective.
  • Twitter Stream – In conjunction with blog research I like to follow prospects if they are on Twitter. I have a special column set up in HootSuite that filters content from people that I may be interested in connecting with down the road. There are a lot of smart people sharing great content on Twitter so I find pretty easy to find relevant, helpful posts to retweet or @mention. I also find you can gain some added insight though the links that prospects are sharing.

These are just a few of the things you can do when it comes to managing your prospect or influencer outreach. For more information check out this comprehensive Best Practice Guide to Blogger Outreach from the folks an inkybee (FREE, email required to download).

Personalized outreach is hard work that can take a lot of time but, in my opinion, it’s the only real effective way to nurture relationships that can add business value over time. What do think? What other economic risks might be associated with poor outreach practices? The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Mark Smiciklas
Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.
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  • Thank you for your insight Mark. As a digital PR strategist, these points hit home for me and are a good reminder of what is valuable and successful in the eyes of the journalist. I would love to be able to use these approaches for every pitch though I know somedays time will not allow. But it is a great reminder to treat people on the other end of the screen as humans and not just an automated computer. 

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  • You certainly are being kind not to call out the person or company who made that pitch. Perhaps too many PR professionals have forgotten their good ole fashioned research and media relations skills that teach us to learn as much as we can about our audience before we make the pitch. What you hone in on here is that it shouldn’t just be about getting a “hit.” It should be about strategic communication — identifying just the right person to target and learning exactly how to approach them to initiate the most constructive conversation. Thanks for the solid, specific steps to remind us how to accomplish that. 

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  • You made my day ;-) I often have to explain clients that “no, we don’t do mass engagement to influencers” and that we recommend getting a deep understanding of who the influencer is, his context, connections and then reach out.

    It is very much like “consultative selling”. You just don’t go out of the blue and pitch an executive. You first build your ideal target, then you look for people to talk to and then you build the proposal.

  • Sorry, Craig, I’ve got to go with Mark on this, with the basic comment of “It depends on what your objective is.”  If your objective is strictly sales, or, rather, a single sale, your approach is probably fine.  If, however, the objective is to establish a higher value relationship, it pays to relate, not simply pitch.

    • Craig

       I agree with that.  My personal connections that I worked hard to built helped work for me on many different promotions over a long period of time.  Unfortunately boss-man doesn’t always want to hear that it may take a long time to build a few stable contacts.  A mix of both is what has to happen to push through.

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  • Craig

    I like the idea and angle but respectfully disagree.  As a former digital PR rep myself who worked on multiple clients across different industries in a very fast paced and results oriented environment, the practices you ensure are not feasible.  I completely agree that ideally its best to have a prior relationship and to be as personal as possible, but in the end that really doesn’t get you far more often than not.  Truth is, if the information is relevant or compensation package is fitting, a blogger will work with the rep regardless.  Not everyone may feel that way of course.

    I used to work mainly with the Mom blog demographic and built a lot of strong relationships after working with the blogger on a campaign.  I tried to be personal in the cold pitch and sometimes it worked and other times not.  Maybe it helped a bit in the beginning, but for the time it would take I can’t honestly say it made a difference in the end.  A lot of times pitches would be generic (but relevant) and if a blogger was interested, I would go out of my way to be personal after the initial pitch to build that relationship.  This in turn helped me with future campaigns.

    My point I guess is I understand why PR reps do what they do, and I respect the fact that you did not include the company or reps name.  I hate when people do that and think it’s in poor fashion.  People make mistakes, and even though I would go out of my way to be personal when possible and do prior research, I made my mistakes as well.  Reps are working on many accounts and have bosses telling them they have to get results.  It’s not feasible to do the personal approach on a mass scale even if it may make more sense.  I don’t think a bad pitch will hurt the company at all unless you are the .00001% who will make a stink about it and that escalates.  The risk is not there.

    I’m open to chatting more, I always enjoy learning from others and hearing about other people’s experiences.

    • msmiciklas

      Hey Craig. Thanks for taking the time to submit such a comprehensive comment. 

      I’m not a PR pro so I appreciate your insight and perspective from working in the trenches. I agree that, in many cases, sales and/or PR pitches are a numbers play. However, I’m still not convinced that this approach adds the most business value over the long run. In my view quality trumps quantity…I understand this may be a slightly naive stance given the industry dynamics and pressures that you speak of, but I know investing the time to research and craft more personal communication has worked for me, albeit on a smaller scale. 

      I think your points highlight the fact that the standard PR communication model needs fixing. I’d be curious to know if there any PR agencies that have assessed the ROI of a more personal approach vs. shotgun outreach? Regardless, hopefully this type of dialogue will help some people challenge the status quo. Thanks again for contributing your thoughts and ideas.   


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