After years in the film and TV industry, of receiving blind pitches, and sending my own, I’ve discovered a few tricks and techniques that make an email stand out from the crowd. With just a few simple adjustments your emails can go from cold to Hot Sauce.
We’ve all had to do it. Cold email a person to try and get them to notice, let alone believe in, what we’re putting out there. Whether it’s a plea for financing, sales representation or a collaboration, being seen and prioritized in an executive’s inbox is no easy feat.
Between 2014 to 2018 the average person received 90 business emails a day. Bring this in to context of the film industry and I’d bet this number doubles, if not triples. Between scripts, new projects, sales company line ups, daily internal business operations, ongoing client relationships and deal flow, legal priorities and negotiations, and the general industry fodder most execs receive daily, the only way I can describe my inbox would be akin to an OCD person’s nightmare. And the only manageable way to deal with inbox overload is to prioritize.
So how, without any prior relationship or introduction, did cold pitches catch my attention and become a priority?
1. Don’t Underestimate a Good Subject Line
In fact, the subject line tends to be (almost) everything. Think about it, and let’s take Outlook’s configuration as the source of example. When an exec receives an email, the subject line is in a bold font, and the first sentence of the body of the email will appear underneath it. This is what the receiver of your cold pitch is seeing. Remember, there’s about, at minimum, 90 other emails already in that inbox.
Exec gets to their desk, under pressure, likely has deadlines and meetings to get to, along with some time-sensitive matters that need to be dealt with that day. They’re going through their emails and looking at subject lines to point them towards their priorities, but then they come along an email from someone they don’t know with a subject line that catches their attention so much it stops them in their tracks. That subject line, what it tells them, what it says without saying too much at all, is so attention grabbing that it becomes a priority.
The most helpful subject lines to an exec are ones that ensure they don’t have to think too much. When we were pre-market, a simple subject line like, ‘New for Cannes’, was enough to let me know I needed to look at that email because it was my job as a buyer to know every new project launching at the market. In other words, think about where your exec is at the moment in the calendar year and what their priorities are, then tap in to that with the most simplistic, short, and to the point subject line that relates to what you’re reaching out about.
2. Get Straight to the Point
The body of your email becomes the next most important component of your pitch. Most emails I receive from producers and content creators generally start with some sort of lengthly introduction about who they are, what their business background is and why they’re reaching out. But if you’ve already covered that with a simple, yet effective subject line, then you’re essentially just repeating yourself. Also, and no offence, but no one cares who you are until they care who you are. So you have to make them care about who you are by offering them something worth prioritizing.
As covered above, the first sentence of the body of your email will appear under the subject line of an inbox, so that first line shouldn’t be, “Hi, I’m so and so, from so and so and I want to introduce you to my project so and so because I think it’s a great fit for your company.” Firstly, if your project is worthy of attention then you don’t need to tell an exec that it’s good for their company. They know what they’re looking for and they know what will add to their bottom line. You have to let your idea stand for itself. And if you did your research correctly then you’re pitching to the right company for your film already. If you’re unsure, you’re just wasting your time and the time of the executive. Not cool and not likely to get them to prioritize any email from you going forth. Executives remember names, believe it or not, and you don’t want your name to be an immediate ‘delete’ the next time you need something from them.
Order the information of your email pitch in an upside down, news-format style. Meaning, the most important information goes up top, then you filter through the more nuanced bits you feel are pertinent and end with a backgrounder on you and your company. Make sure that first sentence stands out and build upon your concept from there. And please, for goodness sake, do not tell a story. Brevity is your best friend here. We’re all busy people living busy lives, if you want to provide more details, attach your pitch deck or a one pager. The more work you do for the executive, the easier you make it for them to ‘get’ what you’re putting out there, the more likely they are to pay attention and prioritize your email.
3. Time Your Follow Ups Wisely
Even if you’ve managed to get the attention of an executive and have your email prioritized, internal processes of review and deliberation can be lengthly. Decisions to invest, commit and promote, or jump on board a project are not taken lightly and the ‘go ahead’ from the people up top requires a through internal analysis before any movement ensues. That means, even if you’ve caught the attention with your Hot Sauce pitch you might not hear back right away. Do not be discouraged and do not be that over eager beaver that, like telemarketers, no one wants to ever hear from ever again.
Pestering an executive with follow up calls and emails should not be taken lightly, nor done to exhaust yourself. A general, appropriate, rule of thumb is to follow up one week after with something like, “Hi, just following up to ensure you received my email below. Look forward to hearing from you.” There’s no need to re-pitch, again, brevity is your best weapon. Alternatively you can do a one week follow up call and if you don’t get them on the phone, which it’s very likely you won’t, always follow up with a brief email to let them know you called. If after two week you hear nothing, another call/ follow up is fine. You can push it to three follow ups if you fancy it, but I tend to make the third my, thanks for your time/will be in touch with any further updates or new projects relevant, etc… Then move on, don’t be discouraged, and only ever be back in touch if you have something you know is a priority for that executive.