To follow up or not to follow up? That is the question. But it’s an easy one to answer – yes, absolutely. And here’s why.
I am a firm believer in the efficiency of follow-up emails and will use this blog post to convince you to become a fellow believer – a foleiver if you will. I’ll give you eight reasons why I think sending chaser emails is worth your time. These are entirely empirical and based on my (and some of my teammates’) personal experience.
Why someone might try to convince you not to follow up (and why you should ignore them)
First, let’s tackle arguments against follow-ups that you might stumble across, which could lead you to believe they are a waste of time.
The simplest argument to accept is that follow-ups are annoying and pushy. To a certain extent, they are.
As PRs, we’re constantly reminded of how inundated a journalist’s inbox is with press releases and pitches from nagging PRs and as a former journalist, I can definitely relate. But sending pitches and press releases is literally the job of a PR, and follow-ups are not annoying for the grateful journalist who ends up using the story.
However, there are a select few who don’t like follow-ups, and these journalists will normally not be shy about letting you know. If you do come across someone expressing they don’t want to receive follow-ups, take note of it and do as they ask. Simples. It’s not worth risking your relationship with them.
Other anti-follow-uppers might suggest that follow-ups are pointless, arguing that if your email didn’t pique the journalist’s interest the first time around, it won’t the second time either. That’s not necessarily true, and you can refer to reasons one to eight (yes, that’s all of them) below for clarification.
Another reason could be that if the journalist is interested, they will write it up or get back to you regardless. In some cases, you could be lucky enough to hit a home run straight away if your headline and pitch is strong or you targeted a journalist who would be more likely to cover the topic, but by not following up to all those other journalists, you are massively missing out on untapped potential.
So, as promised, here are all the reasons why you should bother following up on your original pitch.
Why follow-up emails are worth it
- Follow-ups lead to more responses
Fact. In my experience, journalists are much more likely to respond to me in my follow-up email than in my initial one. In a sample of 600 emails I sent recently, I received a response for 20 of them when following up. Now, this might not sound like a lot, but it’s 20 responses I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t chase.
Admittedly, a few of them were to tell me they are not interested in the story or asked me to please take them off my email list (always a joy) but at least they responded. This gave me an opportunity to evolve the conversation, ask why they weren’t interested, if a different angle might work better, or if someone else in the team would give me better luck.
But crucially, some of these responses, and ultimately some of these follow-ups, lead to coverage – which brings me onto my next point.
- Follow-ups lead to more coverage
You might strike gold with your first email and land linked coverage straight away, but that’s no excuse not to send follow-ups and maximise the potential for more linked articles.
Below are six examples of coverage I secured in the past 12 months that came about as a result of me chasing the journalist.
In the above example, the client’s name and research was mentioned in the weekly New York Times DealBook newsletter and associated article. The journalist claimed to have not seen my first email and thanked me for following up.
This was another classic example of the journalist missing my initial email, but a gentle reminder led to the first open, resulting in an excellent piece of coverage that is highly relevant for the client.
In the above instance there was no prior conversation between me and the journalists, but the follow-up was the email that was needed to get this over the finishing line.
Here we have the example of one of the journalists I chased not being interested in the story, but then forwarding it onto someone else in his team who he thought might find it worth covering. That journalist then got back in touch asking for more information, resulting in this juicy piece of coverage.
Getting links for a travel client in the peak of the pandemic in the UK was a struggle to say the least, so this coverage actually took two follow-ups to get through. Proof that being ‘pushy and annoying’ (or simply being persistent) can pay off.
The final example is to demonstrate how contacting a journalist on the wrong day can have a huge impact on the potential for coverage. I initially reached out to the writer on a Friday – yes, I know this isn’t the ideal day to pitch – and my email slipped through the cracks. But when I followed up the following Tuesday, he was thankful that I had reminded him about it and he ended up covering it.
Largely what the above examples demonstrate is that without following up, a journalist can easily forget about you and your story from the first round of pitching…
- Follow-ups remind journalists that you (and the story) exist
Because journalists receive such an overwhelming amount of email pitches on a daily basis, standing out with your subject line just one time isn’t enough. The journalist might not bother reading it, miss it as they skim read hundreds of headlines, forget about it, or – worst of all – delete it.
A gentle nudge will not only put the email to the top of their inbox, but maximise the subject line’s exposure, potentially igniting something in the journalist’s subconscious that can result in coverage.
- Follow-ups offer an opportunity to be more casual and friendly
A follow-up email can prove to the journalist that you’re an actual human being with resources. To emphasise this point, follow-ups are a great opportunity to be more friendly and casual than you were in your initial, formal pitch.
There’s no need to overdo it as you can still be approachable and precise at the same time. A simple ‘in case you missed this before the weekend, I’m reminding you of…’ will do the job. Or, if you’re following up with someone who has been out of the office, a simple nod to that such as ‘in case you missed this while catching up with emails after your time off’ will demonstrate that you’re paying attention.
- Follow-ups offer an opportunity to learn about what the journalist covers, to receive feedback, or a lead for someone else to contact
In line with my first point of follow-ups leading to more responses, not all responses will be “thanks, I will be covering this”. A lot of the time, it will be “thank you, but I don’t cover this topic”, which at first might seem like a rejection, but is actually a prime opportunity to learn more about what the journalist actually covers. This will be invaluable information to have on hand for future outreach to this journalist.
While rejecting your pitch, the journalist might offer up a better person within their team to contact instead. This is an example of the journalist doing the prospecting for you, handing you an alternative contact on a silver plate – and it would be silly not to take it.
Some journalists also offer feedback on the topic or on your pitching style, both positive and negative. This can be insightful and help you hone your pitching skills and ability to reach your target audience.
- Follow-ups offer an opportunity to give the journalist more information
Crucially, a follow-up email offers the opportunity to provide the journalist with additional information, which might sway whether they decide to cover it or not.
All those extra bits of information you chose to leave out in your initial pitch in order to keep it neat and succinct? Now’s the time to pull those out of the bag. This will make your follow-up email different to the original pitch, offering something new to the journalist.
- Follow-ups can bypass spam folders
We’re now moving onto more of the ‘tips and tricks’ section of this post. In the Outreach team at Verve, we use an email scheduling programme called BuzzStream, which we find highly efficient and effective. Among many other functions, it allows us to send out a high volume of emails separated into the different publications we’re trying to contact. Crucially, it allows us to track the number of opens the emails we send out gets.
Recently, we’ve recognised a pattern when it comes to opens of automated emails with bigger publications; they’re all opened at the same time. This has led us to believe that the mail operators of the bigger newspapers have spam filters, meaning our emails never end up in the journalist’s inbox, or at the very least ends up in a dedicated spam or junk folder.
Doing manual follow-ups directly from your own mail operator can bypass this. I have examples of journalists from the likes of The Guardian, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, who claim to never have seen my initial email, and I believe them. Tracking the amount of opens the emails have in BuzzStream shows how there is a significant increase in opens after my first follow-up.
Note that it is the manual follow-up that takes the credit here – automated and bulk follow-ups might have the same results in terms of your email being considered spam.
- Follow-ups can make journalists believe you’re already having a conversation
Another benefit of doing manual follow-ups directly from your email service is that it ‘tricks’ the journalist into thinking you’re having an ongoing conversation. When journalists see that there is an email trail, they might absentmindedly think you’re replying to an email they sent.
It’s borderline sneaky, and if they’re not interested in covering the topic, it might not lead to anything more. It will, however, likely lead to more exposure for your headline and pitch, which might lead to more coverage.
Hopefully my reasons for following up your pitches have convinced you that it’s worth your while. If you’ve taken the leap, below is a quick guide on how to send a good follow-up email.
Tips on how to follow up
Here are four tips on how to sharpen up your follow-ups.
- Follow up manually and don’t bulk send
I’ve already touched on this in point seven and eight above, but I’m reiterating it here as I firmly believe doing follow-ups manually is hugely beneficial. Admittedly, it will take you longer, but I personally feel it is worth it.
Although I use BuzzStream to schedule emails for my initial pitches, I usually never do bulk sends. This is a personal preference as manually sending emails allows me to tweak the headline and intro to fit the journalist and publication better and to ensure I absolutely have the journalist’s name right.
The same principle applies to my approach to manually sending follow-ups; it allows me to be more personal, ensures I’m not following up while someone is out of the office (see more on this in tip four), and ultimately makes me feel more in control of what I’m sending out.
- Avoid the word ‘just’
The word ‘just’ is frequently used in conversation, so it’s quick to think that adding it to your follow-up will instantly make it feel more casual. But using ‘just’ actually has the opposite effect as it lessens the importance of your request and undermines your importance as a spokesperson.
In fact, LinkedIn published an article on why you should stop using the word altogether, arguing that “when you use the word ‘just’ you immediately diminish yourself, what you are doing, or who you are with.”
It’s as simple as leaving it out at the start of your message. So write “I’m following up to see if this was of interest or if you had any more questions” instead of “I’m just following up to see…”. Although it’s easier said than done as it requires some discipline and getting used to.
But to sum up, just don’t use it. See what I did there?
- Stick to a maximum of two follow-ups
As I mentioned right at the beginning, follow-ups can be seen as pushy and annoying and that is just a fact that we as PRs need to come to terms with. But there are ways of minimising this annoyance and one is to limit the amount of follow-ups you send.
As a rule of thumb I usually stick to only one follow-up, but in cases where I strongly believe in the strength of a story, I might feel inclined to do a second one. This was the case when I was outreaching a coronavirus myth-busting asset for our client Babylon Health.
I knew stories about coronavirus were oversaturated during the first wave of the pandemic back in April 2020, so standing out was harder than normal. But I also knew our story of a doctor debunking a range of far-fetched statements about covid would appeal to journalists, so I powered through. My second round of follow-ups led to a linked article in The Mirror.
I also tend to do a second follow-up to journalists who have expressed an interest in the story either by responding to my initial email or who I can see have opened my email a substantial number of times.
To avoid being viewed as exceedingly pushy and annoying, specify in your final follow-up how this is your final one, so they know they won’t be ‘harassed’ any longer.
- Keep abreast of OOOs
If you think follow-ups are annoying, imagine how annoying it must be to get a follow-up while you’re still out of the office. Keep track of when journalists you contact are out of the office so you can wait until a couple of days after they get back to follow up with them. Their inbox will be fuller than normal upon their return (making it even harder for your headline to stand out), so allow them to get to grips with all their messages before you bump yours to the top of their inbox.
As mentioned before, referencing how you’ve noticed they’ve been out of the office can be that personal element that convinces them that you’re paying attention. Just be careful not to assume that they’ve been off for strictly positive reasons such as a relaxing holiday, so keep it neutral with something along the lines of “In case this got lost in all your emails when you returned to the office, I’m resending this…”
To sum up, incorporating routine follow-ups into your outreach strategy has plenty of potentially positive outcomes. They lead to more responses, which can also ignite friendly and informative conversations about your topic, and they act as a reminder for the journalist. All of this can ultimately lead to more coverage, begging the question of why you wouldn’t do it. So tell me: are you a foleiver now?
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