How To Pitch: You Had Me At Hello

Jerry Maguire“Hello,” worked for Jerry Maguire, helping him win back his girl.

For pitching, if someone says, “You had me at hello,” it means you’ve won a place in the trashcan instead of in that person’s heart.

The pitch below is an example of a recent “Hello/Hi” pitch sent to Steve. It’s followed by a mark-up pointing out areas to avoid if you find yourself making similar pitches one of these days.

Hi,

My name is Xxx Xxx and I am the social media manager of Xxx Competition. Established in 2012, we are one of the fastest growing Xxx competitions and I am getting in touch to see if you would like to join us in some cross-promotion over the summer/autumn.

2016 is a big year for us, as we have already announced the 1st winner of the new Xxx, Xxx Xxx’s ‘Xxx’, and as the film goes into production we are busy expanding our Judging panel for our new Xxx category. Leading lights of the TV industry join our existing Feature and Short Script Judges, Xxx, Xxx, and 22 other Oscar, Emmy, Cannes, and BAFTA winners, to make up the most distinguished panel of judges of any screenwriting contest in the world.

Our competition is all about launching new writing careers. Xxx is unique in that our objective is to get winning scripts into the hands of those who can get them produced. Proof of our commitment can be seen in our alumni successes. Xxx was a winner with ‘Xxx’, which was produced as a feature starring Xxx. This year, Xxx, a 2013 winner went on to win this year’s Xxx.

We want to create more winners, and to do that, we want to reach out to as many new screenwriters and filmmakers as possible. We’d like to talk to your followers and tell our followers about you.

We’re open to any cross-promotion ideas and we can offer discounted competition entry rates, Facebook mentions & Twitter tweets, Instagram contests, original articles, and email blasts. We would be happy to reciprocate by promoting your announcements and events, so do get in contact if you feel like there could be an opportunity for us to work together.

Thanks for taking the time to read this email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

Here’s the mark-up:

Hi,
Use Steve’s name instead of “Hi.” Note that Steve is a Steven, not a Stephen or Stephan.

My name is Xxx Xxx and I am the social media manager of Xxx Competition.
Delete your name and your title. Unless you are a household name, your name will serve as a roadblock instead of a springboard in this position. The ask should be placed here instead. Say what you want up front.

Established in 2012, we are one of the fastest growing Xxx competitions and I am getting in touch to see if you would like to join us in some cross-promotion over the summer/autumn.
Don’t make claims such as “fastest growing,” unless you have proof — or are Paul Bunyan.

She got her ask in pretty early, which is good, but she doesn’t follow-up with why she thinks Steve should be interested. She doesn’t mention his work, why he should connect with them, etc. She doesn’t answer Ray Kinsella’s “What’s in it for me?” question for Steve.

2016 is a big year for us, as we have already announced the 1st winner of the new Xxx, Xxx Xxx’s ‘Xxx’, and as the film goes into production we are busy expanding our Judging panel for our new Xxx category. Leading lights of the TV industry join our existing Feature and Short Script Judges, Xxx, Xxx, and 22 other Oscar, Emmy, Cannes, and BAFTA winners, to make up the most distinguished panel of judges of any screenwriting contest in the world.

See previous comment about Paul Bunyan and apply it to “most distinguished panel of judges of any screenwriting contest in world.” In this sentence, the pitcher did include some big names, which I’ve blocked out. She didn’t need to say that the competition has a distinguished panel of judges. She already provided proof. Instead, she’s wasting words.

Our competition is all about launching new writing careers. Xxx is unique in that our objective is to get winning scripts into the hands of those who can get them produced. Proof of our commitment can be seen in our alumni successes. Xxx was a winner with ‘Xxx’, which was produced as a feature starring Xxx. This year, Xxx, a 2013 winner went on to win this year’s Xxx.

Good information.

We want to create more winners, and to do that, we want to reach out to as many new screenwriters and filmmakers as possible. We’d like to talk to your followers and tell our followers about you.

The first sentence provides good information. The second sentence should be a part of a specific ask.

We’re open to any cross-promotion ideas and we can offer discounted competition entry rates, Facebook mentions & Twitter tweets, Instagram contests, original articles, and email blasts. We would be happy to reciprocate by promoting your announcements and events, so do get in contact if you feel like there could be an opportunity for us to work together.

For readers getting past her “hello,” if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve reached the absolute all-is-lost moment. If you are pitching someone else, it is your job to come up with a specific ask – and it is your job to show the person you are pitching why it is an opportunity for him. She puts both the terms of the possible relationship and the decision on whether this is an opportunity, on Steve. And, all the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram shares aren’t game changers, either. (Read “The Social Media Skinny“).

Thanks for taking the time to read this email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Pitches too often end with the wrong thank you. What should she really thank? Thank Steve for considering her pitch. There’s not much to reading an e-mail. The work comes with considering the ask, thinking it through, deciding if it makes sense. Don’t thank him for reading the e-mail, thank him for everything else that goes along with reading.

End of day, her pitch isn’t the worst in the world, but it did leave me wondering why she left so much unsaid. Why didn’t she start with Steve’s name? Since it is a film competition, why not mention Steve’s previous work? Why not show that she knows what he does/doesn’t feature on his site? Why not outline how she thinks they might work together?

Unfortunately, she had me at hello.

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13 Comments

  1. gwen abitz on July 22, 2016 at 7:07 am

    GREAT, Callie. So much to be learned: What I may have done and/or may not have done in WHATEVER “pitching” arena I have put myself in of and for SELF HELP or the business world. THANK YOU….

  2. Mia Sherwood Landau on July 22, 2016 at 7:22 am

    Form letters and emails reek of insincerity. It’s not Steve he wants, it’s Steve and everybody like him. Since there’s nobody like him, the whole premise is faulty. I don’t know how much it would cost to do a tiny bit of research and write a personal email to Steve, but that would be time well spent. He might even reply, at least with a question or thanks but no thanks. It boggles my mind when we send emails like this one, thinking other people won’t react the way we react when we receive one. It’s like asking a whole bunch of people out on a date at once, hoping one says yes.

    • Callie Oettinger on July 22, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Mia,

      I like the dating example. Send out a mass invite and hope someone shows up at the party.

      Thanks!

      Callie

      • Steven Pressfield on July 22, 2016 at 11:29 am

        Callie, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but as soon as I see a salutation without a name, i.e. “Hi,” “Hello,” “Hey there,” I stop reading and hit DELETE.

  3. Mary Doyle on July 22, 2016 at 7:46 am

    Thanks for this great post Callie! All of your pitching posts should be required reading not only for writers and other artists but for anyone studying marketing and publicity.

  4. Karen on July 22, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Callie, I learned a lot from the many insights you’ve offered in the mark-up of that email pitch; thank you. About the use of the phrase “had me at hello” though, I must be missing a key point that I’d really like to get. If you would, please help me understand why that phrase would be used for the exact opposite purpose compared with, for example, Jerry M. It seems so confusing to have such different vernacular. Instead, why not say, “you lost me at hello”? Thank you.

    • Joel D Canfield on July 22, 2016 at 10:18 am

      Me too. I’ve never heard it used that way.

      At least, I’ve never been aware of it being used that way.

      Uh-oh.

    • Callie Oettinger on July 22, 2016 at 10:50 am

      Thanks for your comment, Karen.

      I see your point.

      Perhaps “You lost me at hello,” or “You missed me at hello,” or “You screwed up at hello,” would have been clearer.

      For me, “hello” was the first and last word of the pitch I shared (though I did go through it in full for the mark-up). Bottom line: Because “hello” is the first word, which means it is the one that is likely to be read no matter what the pitch – she both had me and lost me at hello.

      Better?

      Callie

      • Karen on July 22, 2016 at 10:57 am

        Yes indeed, that helps me understand your thinking. Thanks very much!

  5. Tom Rubens on July 22, 2016 at 8:39 am

    I’ve already printed this and reread it twice. Great breakdown of how to get a tough “ask” right.

  6. Christine Mason Miller on July 22, 2016 at 9:15 am

    I love this Callie! Spot on!!

  7. David Kaufmann on July 22, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Thanks, Callie, for the analysis. Now multiply that email by 10, 100, or a 1000, and it’s easy to understand why professionals have learned the importance of “no.” It’s a fine line between pitches-people trying to ride the coattails or take advantage of someone else’s celebrity or power, fans-where interaction must be tempered by a mutual respect (especially for the professional’s time and privacy), those with whom new connections and new friendships form-do we not have to venture forth to stay connected and creative?, and the limits of time and energy-the work must be done, after all, or where’s the professional?

    Really great work, Callie.

  8. Kari on July 22, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    Callie, you’ve shown a really good example of how not to market. It’s mind-boggling to me that a “social media manager” hasn’t a clue about basic business etiquette. To begin a request for a professional relationship with a chatty “hi” isn’t just unprofessional, it’s rude.

    It’s funny the asker mentioned E-Mail blasts, because the above prospecting letter smacks of just
    that. There is not one mention of Steven’s accomplishments, she instead wastes her pitch to tout her own. She took the time to E-Mail blast the WGA Membership list-wow, I’d be flattered.

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