How to Get Published in the New York Times with Stephanie Lee

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How to Get Published in the New York Times with Stephanie Lee
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How do you get the NY Times (or the WSJ) to publish your article? Do you just email them and hope for the best? Well…you can, but according to Stephanie Lee, you shouldn’t. See, Stephanie is a media strategist who’s been published in the NY Times, and has gotten her clients into publications like Entrepreneur…through cold pitching! She says the important thing for you is to build clout markers to show you are trustworthy. And today, she walks us through how to do that using her Slingshot method. Plus, we answer the question, “Will PR outreach make me rich?” In an extra long build something more, we chat conferences, World of Warcraft, and…Scranton? Like from The Office?

Top Takeaways:

  • Most people ignore this fundamental thing about the media: they work with people they can trust. Just like we buy from companies and brands we trust, the media needs to know you really know what you’re talking about. They are staking their reputation on it.
  • You can build up trust by following the slingshot method. Don’t go for the NY Times at first. That’s like trying to pitch in the World Series. Instead, start with a trustworthy industry blog and build from there.
  • When you are ready to pitch, do come out with the ask right away. Read an article and send a compliment. Open a dialog, then pitch what your article is about and why it’s important to write about today.
  • Bonus: this, like everything good in life, takes time.

Show Notes:

Transcript

Joe Casabona: How do you get the NY Times, or the Wall Street Journal, or any major publisher really to publish your article? Do you just email them and hope for the best? Well…you can, but according to Stephanie Lee, you shouldn’t.

Stephanie Lee is a media strategist for top online course creators. She also founded Clout Monster where she teaches creators and online business owners how to take their business to the next level with traditional press and new media. And she has gotten her clients into publications like Entrepreneur and New York Times through cold pitching. She says the important thing for you to do is build clout markers to show you’re trustworthy.

And today, she’ll walk us through how to do that using her slingshot method. Plus, we answer the question, “Will PR outreach make me rich?” And in an extra-long Build Something More, we chat about conferences, World of Warcraft, and… Scranton? Like from The Office?

To get that version of the episode, it’s ad-free, it is extended, you can sign up over at join creatorcrew.com for just 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month. You can get all of the show notes over athowibuilt.it/288. And thanks to this week’s sponsors, Nexcess and LearnDash. Now, let’s get on to the intro, and then the interview.

[00:01:32] <music>

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week, you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:01:54] <music>

Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Stephanie Lee. She is a media strategist and the founder of Clout Monster. We met at Craft & Commerce, and I’m really excited to talk to her today. Stephanie, how are you?

Stephanie Lee: I’m good, Joe. Happy to be here. This is our third time meeting since Craft & Commerce. It’s awesome.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, awesome. This is like… I mean, we’ll talk about this and build something more but this is my favorite thing about conferences, right? Especially, there are some conferences you go to where it’s almost like a family reunion, and then there are some conferences where it’s like, “I’m going to meet a whole bunch of new people and it’s going to be great.

Stephanie Lee: Yeah. I think we talked about this before, but I haven’t been to a conference and forever. It felt so rusty that first moment I stepped back into a huge crowd. And for a moment, I was like, “Oh, what do I do? Oh, yeah, talk to people.”

Joe Casabona: I felt the same. And I’m like a huge extrovert, right? So I’m like, “Yeah, I’m ready.” And then I got there and I’m like, “How do I approach people?” Even before, I was like a pretty well-oiled machine for goal setting, and I felt like a little bit rusty on that, too. So yeah. So I’m really excited to talk to you about that in Build Something More.

If you want to hear that conversation and every conversation without ads and more of them, you can become a member of the Creator Crew over at howibuilt.it/288, where all the show notes will live. I suspect there will be a lot because we’re gonna have a great conversation.

So, Stephanie, I will let’s just dive in here. I saw on your website that you had an article in The New York Times. I would also like to write for the New York Times. How do I do that? Do I just like email them and be like, “Hey, I have a great idea,” or is there a process in place for that?

Stephanie Lee: Wow, that’s a big question. We’re really diving right into it, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, diving right in.

Stephanie Lee: First of all, that was only one of my York Times articles. And kind of like to take apart your question a little bit, yes, you can just reach out to the New York Times to say like, “Hey, I want to write an article about you.” And you could read all these like pitching tactics. You know, if you Google like “how do I get published in the New York Times” there’s probably a lot of pitching tactics. They are probably going to be like, “Oh, you need a good story. Oh, you probably need to build a relationship with the editor.” Like all of these, like super tactical things.

So I want to actually zoom back out and tell you a little bit about how I got into the New York Times. And you know, this might be the unsexy and sort of expected answer, but it didn’t happen overnight. Right? And it’s not to say that you can’t get into New York Times. It’s just going to take time and a little strategy and something that most people don’t talk about in PR and press and media in general.

So when I said like, Oh, there’s a lot of tactics involved with media, and most people ignore one of the most fundamental things about the media and I think a lot of how the world operates in general. So Joe, let me ask you. What was the last thing you bought?

Joe Casabona: The HoverBar Duo from Twelve South.

Stephanie Lee: Okay. Is that like a sound system or something?

Joe Casabona: It’s like a mounting system for my iPad.

Stephanie Lee: Got it. Got it. Okay. So when you bought that thing, how did you go about the sighting? Did you research it? Did you hear from somebody? What was your thought process on deciding to buy that thing?

Joe Casabona: Well, I had already bought from the company. The company is Twelve South. So I already bought from them. And so I got an email announcing the generation two of this thing that I had already bought and I bought it.

Stephanie Lee: Awesome. Okay, so you were familiar with the company.

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Stephanie Lee: You already knew that they had good stuff.

Joe Casabona: Yes, yeah.

Stephanie Lee: So similarly, I actually bought a new MacBook Air from Apple and I didn’t even bother looking at reviews or people’s impressions because I’ve used this MacBook Pro, my older one, for like years. And I promise this tangent is going somewhere. So I’ve used MacBook Pro for years, I knew Apple’s reputation, I knew their products were great. So I was like, “Yeah.” Easy purchasing decision. Easiest purchasing decision I’ve ever made in my life: I’m going to buy.

So this kind of ties us back to this idea of like we both bought something because we were already familiar with that product. We were also really familiar with that brand because they have a lot of credibility, they have a reputation, they have a lot of positive reviews.

And so we’re looking at like consumers and just people in general. We have so many things to do that we’re looking for these basically quick signals, these heuristics, I call them, like just to be like, “Yes, I can trust this thing. I can buy this thing.”

So similar with media, that’s how they operate. They want to know you have the credibility. They want to know that you’re proven. They want to know that whatever decision they make to work with you or not is not the wrong decision. Because there are a lot of high stakes. So when you think about something like the New York Times, that’s huge stakes for an editor to decide working with someone on the internet. So they look to your credibility, they look to what you’ve done.

So that’s one of the things that helped me get into New York Times is because I’ve been writing on the internet for, you know, a long time. Like I wasn’t published in the New York Times immediately but I’ve been writing on the internet. I started writing about video games strategy guides. That’s probably something you did not know about me, Joe. That was like way back in high school when I had way too much time on my hands and you know, the Internet was very new as far as blogging and getting published goes.

Joe Casabona: One of my earlier blog posts was about several words about World of Warcraft.

Stephanie Lee: Nice. I played a ton of World of Warcraft, Joe. We can totally nerd out about that.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I’ll make a note to talk about that, too in the members episode.

Stephanie Lee: But that was the starting point. And then from there, I accumulated that experience to become an editor at ign.com. And then from there became an editor at bodybuilding.com. And then leveraged that experience and credibility to write for Lifehacker and all these other publications.

So by the time I pitched New York Times and I understood the process, I understood pitching stories, all that stuff. Like I had the credibility to approach New York Times to be like, “Hey, I want to write this story and this is the stuff I’ve done.” And then by the time they see that, they’re like, “Okay, cool. She looks like she didn’t just pop out of a rock and it looks like she does write stuff, so yeah, let’s do this.”

So all of that to say, to get in to get published in the media, you have to be strategic and what credibility you’re showing how to prove yourself in different ways. And I call this the slingshot method. So it’s a very systematic way to build credibility and clout basically.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So let’s dig into that a little bit. First of all, quick sidebar, what color MacBook Air did you get?

Stephanie Lee: I got the Starlight.

Joe Casabona: Ooh, you got Starlight. So I have the 2020 MacBook Air, so I think I’m gonna wait for the next-gen but I want Midnight so bad. And I don’t know if it’s just gonna look black or whatever but that’s the new color. So I need it.

Stephanie Lee: That was the color I definitely drilled over when I first saw it but then I read the reviews and saw Marques Brownlee… I think that’s his name.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. MKBHD. Yeah.

Stephanie Lee: Yeah, his first impressions, he was like, “Oh, man, it’s such a fingerprint magnet.” Like you touch it just slightly and you leave fingerprints on it.” And I know, I know for a fact that would drive me crazy. So I had to be like, “All right, well, I just gotta have a machine that does not drive me crazy on a day-to-day basis. I need to be sane.” So that was why I did not get the midnight. Otherwise, I’m totally with you. Like you have to get that Midnight but it’s just like a design flaw on Apple’s part for that material.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Yeah. One of the iPhones a few years ago was the same way and people are like, “Just put a case on it.” And I’m like, “I don’t like cases. I just want my phone.” So interesting. I’m glad you mentioned that. Again, I’m not getting one for a little bit, but I mostly put out like a 12 inch one. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

You started talking about the slingshot method. Because this was like… I think if you told somebody, “Well, yeah, so you have to write on the internet for 10 years, and then pitch to the New York Times, or whatever, 10, 15 years, or whatever it was, they’re probably gonna turn pale and be like, “Well, I guess I’m never writing for the New York Times.” But I suspect the slingshot method is an accelerant. Is that right?

Stephanie Lee: Right. Right. You don’t have to write for 10 year or even like a year. You can make this as fast or as slow as you want. Basically, how the slingshot method works is that… there’s like three steps basically.

The first step is to find websites within your industry that’s within striking distance of where you are currently. And for most people, you can just straight up write on your own blog, Medium, those other sort of writing platforms. The point is that you just want to show you’ve been writing—that’s your raw unedited piece—and that you’ve been talking specifically about this thing in your industry, and your niche, whatever topics that might be, right? So that’s the first step is to just find those websites within striking distance.

So let’s say you’ve been writing on your blog and let’s say you’re a personal finance expert. So the first part, the first step, that blog that makes sense is an industry blog. Maybe Get Rich Slowly or Penny Hoarder, or I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Any of these sorts of industry niche blogs that take guest posts, that’s your next move to get to those places.

Because then when you get to those places, and especially if they’re recognizable enough, then you move into a publication where that editor might be covering personal finance. And very likely that editor is going to recognize like, “Oh, this person was published on I Will Teach You To Be Rich.” So that in itself is a marker of credibility. Like it’s a clout marker, I call it.

So that’s basically telling them like, “Oh, okay, if this site trusted this person, you know, trust you as a writer enough to get published on that blog, then maybe I can give this person a chance too.” So it’s kind of like when you’re buying stuff, you know, you recognize the company and then you read reviews to see what people say. It’s kind of the same effect here, like without actually, you know, you telling the editor themselves. You’re showing, not telling.

[00:12:42] <music>

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[00:13:47] <music>

Joe Casabona: This might be specific enough that they’ll know who I’m talking about but I don’t think there’s any ill will here. There was a coaching program that I thought maybe I was a good fit for. It was a five-figure coaching program. And I just met this person and I’m like, “I’m not quite ready to give you five figures yet. I don’t know you that well to do that. If you have like $1,000 product, right? Like maybe like two hours, just me and you or whatever.” But it’s kind of the same thing. It looked good, but I only had a surface understanding of the program. It’s the same way, right?

Because I think there was a story recently, well, quote-unquote, “recently,” where I think an activist got on Fox News to talk about something and then it turned out they were not at all who they said they were. Do you have… I wish I had… a better podcast or would have the details ready, but I just thought of it right now.

Stephanie Lee: A good podcast comes up with things on the fly.

Joe Casabona: Hey, there we go. So like you said, there’s a lot at stake. Especially like the New York Times, for example, like their whole reputation is on good journalism, right?

Stephanie Lee: Mm-hmm.

Joe Casabona: And so they want to make sure they understand that you know what you’re talking about. And so you mentioned this clout marker. Okay, actually perfect example, I’m writing a fortnightly piece for thepodcasthosts.com. Good industry blog, a high ranking, a lot of their stuff shows up on the first page of Google. Do I write once for them? Do I need to write a couple of times for them? Should I write for a few industry blogs? Like how many clout markers do I need?

Stephanie Lee: Yeah, that’s a good question. So you don’t need to write more than once typically for the same blog, unless you come at it from a different perspective. So once you’re published on one publication or blog, that’s one clout marker of like, “I’ve been published here. Here’s my proven work.” “Here’s my portfolio” basically is what you’re showing, right? That’s one clout marker.

Let’s say you do write another piece for that same publication. And let’s say that did really well. Let’s say it got like 100,000, 150,000 views in like a day, that’s another clout marker you can emphasize. So clout markers actually encompass this whole idea of like, what shows your credibility. It’s stuff like number of followers, number of downloads, credentials like Ph.D., DPT… I’m trying to think of other credentials. Like basically to show you’re an expert, that you know what you’re doing, and that you’re proven in various ways. You can position it differently.

So if you’re an expert, credentials can be very important. The clients you’ve worked with, especially if they’re recognizable names, that’s a clout marker and could be important. The places companies you’re associated with. So if you were a Google engineer, that’s a big clout marker. You know, an Apple product designer. Wow, that’s a huge clout marker. So it’s like just all of these, again these signals and these heuristics.

It’s kind of like when you’re on a website and you have social proof from like stories of people saying things, you’ve got the five-star reviews, you’ve got… In restaurants, for example, you have like the Zagat stickers, the TripAdvisor stickers. All of those are clout markers, basically, showing not telling your credibility.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. Gotcha. That makes sense. So you have one, two pieces on an industry blog, then you have, again, your clients, companies you work for, right?

Stephanie Lee: Mm-hmm.

Joe Casabona: So like when I was in the WordPress space, I always took a point to tell people like, “Oh, yeah, I wrote the book on responsive design for WordPress. That was the only one that was ever printed and put on shelves.

Stephanie Lee: Nice.

Joe Casabona: It was mine. And then I worked with Disney through an agency, but I worked on Disney websites, right? So that’s like more clout building. I mean, I guess it really comes down to like you need to show that you know what you’re talking about.

And I guess that’s the other thing, right? So I’m in an industry blog, I’ve got clients, I want to write for the New York Times, if I’m talking about podcasting, but I have opinions about working from home or whatever, that’s not going to be a good pitch probably, right, because all of my clout is in podcasting? And while I do work from home, I don’t have clout markers for that specific topic. Right?

Stephanie Lee: Yeah. To kind of put it really reductionist and simply, typically, yes. Because then also that’s a topic that’s broad enough that their internal staff can cover. So the trick for you, if you did want to talk about that, because you know, your line of work, your expertise does sort of flow into working from home, obviously, if you had a very specific perspective on it, I think there’s room for you to talk about that on the New York Times.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So instead of saying, like, “How to work from home with kids.” Pretty broad topic. We’ve seen all of the videos of like kids busting in on really important meetings. But maybe my approach is “how to record a podcast from home with kids.”

Stephanie Lee: Actually, that’s a great one.

Joe Casabona: I should write that down. I should write that.

Stephanie Lee: Yeah. Especially because you do it full-time.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, right now it sounds like things are on fire upstairs. I don’t know if you can hear any of it.

Stephanie Lee: No, your soundproofing is really great. So…

Joe Casabona: Excellent. That’s painstaking effort into making that happen. I was like, I’ve got two under two or two and under, I guess.

Stephanie Lee: Have they busted into your room while you’re recording before?

Joe Casabona: They haven’t. Not in this house because there are stairs and so usually, the door has to open, and then they have to make their way down the stairs, and usually my wife or the babysitter catches them. And I just replaced the doorknob and so it locks now. I have this recording light outside of my office. And when I hit record on these calls, the light automatically turned red. So they know when daddy’s recording basically. So yeah. Well, I have a transcript of this now so I’ll remember the idea.

All right, cool. So we’ve done the slingshot method, we have a few clout markers from our industry blog. What’s next?

Stephanie Lee: So this is where the slingshot method continues. Once you find that industry blog, the next logical step, let’s just kind of imagine this is the idealized world, right? So this is a simplified version two of the slingshot method.

So once you get into industry blog, the next step is to just get into… not necessarily the New York Times. That’s like, you know, the big kids. Like super big kids. Next step is to just get into another publication, maybe like Lifehacker, maybe something… Another well-read publication that still deals with the topic of… We were using personal finance as an example. Another publication that talks about personal finance. So let’s say that’s Yahoo, let’s say that’s Huffington Post, something like that.

So that’s kind of where you start to think about, “I’m going to go on to this publication first knowing that New York Times is sort of like the big dog.” You still want a few more clout markers before New York Times.

And sometimes you can kind of skip through everything if you have a phenomenal story. Like phenomenal. And those are usually rare to be able to write about that and skip over all of these clout markers. Like you probably have to be already a proven expert in your industry in some way. And then the New York Times reached out to you to write a story. But-

Joe Casabona: Almost like a scoop-worthy story, right?

Stephanie Lee: Yes. Like a real scoop here. Something that’s just so against the zeitgeist or on top of the zeitgeist sort of thing. So from the industry blog, you go to the next publication. Might be Lifehacker, might be Huffington Post. And from there you’re gonna start to find like, once you know how to get on to these publications naturally, your skill, identifying stories you want to write, talking to editors, that starts to get better.

So the side effect of the slingshot method is that you’re getting in the practice and the reps of how to actually pitch well and position your story well enough that these other publications really want to work with you. So not only are you getting the credibility in that published article, and like all of these other clout markers, you’re getting that practice. You’re basically kind of sharpening your axe before you go after New York Times. Not to say like you’re an axe-wielding murderer, trying to kill anyone in the New York Times, but like, you know, I’m trying to use that Abraham Lincoln.

Joe Casabona: You want to cut down the tree without getting too tired, right?

Stephanie Lee: Right. And I go on a murderous rampage or anything.

Joe Casabona: I mean, the other point here, right is like, when you’re writing for the New York Times, you’re shooting your shot. You don’t want to put out crap. And the editors can make it sound better. But if you’re not making your point, you might be making a bad first impression. So no one starts playing major league baseball in the major leagues, right? You got to start at Single-A.

Stephanie Lee: Exactly. That’s a great analogy. What I see too often is people do want to go for the big leagues right away. So maybe they do a Hail Mary pass, like from their blog all the way to the New York Times. And typically what happens is they’ll try that one time, not necessarily having practiced the pitching and the stories and building that credibility and they don’t hear back. And that’s super discouraging, obviously, right? No one responding to your pitch or responding to your emails is very disheartening. And then they give up and think like, “This stuff doesn’t work. I’ll never get in there.”

Joe Casabona: “You gotta know somebody.”

Stephanie Lee: Yeah. Right. “There’s just, you know… It’s like an inner circle kind of thing.” And it’s not true. It’s just a matter of being more systematic and following the slingshot method to basically work your way up to that point.

Joe Casabona: Right. I mean, I hate to break it. So people listening, but you’re not the first person to think about pitching to the New York Times. Today, this hour, this second, like everybody wants to… Or whatever. The New York Post. I don’t know. I don’t want to write for the New York Post. But Wall Street Journal, let’s say, you know, a credible news outlet. Everybody wants to write for them, because they know they have the eyeballs there.

Stephanie Lee: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: Okay, cool. So we’ve got from personal blog, maybe to industry blog, to maybe a publication just below the New York Times. So you’ve got a couple of clout markers there. When are we ready to go to the big leagues?

Stephanie Lee: This is the part where it gets a little fuzzy. Like there’s no clear green light that you’re like, yes, I’ve finally accumulated all of the clout markers I can possibly to start pitching the New York Times. And what I would say about that is, you kind of don’t know for sure. But what you start to look at is yourself as an expert in your industry, like how much have you written in your industry? Or how much have you already sort of practiced with your ideas, and then you move to the industry blog, and then the first publication.

Usually, that’s enough to start reaching out to the New York Times. I would not discourage anyone from trying to do so. And then from there, it’s all about what your story is for the New York Times, because you’ve already shown you can write about this stuff on other platforms.

And so now it’s about asking yourself, what’s a part of the conversation in this general topic that I’m an expert in that I can contribute to that’s basically hasn’t been written about before that the New York Times would be interested in covering? Because you know, at the end of the day, New York Times cares about impact, they care about the readers and the value they get. So those are the sorts of questions you start to think about once you’ve accumulated some of those clout markers to pitch New York Times. So I can’t say for sure, when you’re going to be ready. You don’t have to wait that long I guess is what the true answer is.

Joe Casabona: I guess it’s less amount of time and more like you have a couple of clout markers and then you have your story. And this is really important, right? The New York Times isn’t looking to publish tutorials. Like, how to soundproof your office. That’s like Lifehacker, right, or whatever? That’s not the New York Times.

Stephanie Lee: I would argue that there is some sections of New York Times… And this is like a total zooming out. There’s like a general tip for publications is that, first, you gotta read the publication. And once these publications have various verticals, like various sections, where they deal with very specific topics, or types of articles.

So how-tos and like guides to doing things is typically called service journalism. And New York Times has a section for how-tos. So something like how to soundproof your room feels like it could be very relevant, especially in this age of working from home. It’s certainly a very viable topic. So don’t count yourself out there.

Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting. Service journalism. I hadn’t considered that. I mean, I know they own like Wirecutter, right? And Wirecutter kind of covers a lot of stuff like that.

Stephanie Lee: They’re like more product reviews.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie Lee: That sort of thing. What’s the best phone to soundproof your office or whatever. But that’s really interesting. So I guess let’s maybe talk about more of the, I don’t know, the traditional kind of media or the traditional kind of writing that like people associate with the New York Times, maybe. I say people… I’m saying me.

But you do want to think about a story, right? If they’re thinking about impact… So again, maybe for service journalism, I might say, hey, how to soundproof your office. If I want that impactful story, I would need to think of a different angle, right? Maybe like, this part-time, stay-at-home dad records a podcast with three kids at home, like how did he do it or whatever. That’s the story where I’m breaking the traditional gender roles or whatever by being a stay-at-home dad, and running my own business, and recording a podcast while taking care of my kids or whatever. I guess this is a small aside. But how personal does a story need to be, I guess?

Stephanie Lee: I think the more personal you can be the better. Because the idea of telling a story, especially to a big subset of the readers of the world is you want to make it relatable. At our core, I think we’re more similar than we are different. So your general story can start a little bit more broad and specific to your circumstances.

But as you drill down into like the lessons, the things you’re thinking about, the things you’re doing, that tends to have more universal appeal. And that becomes more relatable to people. So the more personal you can get without, you know, getting into like super personal details, I think that just makes for a more powerful story. It helps the reader really care about you and the story at hand. And it just helps them relate.

And at the end of the day, everyone reads a story because that’s what they remember, first of all. And second, they feel it. It feels relatable to them in some way. At least for the reader reading that. Maybe it’s not applicable to every reader, you know, your circumstances, whatever you’re writing about, your specific story, but the right readers you’ll impact maybe their perspective, you’ll teach them something or there’s some sort of payoff for them.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And if you think about it, that’s the story, the interesting part of the story is the thing that sticks, right? Going back to the Fox News fooled example, I remember that… I didn’t remember that it was an animal rights activist who was pretending to be the CEO of a pork company. Right? I might have looked those details up in the interim. I didn’t remember all that. I remember the big juicy part. And then that got me searching for the other part.

Stephanie Lee: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting. So with our remaining time… Well, I don’t want to move on prematurely, I guess from the slingshot method. But we’ll wrap up the slingshot method. And then I want to ask you I think two important questions here. One is going to be about the pitch and then one is going to be about Will this make me rich? So the pitch will this make me rich? But first, are we missing anything from the slingshot method at this point?

Stephanie Lee: I think we covered like a wide breadth of it. And for kind of like specific examples, you know, kind of to read it if you want, I can just link to my blog post in the show notes, and then people can take a look and read that.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that sounds good. That was cloutmonster.com/slingshot-method?

Stephanie Lee: Yes.

Joe Casabona: Okay, cool. Again, I’ll have that in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/288. It’s probably also in your podcast player of choice right now. So you might not have to go anywhere to read the story. That’s awesome. Let’s talk about the pitch first, assuming we’re all sold on wanting to pitch the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, or whoever. What does the pitch look like?

Stephanie Lee: So first of all, I have like a real pitch that people can take a look at in the bonus link for your listeners. But kind of the broad strokes of a pitch is you want… okay. So there’s a lot of stuff going on in a pitch. But the basic elements of a pitch is, you know, the subject line is probably the 80-20 of the pitch. Because if an editor does not open your email, you’re toast. No matter how much work you put into the pitch, no matter how perfect it is, if they don’t open their… you know, it’s kind of pointless.

So, I would start with the subject line. You can keep it really straightforward. Like say, you know, story idea, colon… Actually don’t use…

Joe Casabona: I was gonna ask, should I use story idea?

Stephanie Lee: Don’t use “story idea.” Don’t use story idea inherently, every pitch is a story idea. So don’t use “story idea.” But you want to grab the editor’s attention with a subject line.

Typically what works is just something like maybe a compliment, like, “Hey, great article on X-topic, especially if that editor or that writer wrote about something in your industry. And that’s why you read that article and that’s why you’re calling it out. Okay? So that’s one thing to think about is just that subject line and what’s going to make them open. Like what’s intriguing? What’s clear to them? Like, imagine they have so many emails in their inbox, and that subject line needs to jump out at them.

Joe Casabona: I’m gonna stop you right there. That’s really interesting, right? Because again, I’d be inclined to be like, if I’m taking the soundproofing example again, right, how this work-from-home dad soundproofed his office to have a really good podcast. But that sounds like a YouTube headline. And they’re probably getting pitched all the time. So they’re like, why do I care?

But the great article on next topic demonstrates that, first of all, I read your work, I’m not just blindly pitching you, I know what you’re about and I have opinions in this general area, right?

Stephanie Lee: Mm-hmm. They’ll at least open your email because they can’t help themselves. I want to know more about what nice things are gonna say about me. This is also what I have to stress. If you’re gonna compliment them in the subject line, you’re gonna have to genuinely compliment them in the email as well and show that you’ve read.

Like, not just say, “I read your article on blah,” and then switch to the pitch. It’s spend a couple opening lines truly showing that you’ve read specifics. You can do this by just like being like, “Yeah, I really agreed with your point about x. And I think y is also a great solution.” Like whatever flavor you want to add.

And then you want to seamlessly tie it into the pitch. In some instances, I even tell people to kind of start building rapport with the editor. Just send the compliment… no pitch. Because this way, it doesn’t feel like a Trojan horse. Like you’re not just complimenting only to switch to a pitch because I need something from you sort of thing.

But yeah, I would say if you go the compliment route, which almost guarantees that they’re going to open… And lot of time if your genuine compliment is well thought out, you know, truly something that they know you read, a lot of the time they’ll respond to you. This has happened a lot of times with students and myself. So if you go the compliment route, be genuine. Don’t go for a pitch right away. Let that breathe. And then later, then you can follow up with a pitch.

Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. That’s a really good approach. Because I mean, I’m not the New York Times, but I get pitched a lot. And I’ll get like, “I loved your…” and then whatever the latest episode is, right? Or the second last episode.

Stephanie Lee: And then switch to a pitch.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. Don’t pick the latest one in the feed. He’ll know you’re lying. Pick the second to last or the second latest one or whatever. I usually ask… I mean, I have like a form now that I send people too, but I’m like, “Oh, what did you like about the episode?” They’ll be like, “I just love all the great advice they give.” “Oh, cool. I have a transcript. Like just a line from the transcripts.

Stephanie Lee: Right. Try a little harder at least-

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly.

Stephanie Lee: …to show that you listened or read, stuff like that. You know, those little touches that show you really are personalizing the pitch and that you give a crap, basically.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. Right. Because if you can’t take like 10 minutes to read an article, or a half hour to listen to most of a podcast episode, what makes me or the New York Times think that you’re gonna put effort into your guest appearance or your guest post?

Stephanie Lee: Exactly. And you know, it’s important for them to know that you’ve read it, you’ve done your homework, because then you know, that’s kind of like a subtle cue to them, like, “Okay, they understand our format, they understand what’s important to us, and they understand what’s important to our readers/listeners.”

Joe Casabona: Right. Yeah, that’s so clutch. Because again it’s like, I don’t want the guy who writes the same article for a bunch of different publications. I don’t want the guy who comes on my podcast and tells the same five stories. I want my listeners/my readers to get something different. So we’ve built rapport. How do I ask? Do I just say like, “I have a great idea.”

Stephanie Lee: So when you actually get into the pitch, there’s a couple elements that I always emphasize that people need to make really clear. So the first thing too, your pitch… keep it short. You don’t need to write like this long, meandering thing. Get to the point really fast. People are busy.

So the elements you want to have in your pitch is what. Basically, what are you pitching? Like, what’s the story? Make it quick. Get to the point really quickly. Why are you pitching this? This is probably the most important part. Because editors need to understand why it needs to be written now. Like, why is this important? Is it because it’s relevant to the greater conversation? Is it because it’s going to impact a lot of readers? Or is it going to impact a small niche of readers. Make it very clear to them why this is important to write now.

And the other component is who. Like who are you? Why are you the person that suited to talk about this, to write about this? And this is kind of like where you start to flex your clout markers. Like, credentials, your previous published articles, the reach you have. Because, you know, aside from New York Times, every publication in media, and basically any platform wants to know there’s reach here.

So we went over what, why, who. And then have a clear call to action for the editor. If you’re writing this article, for example, “I anticipate there’s going to be 1,500 words, and I can turn it around in a week. Let me know if you’d like to move forward with this pitch.” King of keep it simple. Don’t say “let me know. That’s one of the weakest CTAs ever.” It’s just vague.

Joe Casabona: I’m definitely not being put on blast here.

Stephanie Lee: It’s a very common CTA, and I think it’s just a misguided one.

Joe Casabona: I mean, like I’ve seen effectiveness of like, “Is this something you’d like to move forward on?” There’s a question I need to answer now as opposed to like, “Let me know.” “All right, well, the balls in my court now. I’ll either let you know or I won’t.”

Stephanie Lee: Right. You want to make the CTA direct, the editor or the reader’s attention, the recipient’s attention to something specific. Obviously, back to responding to the pitch.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Awesome. Love that. First of all, I’m going to update a few of my TextExpander snippets—full disclosure Text Expander is a sponsor of this podcast—to change “Let me know” to something else. Usually it’s like, “Let me know if you have any questions.” But again, like, “I’d be happy to address any questions.” “Is that something you’d like to move forward with?” I think is one that speaks to me pretty well. But it’s something more than that. I never thought about that before.

Joe Casabona: The way you want to think about it is like people are so honestly distracted and overwhelmed with a lot of messages. And so you want to give them like an out to respond if they don’t need to. So that’s one thing. You basically front-load a lot of the thinking for them, so that it’s super easy to respond to whatever your request is. It’s like basically a yes or no.

Joe Casabona: That makes sense. Because of the other thing, right, is like, “Let me know what the next steps are.” All right, well, now I have to write out the next steps. Like I’ll do this later. Right?

Stephanie Lee: I have to think about it. And they’re like, “I’ll just let go.”

Joe Casabona: As opposed to like, “I can have 1,500 words to you by seven days from now or whatever. Is this something you’d like me to do?” “Yeah, great.”

Stephanie Lee: That also shows like, Okay, this is not your first rodeo. You’re experienced. You’re a professional, you know?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Awesome. Love it. Cool. That said, right, perfect pitch, still might not be perfect timing, right? Like, why is this important now? What you think is important now the publication might not think is important now.

Stephanie Lee: Very true.

Joe Casabona: Cool. Good to know. Good to know.

[00:41:03] <music>

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[00:42:01] <music>

Joe Casabona: Last question on pitches before we get to “Is this gonna make me rich?” We both already know the answer to this question. So I think it’s just funny I keep bringing it up.

Stephanie Lee: I do want to elaborate on that actually a little bit.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Okay. So definitely stick around until the end, listeners. This is like one of those like cliffhangers you should definitely keep listening. Because I do want to ask first, you hear nothing, do you follow up? How much do you follow up? When do you get annoying?

Stephanie Lee: That is the perpetual fear I think everyone faces when… especially like cold outreach and just general outreach in general is like, when do I start being that annoying person? So a couple things about following up. Yes, absolutely, follow up. I think the biggest mistake is that people don’t follow up, especially after the first email.

The second thing is wait a week to follow up. Don’t like be breathing down their neck and follow up in like a day. Because you know, it goes back to people being really busy and people being distracted. They’re not going to be able to get to you that quickly. So you want to give them a little grace period, like a week before your next follow-up.

Joe Casabona: Right. I mean, what if they were on vacation? Now you just emailed them a bunch of times, and now you kind of look impatient and they were away from the office.

Stephanie Lee: And that definitely hurts your future potential chances if you come off as that impatient, sort of like desperate vibes.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Right. Absolutely. So yes, follow up. Wait a week. How many times?

Stephanie Lee: I would say max two.

Joe Casabona: Okay.

Stephanie Lee: Because usually that next follow-up or that first follow-up is enough for an editor to make a decision about responding to you. There definitely have been cases where, you know, you have those two follow-ups, you don’t hear back for a month. Like editors get back to you like a month or two later. So yeah, don’t be aggressive with a follow-up. Do two follow-ups max, and move on.

Joe Casabona: And move on. How do you feel about the magic email? Are you familiar with the magic email?

Stephanie Lee: No, I don’t think I’m familiar with that.

Joe Casabona: It’s like a single sentence that you send that apparently people swear works. And it’s just this. “Since I have not heard from you on this, I assume your priorities have changed.” People say they use this and they swear they always get a response back almost immediately. I’ve used it once and it worked. But once is hardly a sample size.

I mean, if it’s something I want from somebody that still kind of feels like kind of passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive. But I don’t know. So. But I think max two is a good metric.

Stephanie Lee: That magic email I think works with clients, especially if you’ve had potential clients, you’ve had like that one-on-one FaceTime. You’ve had conversations, basically.

Joe Casabona: Love that.

Stephanie Lee: With media it’s not the same, because editors typically don’t have that prior rapport with you.

Joe Casabona: Maybe their priorities have been the same and they just were never on you. Right?

Stephanie Lee: Right. Their priorities are the same but you’re one of hundreds of people pitching them. So in the media’s case, that magic email is just a little passive-aggressive.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, I love that.

Stephanie Lee: And I guarantee editors would complain or find it distasteful.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. That’s kind of why I wanted to bring it up, right? Because I think people look at the magic email is like a hammer where everything’s a nail or vice versa, or whatever. I think you put it perfectly. It’s probably good for potential client work, and not good for… because you’re trying to put yourself in the good graces of these editors to be like, Hey, I’m not like a total schlep to work with or whatever.

Stephanie Lee: Right.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. All right. Let’s answer the big question now. They accepted my pitch, huzza, my article is published. Are the floodgates opening? Are hundreds of people joining my mailing list and signing up for my consulting services? Is this making me rich?

Stephanie Lee: First of all, congratulations. Wow. Second, this is one of the things I like to clarify with clients, especially, that PR press, a lot of people think that PR and press kind of automatically means more eyeballs, more exposure, like a skyrocket in traffic and conversions, and just sales in general. A lot of the time, that can happen, but it’s not predictable, or consistent. I actually call those side effects.

The more important use of this press and this credibility is to basically use those logos on your website and all over your sales assets, if you run a business. Basically continuing to use those as clout markers to open more doors and opportunities.

So I always tell clients and students in general that the more press you get, that begets more press, more visibility, more opportunities. So that could lead to book deals that could lead to speaking gigs, that could lead to a Netflix show, which basically, like all of these opportunities open up and the side effects of all of those opportunities mean just more attention on your business, more attention on your coaching, whatever it is that you have. And those are just the great side effects of press. And you just need to be able to leverage that press.

And basically what it comes down to is, I never recommend medium press as the primary marketing. Because as a primary marketing driver, like I mentioned earlier, you can’t predict whether one placement is going to get you that traffic and those sales. But with everything else that you’re doing, like maybe Facebook ads, SEO, like all this other marketing stuff, press typically enhances those and amplifies those efforts.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. I like that. I mean, you’re leveraging the credibility of the publication at this point, right?

Stephanie Lee: Mm-hmm.

Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. It’s not like getting in front of all of these… Because the thing is, all of the eyeballs it’s getting in front of are not qualified leads.

Stephanie Lee: Exactly.

Joe Casabona: Everybody who reads my article is not a podcaster or maybe they’re just interested in like how a work-from-home dad is recording with three small children at home when it sounds like a war zone with their three children at home. I really like that. So it’s basically like a bigger clout marker for you to say to potential clients like, “Yeah, I mean, II was in the New York Times. I know what I’m talking about.”

Stephanie Lee: And in our industry, especially with coaching, info products, that sort of thing, where we are the face of that business, credibility is so important. When you when people find you… There are so many people they could possibly listen to on the internet. So again, kind of similar to buying something. They’re looking for these quick heuristics and signals to tell them like, okay, maybe this is the person that I trust about this thing.

Joe Casabona: I like that. Well, Stephanie, this has been a great conversation.

Stephanie Lee: Had a lot of fun.

Joe Casabona: Me too. I think we have a lot of actionable advice. I think maybe you’ll agree with me if I say if someone wants to start today, the first thing you should do is write a niche-relevant blog post on your own blog. Does that sound right?

Stephanie Lee: Right. Makes the best freakin blog posts you can.

Joe Casabona: Make the best freakin blog post you can. Amazing.

Stephanie Lee: It’s scientific.

Joe Casabona: Stephanie, if people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Stephanie Lee: They can find me at cloutmonster.com. I write a weekly newsletter called “TL;DR” Newsletter. “TL;DR” stands for something, not just like “too long; didn’t read”. And I have a bonus for you guys. I mentioned it earlier, if you want to see a real successful pitch that I had a client send to entrepreneur.com and it landed him an article there with zero connections, he didn’t have any sort of, you know… He didn’t know anybody. Basically a cold email. Like I share the full pitch and I break it down why that works, why we wrote it that way. So you can check it out at cloutmonster.com/bonus-pitch.

Joe Casabona: Bonus-pitch. Awesome. I will link to that and everything we talked about in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/288. You should also see those show notes in your podcast app that you’re listening to right now probably.

Stephanie, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Stephanie Lee: Thanks for having me, Joe. It’s great to talk to you and at length about this stuff.

Joe Casabona: Likewise. Absolute pleasure. And if you want to get an ad-free extended version of our conversation where we talk about our approach to conferences and maybe a little bit of World of Warcraft, and maybe a little bit of Apple nerding out, you can… Again, the link for the Creator Crew membership is going to be in your podcast player at howibuilt.it/288. It’s 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month, which is less than the price of an iced coffee here outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. So I think it’s a goodbye. Thanks so much for listening. Thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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