The art of the PR pitch and building relationships with influential bloggers with special guest John Rampton.
John writes for Inc, Forbes, and TechCrunch (amongst other sites) and took the time to discuss the pitches he gets, which ones work and which don’t. The two also talk a bit about entrepreneurship — John just launched Due.com.
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Last episode, we talked a bit about content marketing and distributing content out there to really get the links and citations that your business is looking for to help with overall search. One thing that we didn’t really get into, and that I alluded that we’d be talking about in the future, was really building true press and publisher relationships in an effort to get your news, your content, or your studies picked up by some of the top influential sites, networks, and news organizations out there that are really all craving content right now.
With me today, I have John Rampton, a man who wears many hats — some funny, some silly, and some all over the place. John has a background in search. He’s a serial entrepreneur, yet he also is a published journalist/blogger on some of the top sites and publications out there right now, especially in the business realm. John, welcome to Search & Deploy.
John Rampton: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Loren Baker: You’re welcome. Before we get started, I just want to talk about the first time I met you. It may have been the second time, but it was the first time we actually had a real conversation. I was in JFK, and we were in the JetBlue Hub. I was doing a flight out of New York to LA. I was sitting there talking with some colleagues in the terminal. I’m not sure if you remember this or not.
You walked over after Affiliate Summit, and you introduced yourself. It was really nice because we had interacted online multiple times. Then, I was pretty sleepy, so probably grabbed a coffee or something like that and got on the plane. I was in the very front, scrunched in between a couple of folks as you do when you’re flying from one coast to the next. About 30 minutes into the flight, you walked up and let me know that there were some extra exit row seats open in the back of the plane, and we hit it off from there.
John Rampton: Yes.
Loren Baker: Thank you for that, by the way.
John Rampton: Anytime.
Loren Baker: You probably saved me a couple of blood clots and got me sleeping for a little bit of that flight. I don’t know if you were pitching me at the time, or just friendly, or just trying to make that connection, but I was thinking to myself, “Not only what a nice dude, but also a great way to make that first interaction memorable by helping someone out.”
I was talking to Neil Patel the other day about some of his secrets around online marketing. One of the things he said was his biggest secret is just to help people, so John, thanks for helping me on that flight. I really appreciate it.
John Rampton: Anytime. I love helping people.
Loren Baker: To get started out, how about a quick introduction of yourself, John, because I really don’t know where to start. You have so many things going on.
John Rampton: Yeah. I’m John Rampton. I’m an entrepreneur. That’s the easiest way to say it. I am the founder of Due.com. I also have my own personal site, JohnRampton.com where I ramble on about stuff. I am located in Silicon Valley. I’ve had some successes. I’ve had some losses, and I’m having fun along the way.
The biggest thing about me, and what most people find out pretty quick, is I do love helping people. I find that the more you help people, that the more you get out of life, one, but more people trust you and are willing to help you out in the long term.
Loren Baker: Absolutely. You’re pretty well-published from what I hear.
John Rampton: Thanks. Yes. I write for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, Inc, Huffington Post, as well as a lot of other sites.
Loren Baker: If you’re writing for Forbes, for Inc, for Entrepreneur, and Huffington Post — I’ve been pitching people for years, man, and when I started out, I didn’t know what I was doing. This was back in the day. I was just doing some initial link building and trying to build buzz for a tool called Effective Brand, which ended up evolving into Conduit Toolbar Service over the years.
My job was to do PR — I was pretty young at the time, and the Internet was pretty young, too — but I was pitching a lot of different websites on Effective Brand, which is basically a toolbar that you could build with your own brand and distribute to your readers, your fan base, or your audience. I joined Peter Shankman’s Young PR Pros Yahoo Newsletter.
That’s really where I cut my teeth, and I started pitching people. I started doing little surveys. When I first started, I would pitch people right off the bat, like “This is a great toolbar. You really have to check it out. You just download it,” and some other responses I got back were not positive.
It was just very, “Why are you trying to sell me this? Why are you trying to do this?” Now that I look back at it in retrospect, there was probably a lot of mixed messaging to the emails I was sending out. Then sometimes I would have success. I pitched a lot earlier on, and I learned what to do and what not to do. Then, like you, I’m behind some publications, so I get pitched myself. That’s a great way to learn, but how many pitches would you say that you get a day in your email box?
John Rampton: Easily 20. Twenty legitimate pitches a day.
Loren Baker: How many of those 20 do you actually read and take action upon?
John Rampton: I probably glaze over every single one. I legitimately like helping people. Actually writing about, most of the time it’s zero. If they do a really good pitch, I’ll write them back. Sometimes I’ll ask them for more information — the really, really good ones — but most of the time, it’s null.
Loren Baker: If you’re getting, say, a 140 email pitches per week, what can someone do — whether they’re representing a product, whether it’s a press announcement or a news announcement, or whether they’re just trying to get you to link to them or something like that — what can they do to really cut through that noise because that’s a lot of emails to read over the day?
John Rampton: Yeah, it is a lot of emails.
Loren Baker: Especially when you have a lot of other things going on, right?
John Rampton: Yeah, exactly. The people that I feel that cut through the noise truly are people that go above and beyond, people that write an amazing pitch. First of all, I have all my sites, like JohnRampton.com/Contact, I have, “Here are my rules for pitching,” and you can find out within 10 seconds whether they have followed my rules or not.
If they haven’t followed my rules, I’m just going to disregard them. If they’ve followed my rules, I usually almost always respond to those people. Usually, people are like, “Ha, ha. I’ve followed you on social media. I stalked you a little bit,” because I always say, “Hey. You should follow me on social media. You should get to know what I write about. You should really know me.”
Loren Baker: Right.
John Rampton: Because if you pitch me a payday loan company and I’ve never talked about that in my life, it’s not something that I care about, so don’t waste my time with an email.
Loren Baker: Don’t waste your own time, too, right?
John Rampton: Yeah. Don’t waste your own time. You’re wasting five, 10 minutes on that. That’s five, 10 minutes you’ll never get back. You’ll wait, and you’ll be like, “Oh. I think he’s going to respond.” No way. Those that are like, “Oh yeah, I read your rules. I think they’re awesome. I have this cool company. I’m working on this. You’ve written about this type of stuff two or three times. Here’s a free account. I already set you up. Log in with this information.” Things like that will at least get my attention.
Loren Baker: Let’s deconstruct what you just said. You’re writing all over the place, but you mentioned that you have your pitch rules on your website. What I’m getting from this is that if I see that you or someone else is a writer, writing on multiple blogs, you may actually have your own site or you have your own contact information where I don’t have to go through the publication that you’re contributing to or bother you on Twitter. You may also have some ‘best ways to contact me’ right on your site that can be read.
John Rampton: Correct. Yep. For example, everybody wants to be on TechCrunch, especially if you’re on the tech world. If you go to most of the TechCrunch writers, they have their email right there. They maybe don’t publish like I do saying, “Hey, here are my rules,” but most people make themselves pretty available out there to pitch. That’s how they make money. That’s how they make their livelihood is reading these and finding the best stories.
Loren Baker: Did I ever tell you how I met Sarah Perez by the way?
John Rampton: No.
Loren Baker: Sarah’s from Tampa, right?
John Rampton: Yes.
Loren Baker: I think that’s still her handle.
John Rampton: Yes.
Loren Baker: I don’t know if she was with TechCrunch at the time or ReadWriteWeb, but I had followed her. Of course, I had connected with her on Twitter because of her handle, @SarahinTampa. I’m like, “Hey. She’s in Tampa,” so I invited her to a couple of different meetups. I had started a blogging meetup at the time. I think she lived in Wesley Chapel or one of these towns that’s like a suburb for about 20 minutes outside of town. I had never met her in person, but I recognized her from Twitter and her articles and stuff like that.
One day, I’m at the mall with my wife and my boy, who was a newborn at the time. He was probably about five, six months old, so I guess a toddler, not a newborn. In the Tampa mall, in the walking area, there’s a Starbucks kiosk with all of these chairs and sofas around it, right? My son had doodied in his diaper, and my wife has this thing about publicly changing kid’s diapers. Some moms do it. Some don’t, but my wife did.
Maybe it wasn’t a doodie. Maybe it was the other. Maybe it was number one, but story is we’re sitting there on the sofa or the little bean chair or whatever, and my wife is pulling down my toddler’s diaper and changing it. I’m looking around thinking, “Oh my God. I’m sitting here in the middle of the mall. I hope I don’t see any of my staff, or any my clients, or someone I know.”
I look over to my left, and there’s this girl, I guess lady, sitting there right next to me. I’m thinking to myself, “I recognize her. Where do I know her from?” I’m looking and looking, and I look at her Starbucks cup, and it has ‘Sarah’ written on it.
I didn’t say anything at the time, but I sent her an email later — or maybe it was a DM — I’m like, “Sarah, were you at the Tampa Mall the other day, and was there a lady sitting next to you changing a baby’s dirty diaper?” She replies, “Yes. How did you know?” Like, “I was right there. That was me. That was my wife and my kid, and we were sitting right next to you.” We traded some DMs and hit it off from there, but that’s how I know Sarah. I know you had mentioned her name a couple of times in the past, so I wanted to give you that tidbit, that story.
John Rampton: That’s funny.
Loren Baker: Anyway, you have your rules. A lot of writers out there are freelance writers, so they’re marketing themselves at the same time.
John Rampton: Correct. Yes.
Loren Baker: You have your site with your rules. What would you say is rule number one, and how many rules do you have by the way?
John Rampton: I actually don’t even remember. Let me check. I believe I have five rules.
Loren Baker: Okay, so the five golden rules of pitching John.
John Rampton: I have three.
Loren Baker: Three. That’s easy, man.
John Rampton: Yes, three.
Loren Baker: That’s easy to remember.
John Rampton: My golden rules is number one, I’m human. I like being flattered. The more you flatter me and tug at my heartstrings, the more I’m likely to respond to you. You could start by following me on social media and being an active part of my community. Do this before contacting me. You can see my links easily on my site, so do that before coming to me.
Rule number two, I get pitched 15 to 20 times a day. If you’re going to pitch me your company or story, please keep it brief. Sum up what you do in the first sentence, or I’ll stop reading. This isn’t me being a jerk. It’s me conserving all my time for other emails I receive and other things I have to do.
Loren Baker: Okay. What I’m getting from that is get everything you need to say in that first sentence because you don’t have time to scroll down.
John Rampton: Correct. Yes. One thing, Dave McClure, famous guy, 500 startups, he’s a big Silicon Valley guy.
Loren Baker: Yes.
John Rampton: He has this rule, three to five. You need to be able to explain what your company does in three to five words. If you can’t describe what your company does fully in three to five words, you need to work on that. So I recommend people start with that. If you can explain everything that your company does in three to five words, you will go somewhere.
Loren Baker: You have an example of that by the way? What’s a good example?
John Rampton: Nike, ‘just do it.’
Loren Baker: Because I’ll talk your ear off trying to explain my company. So probably like the hundred word sector … Okay. Nike, just do it.
John Rampton: Yeah. Just do it.
Loren Baker: Perfect.
John Rampton: Airbnb is ‘find a place to stay.’ For example, my company, Due, ‘online invoicing company.’
Loren Baker: Simple enough.
John Rampton: Simple. It explains everything that we do in three words. Uber, ‘peer-to-peer rides.’
Loren Baker: That does it.
John Rampton: Lyft, ‘point A to point B.’ Stuff like that.
Loren Baker: Okay, so got the concise. First sentence, have your attention, rule number two. What’s rule number three?
John Rampton: With number two, let me just finish that. One other thing with rule two is I get asked for just five minutes of my time several times a day. If I gave five minutes to a million people, my wife would hate me.
Loren Baker: Can you do...