Engraving woman posting a letter1881

Are you in the business of creating content? Hint: This is one of those questions where the answer should be “yes” no matter who you are. If you are an entrepreneur and your first inclination was “no” then slap yourself upside the head for me. Now, having established that you are indeed in the business of creating content and content marketing in one form or another, you know, as I do, that the enemy of content creation is not a dearth of ideas or the dreaded writer’s block, but a lack of time to create content from all the great ideas you have.

So, what if I told you that you have a treasure chest of content you’re sitting on that you’ve already created, and all you have to do is pretty it up a little and it will be ready for publication? Just look through the sent items folder of your email account. Chances are you’ve created several pages of content during the past week, and with a little massaging this content could be made suitable for public consumption. Here’s an example.

I recently wrote a post on Forbes entitled How To Get Free Press For Your Business. I have a cousin who has a business PhD, and he read my post and asked me to review an email he was preparing to send to a writer in an attempt to get some coverage for research he’s working on. I won’t publish his email here, but here is what I wrote back:

1. I would somehow mention who you are and what you do in the first sentence, without effectively saying “I’m kind of a big deal.” But you are kind of a big deal [my cousin's PhD is from a rather prestigious school, so this is no exaggeration]. You’re not just some guy off the street with a bright idea. I think something along the lines of “I’m doing some research at…and…” Anything you can do to get him to see that you’re not a random crazy person will make it more likely he’ll read your entire email.

2. I would ask in the second sentence (or combined with the first) for advice on how to get your research out there. Maybe this guy isn’t really the best guy to write about it, but maybe he knows the right guy. If he is the right guy, then asking for advice rather than “I think you might be interested in writing about what I’ve got here…” comes across as less of a pitch and is more likely to be read further. I don’t know why, but there’s something about reading “I think you would be interested in writing about my company or idea…” that drains my energy. But when someone asks for advice or help, then I feel energized and excited. I’m not sure why, that’s just the way it is.

3. I would get the gist of what great information/data/research you’ve got across to him within the first paragraph. What is the one thing you can say that is going to make this a priority for him, assuming this is something he really wants to write about?

4. Keep it short. If he sees a long email (and I would call this long enough to qualify as “long” [my cousin's email was about as long as my response, give or take a few lines]), then before he even reads it he might think “Gee, I’ve got 30 seconds before I have to get off the subway, this sounds important, I better mark this to read later.” Your email gets marked for follow up, but he ends up too busy to ever look at it again, and your email has effectively been deleted despite his best intentions. Try to craft the email so he can be hooked within 10-15 seconds and shoot you a response within another 30 seconds. I would go so far as to eliminate all the details, links, etc. and just say “I have more information I can send you if you’re interested.” This allows him to simply say “Yes, I’m interested, please send me what you’ve got.” Now you’ve entered into a different stage of the relationship where you are working with him, rather than pitching him, and it’s acceptable for you to follow up and bug him when he gets busy and forgets about you.

5. Compliments. As something of a follow up to keeping it short, I would restrict your compliment to “I read such and such article of yours and enjoyed it.” Anything else you add will likely be skipped anyway if he’s in a rush, as he probably is, and there’s something of an implicit assumption that the longer the compliment, the bigger the favor that will be requested. For myself, I’m just thrilled that anyone reads what I’m writing, let alone likes it, so that’s enough for me. If you really want to flatter him with something he’ll believe, you could say “I’ve shared it with some of my colleagues back at [school name withheld].” That could get his attention.

Whether my advice to my cousin is good advice or not isn’t the point here. The point is that my response to him could easily be the foundation for a blog post, an article, an infographic, a brief instructional video, or another form of content that could be added to my content marketing efforts. Or it could form the basis of a post on how to create marketing content from the contents of my old emails.