how to write pitch email

Puffin Shaving For Beginners

Show up as a real person

Clare: Alright. Last time we talked about being personal in your pitch emails and we’ll come back to that, but now it’s time for a little case study. Innocent is a British juice and smoothies company.

Anthony: Yep.

Clare: It’s since been bought by Coca-Cola, but it was started by four graduates from Cambridge University and initially it sold its smoothies at a stall at a music festival. It’s now a very big player in the extremely crowded UK drinks market. So I want to look at how Innocent stands out. How it persuades people to choose their drinks over all the thousands of other drink options out there.

Anthony: Great.

Clare: You can already see from this image that they have an interesting way of doing things.

Anthony: Yes.

Clare: So does that sound good?

Anthony: Yep let’s do it.

Clare: Alright, this is a graphic that Innocent created and shared on facebook right after Christmas one year. It’s a playful little guide to that awful time when you have to go back to the office but every fibre of your being wants to stay on the couch until at least…

Anthony: April.

Clare: April. Yeah.

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: What I love about this graphic is this third column. The interesting and dangerous response.

Anthony: Ah, this is where shaving the puffin comes in.

Clare: Indeed, so Innocent is contrasting the bland boring things that most people say when they get back to work with what you might call the Innocent approach. It’s much more playful, it’s engaging, memorable. Way more than anything in that middle column, right?

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: And it wakes you up because it’s surprising. I mean, no one goes back to work on the third of January expecting to hear about a colleague shaving a puffin.

Anthony: No. Unless you’re a vet and you need to do some kind of emergency procedure. Ad presumably that wouldn’t be a family tradition.

Clare: Indeed. It’s playful, it’s fun, it’s human and lively. It gives your brain an enjoyable little jolt, it gets your attention. And importantly, as the recipient, it makes you give your attention willingly. If you work in an office, you probably have to force yourself to seem interested in the boring things that your colleagues did at Christmas. But if someone casually said this while making a cup of tea in the office kitchen, you would immediately want to give him or her your attention, right, because it’s so unusual and interesting.

Anthony: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing that they communicate all this about their brand just in words.

Clare: There are no pictures of their product here.

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: It doesn’t even say that they make smoothies. But even so, in the vast sea of drink options, they’re already standing out. And they’re doing it with just a few words on facebook graphic.

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: Okay, so let’s look at some more examples of how they do things. If you are not familiar with the company, you might have been wondering about those woolly hats.

Anthony: Yes, I remember seeing those in a shop. They’re very cute.

Clare: They are so cute.

Anthony: Yes.

Clare: In 2003, Innocent had this idea of putting little hats on their bottles. And these hats aren’t made in a factory. They’re hand knitted by people all over the UK. Innocent provides the patterns. If you’re new to knitting it’s going to work for you because they show you what to do, and if you’re already good at knitting and you just want something to do in the evening while you’re watching TV, it works for you, too.

Anthony: Oh okay, so people knit the hats and then donate them?

Clare: Exactly. Yeah that’s exactly how it works. Ordinary people knit them and send the hats to Innocent. Innocent puts them on their bottles and for every bottle wearing a hat that sells, they give 25p to a charity called Age UK.

Anthony: Oh okay, so that’s the charity that supports older people?

Clare: That’s right. They’ve raised 2.5 million pounds with this hat project. From Innocent’s point of view, they are getting a genuinely unique, hand crafted element to personalise their bottles. If you’re standing in front of the drinks cabinet in Pret at lunch time, in a café or a sandwich shop, and you see these little hats, you’re going to notice, right?

Anthony: Yes.

Clare: These drinks are clearly different from all the other bottles and cans.

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: They’re cute, they’re collectible, they add a dash of uniqueness and personality and once you know a little bit about it from reading the bottle, I guess a sense of community, would you say? Would you agree with that?

Anthony: Yeah, absolutely.

Clare: Yeah, so all of this comes from this one crazy idea of the hats. Here’s some more stuff that they do.

Anthony: Ah yes so they’re quite famous for hiding little touches like this on the bottom of their cartons of, sort of like an Easter egg in a DVD.

Clare: Yes, there’s actually a name for it but … Well you talk about it first and then I’ll tell you what the name is.

Anthony: Okay, okay. Well you can see, here that the same tone of voice is at work as in the kind of back to work graphic. It’s light, irreverent, it’s friendly. Oh, and there’s this thing about the banana phone as well.

Clare: Yeah.

Anthony: Yeah, tell me about banana phone.

Clare: The banana phone, it’s kind of a rubbish picture, sorry it’s a bit pixelly, but on the right hand side here, it’s in quite small writing but do you see where it says call the banana phone?

Anthony: Yes.

Clare: The banana phone is a thing, it’s a real phone in their office. All Innocent products have a phone number on them.

Anthony: Right.

Clare: And they call that line the banana phone line. With most big companies, if you ring a number on the packaging you’re going to get through to some kind of customer service department.

Anthony: Yeah or a call centre.

Clare: Call centre, or outsourced to some helpdesk, it might not have anything to do with the original company.

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: Well, with Innocent they’ve set it up so calls to the banana phone are randomly sent to people in their main office in London.

Anthony: Wow.

Clare: Basically if you work there and your phone rings, there’s a chance it’s going to be a customer. And that means that every single person has to be prepared to “be the brand,” so to speak. If you work in IT at Innocent, or sales, or product design or management, it doesn’t matter what your job is, you can’t say “Oh, that’s not my department. Let me put you through to customer service.” You have to answer the phone, you have to help the caller in a way that upholds the Innocent brand.

Anthony: That’s incredible actually.

Clare: I know it’s cool. Because they are obviously an enormous company but they’re behaving like a small company.

Anthony: Yeah.

Clare: As artists and small business owners, we all have to be the brand when we answer the phone, don’t we? That’s what happens when the phone rings in our shop.

Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. We put our work voices on, in a way. Not that we have special voices just for customers but you know what I mean. It’s different to the way you answer the phone at home.

Clare: Exactly. It’s interesting to see how this big company is trying to act like a small company.

Anthony: Yeah, yeah.

Clare: Also before I forget, the name for this kind of packaging, where you hide witty things on it, is called wackaging. Like wacky.

Anthony: I never want to hear that word again.

Clare: It’s a horrible word, isn’t it, but that’s its name. Okay. We could say that when you boil it down, the Innocent way of doing things comes down to these three principles. Originally, Innocent’s style was not dreamed up by a marketing department, by the way. It was started by those four students, those four friends, and its style came from that. And it still does come from that.

Anthony: Yeah, which kind of makes me think… Why can’t every artist watching this mini course use these three ideas to stand out when writing pitch emails?

Clare: Exactly.

Anthony: Exactly!

Clare: Hats off to you Anthony.

Anthony: Thank you.

Clare: Yes, absolutely. Now, Anthony and I know creative people because we are creative people. If you’re new to us, if you’re new to Indie Retail Academy, you might not know that we in addition to running our shop we’re also professional actors.

Anthony: Which means we’ve spent the last 20 years working in the arts and of course we buy from artists and makers and designers all the time so we know what creative people are generally like.

Clare: That’s right. And for me, the common thread is what we’re looking at now. Everyone who takes this mini course is likely to have above average ability in these three areas – being natural, being honest and being engaging. The way it plays out in your business, the kind of brand you’ve created, might have a very different personality to Innocent of course, but that doesn’t make this any less true.

Artists are naturally good at this stuff – even if you don’t feel that way inside yet. Creative people are gifted at being interesting. We know how to capture attention. We have fresh, original ways of thinking. We know how to make people feel something. We’re brave. And we know how to tell the truth and channel it into art – I believe that’s true whether you make fridge magnets or ceramics or swimwear or stationery…

Anthony: What you’re saying is that products made by artists are naturally interesting and they have natural integrity.

Clare: Yes. Otherwise we wouldn’t have Etsy, right? If products made by artists didn’t have a special kind of value – a value that differentiates them from stuff made in a factory – we wouldn’t have enormous platforms like Etsy and indie retailers like us wouldn’t spend all this time and energy and money on work by artists and designers.

And where do these interesting products spring from? They don’t appear in my basket on Etsy by magic. Artists make them. Because that’s where these qualities spring from. They come from you.

Now, you’re going to put these qualities to work in different ways depending on your brand, right? Innocent is playful and fun and irreverent, your brand might be serious or moody or have completely differently kind of personality. Nevertheless, this is what you’re working with. And when you know this about yourself, it can help you in many ways, including writing excellent pitch emails. I mean, it’s not like you need to fake this stuff.

Anthony: No.

Clare: Some big companies do. You don’t. Scribbling these three rules, these three ideas on a Post-It note and sticking it somewhere around your computer so you can glance at it when you sit down to write a pitch email, that would not be the worst idea in the world.

Anthony: Indeed.

Clare: But, let’s be honest, ‘Be natural, be honest, be engaging,’ isn’t the catchiest phrase in the world. And I want you to remember it, so I have tweaked it a little bit.

Anthony: Tweak it. There we go.

Clare: Yeah, so for the rest of this mini course, this is what shaving the puffin means. It means being brave enough to show yourself, to show the real person you are in a pitch email. To show up as a real person, an artist in fact, instead of pretending to be some kind of salesman.

I mean, picture it. The retailer is scrolling through all their product submissions, they’re bored, they’re tired. We’ll see what most of those emails are like a little while, but they’re not good. And then your email pops up and it’s personal and human. Suddenly the retailer’s brain sparks into life and that’s because YOU are that spark.

You’re a joyful discovery because you’re showing up in your pitch email in a way that most artists don’t dare.

Anthony: It’s such an easy way to get better results from approaching shops about stocking your work. So what’s coming up next time?

Clare: Next time we’ll be talking about two kinds of bad pitch.

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