Our guest today on Coffee with a Journalist is Max Ufberg from Fast Company. Max is a senior staff editor at Fast Company working on the tech team. Click below to follow Max Ufberg on Twitter and LinkedIn.
During the episode, Max gives us the scoop on his pitching preferences, why it’s better to talk with a reporter or editor before you pitch them, what constitutes embargoed news, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
His Inbox & Pitches
[00:03:13] BB: Yes. I would agree with that. Great publication. I look at it every day, to tell you the truth, so yes. Thanks, Max, for that. Now, your inbox, I know we’ll spend some time on this. How is it in your inbox, specifically with pitches?
[00:03:29] MU: Specifically with pitches. Well, it’s weird now because I am back to being an editor. So I have a mix of reporter pitches, like freelance writer pitches, and PR pitches. So probably in total, like there are, I’d say, when I wake up, maybe 70 pitches or so.
[00:03:52] BB: 70, seven-zero?
[00:03:54] MU: Yes. 60 To 70 pitches.
[00:03:56] BB: Your morning is 70 pitches already.
“If there’s a pitch that’s clearly just being sent out to everyone, like as an editor, the immediate question is like what’s going to make us stand out, right? If everyone’s getting the same pitch, they probably don’t want to publish the same thing everybody else is publishing.”
[00:03:58] MU: Probably. Now, I’m doubting.
[00:03:59] BB: Wow. Okay. Yeah.
[00:04:01] MU: I mean, but I would say like a good number. Maybe majority are sort of generic pitches in a way, like –
[00:04:08] BB: Spammy?
[00:04:09] MU: Yeah, a little spammy. They’ve just clearly been fired off to as many outlets as possible. So in terms of like truly like tailored pitches, it’s definitely a smaller number. Maybe like 15 to 20 every morning.
His Thoughts on Subject Lines
[00:06:59] BB: You did. Okay. It was you, Max. I knew it. Okay. So we did want to hear, especially the best, or you heard a real live one. What were subject lines that you were like, “Huh, I got to open that email.” You can maybe look right now in your inbox and tell us what you see.
[00:07:15] MU: So of the three I sent you, one that I think jumps out because it’s sort of the most obvious in a way, but sometimes like you can’t overthink things. So I got an email that basically said like it was pitching a conversation with Matthew McConaughey. I don’t know if that’s the one you’re referring to but if –
Subject Line: “Exclusive conversation w/ Matthew McConaughey and Dell’s Allison Dew”
[00:07:32] BB: I don’t know. I don’t know. But that one sounds great.
[00:07:34] MU: Yeah. I mean, I was just sort of like, “Why wouldn’t we have a Q&A with Matthew McConaughey?” That one, it’s one of the few stories I actually wound up writing myself at Fast Company, just because it was – I mean, A, because I just really wanted to but –
“It’s helpful to not just talk about the raise round or something like that in the header or in the subject line, but to instead kind of talk about what it actually does.”
[00:07:48] BB: Yeah. You’re like, “Oh, darn. No one else can write it. I guess it’s going to be me.”
[00:07:53] MU: Yeah. I think it just shows like sometimes the subject line, if you have a splashy thing, like people are going to –
[00:07:58] BB: Yes. Okay. So celebrity poll, that clearly helps. Got you. What else? We might not have that in the arsenal every day so –
[00:08:07] MU: Right. I do not get a Matthew McConaughey pitch. Only one time ever. So what’s generally working? Yeah. I wish. I would say anytime there’s a good sort of spin on a trend. So it’s not just mentioning a product or company by name, but it’s also explaining like how they are doing something to further one of our areas of coverage. As an example, like –
His Thoughts on Exclusives & Embargoes
[00:09:36] BB: So you just mentioned the funding rounds, and you’re on the tech beat, Max. Do you take exclusives, embargoes, any of the sorts?
[00:09:45] MU: We do take both. I mean, I’m always trying to nudge reporters toward getting the exclusives, which is no surprise. Embargoed news, I mean, there’s a bit of editorial judgment that goes in there. If it’s the sort of thing where we make a call, but like if we don’t cover it, we’re going to appear as if we were kind of caught flat-footed, then we’re going to cover the embargoed news. Having said that, a lot of big companies will send embargoed news that’s more like iterative product updates.
“I mean, there have been many instances where someone will come and say, ‘We have this under embargo.’ We’ll say like – I mean, we’ll request the exclusive, and that works sometimes.”
[00:10:14] BB: Yeah. It’s not really embargo on anything. We changed the color. Yeah.
[00:10:18] MU: Yeah, exactly. Right. I mean, there’s literally stuff like that, where it’s like we change the font, and like we’re probably not going to cover that. But, I mean, certainly, it helps with anything. So we have to be exclusive. I mean, there have been many instances where someone will come and say, “We have this under embargo.” We’ll say like – I mean, we’ll request the exclusive, and that works sometimes.
[00:10:42] BB: So if you see something, I’m sure it’s rare, you’re like, “Oh, that’s under embargo. But wait a second. Can we just have the exclusive?” You’ll ask for that.
[00:10:50] MU: I have.
[00:10:50] BB: I have not heard of this before.
[00:10:52] MU: We have asked for it, and it usually doesn’t work.
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