The Essentials of Effective Outreach

The Essentials of Effective Outreach

Alright my friend. At this point you've got 20 or more names on your outreach list. Now it's time to start contacting people.

But I must warn you, cold outreach has a bad rap these days, and for good reason. So many people do it poorly. If you've been on the internet awhile, you've no doubt received messages from people you don't know, asking you to do something for them.

This whole atmosphere of crappy outreach messages means people have their guard up more than ever, and they're going to be deeply skeptical of anything you send them.

In other words, it's damn hard to send cold outreach messages and get responses. And it's only getting harder as more people do it badly.

So as with everything else in this course, I recommend you take a step back and approach your outreach more methodically. If you rush into it and just start sending messages all willy nilly, you're likely going to shoot yourself in the foot and burn bridges before they've been built.

Let's dig in.

Outreach principles

I wish I could just give you a template to follow for your outreach messages.

But the truth is, there is no template that'll get you the results you want. Templates are far too easy to copy and paste and do the bare minimum amount of work. In fact, templates are one of the core reasons that most cold outreach feels spammy and awful. Because they get overused like crazy, and eventually everyone realizes how generic and lame they are.

But really, it comes down to this. Since this is a course about building relationships with people, we need to do everything in our power to start these potential relationships off on the right foot.

And using templates is a terrible approach for that. Just as there’s no template for how a relationship should work, there’s no template for how to start one.

However, I can give you some core principles that will help you craft messages that get noticed, get read, and generate enthusiastic responses from the people on the other end. All while laying the groundwork for a future relationship.

I will have an example for you in a little bit. But it's not a template, so don't copy it! Understand the deeper principles at work, do your research, and write from the heart. That's what it takes to get noticed these days.

So here are the core outreach principles you should follow.

Reach out in the place they're most likely to see it and respond

This first principle is simple. You need to send people messages in places they're most likely to be seen and engaged with.

I can't tell you how many great messages I've missed from people over the years just because they were sent through platforms like twitter, LinkedIn, and Stage32.

Had those people done a little bit of digging, they would have seen that I wasn't active on those platforms at all. And had they dug a little more, they would have found several active email addresses, as well as my profile on facebook.

So that's principle number one. Make sure you look for signs that people are active on these platforms when you're researching, and then send messages on the platforms on which they're most active.

And if you can't tell if they're active on a platform, your best bet is generally facebook or email.

Avoid the "I, I, I" syndrome

When you reach out to people, you're going to be tempted to tell them about yourself. You'll want to tell them how awesome you are in hopes that they'll realize you're worth connecting with.

It's a good intuition, but following it is a mistake. In fact, you'll want to avoid this temptation at all costs.

Giving in leads to what I call the "I, I, I" Syndrome. This is when you talk incessantly about yourself, and in the process, you alienate the person you're reaching out to. It's off-putting precisely because it implicitly assumes the other person should care about you, even though they've never met you.

You can generally spot this when every single sentence and paragraph in the cold message starts with "I."

Trust me, as someone who gets between 20-30 unsolicited emails per week (most of which suffer from the "I, I, I" Syndrome), I can't stress how off-putting it is. I barely have the time or energy for my own goals and responsibilities and relationships, so when someone assumes that I should care more about them than I do about that stuff, their email goes straight to the archive without a response.

Truth is, we're all self-interested beings. We're more likely to notice and respond to something that makes us feel good, or that intrigues us. If we feel that a message might lead to something that'll improve our lives, we're far more likely to engage and care.

So use that to your advantage. Always be thinking "what's in it for them?" as you're sending these messages. And before you send something, ask yourself, "If I received this message from a random person, would I care about any of this?"

Personalize as much as possible

One of the big reasons that most cold outreach messages suck (and thus get ignored) is that they're clearly generic "copy and paste" material.

It's a surefire way to annoy anyone you message. Generic messages will make them feel like you don't care about them. A generic "copy and paste" message screams that you're looking to use them instead of adding value to their lives. Because if you were looking to add value, you would care enough to do a little research.

That's why you'll want to personalize each message as much as you possibly can. And yes, this is going to make the process longer and more tedious, because you'll have to do more research on people before sending them a message.

If someone's got a reel or a film, watch it. If they've written articles, read them. If they're currently running a crowdfunding campaign, read up on it and maybe chip in a few bucks.

You want to look for specific things you can reference in your outreach message that signal you actually care. Things that will demonstrate that the person receiving the message isn't just a number on a list.

Show people that you're interested in starting a relationship. Show people that you care.

Be verifiably legit, and share what you're about

Oftentimes, a great outreach message will pique someone's curiosity, and they'll start doing a little research on you.

If they find a rich tapestry of online profiles and content and whatnot, that's going to bode well for you. It's another indicator that you're a real, legit filmmaker who's worth connecting with.

On the other hand, if you're an internet ghost, or your online profiles don't share anything about film or anything else, that's going to give people another reason to keep their guard up.

So with this in mind, I've got a few tips for you.

  • Fill out your all of your social profiles as much as possible, and indicate publicly that you're a filmmaker.

  • If possible, don't just indicate you're a filmmaker, share what type of filmmaker you are. Maybe even indicate what your vision is.

  • Put up an online portfolio site, or a Vimeo page or something. That way people can see your work.

  • Share a link to your portfolio in your email signature, and on all of your online profiles.

Point is, make sure that if people decide to look into you, they like what they find. This will only take 10 minutes, but it can dramatically increase your odds of getting a response.

Also, as a bonus, doing this makes you even more searchable online. You might actually have other filmmakers reaching out to you because of your profiles. Score!

Lead with praise and value, always

We've been leading up to this with all of the previous principles, so here it is.

Don't ask for anything in your initial messages. Instead, do everything in your power to compliment and add value to the people you're reaching out to. Your goal is to make them feel good, and show that you're willing to do nice things for them without the expectation of reward.

Personally, I like to do this in a couple of ways. If I've watched one of their films or their reel, I'll just make a genuine compliment about something specific I liked.

Then, I ask if they're working on any cool projects, and I offer to help in any way I can.

Just the offer of helping someone out is enough to build a powerful sense of reciprocity. Even if you don't end up working on one of their projects, they'll still be warm towards you because of the offer.

So that's our last outreach principle. Lead with praise and value, and show that your outreach is a selfless endeavor.

The initial outreach message

Like I mentioned before, I don't really believe in "templates" for cold outreach because they get abused and end up feeling super generic. Just follow the principles above, write genuinely, and you should be good to go.

However, I do want to give you an example of what a good cold outreach message looks like. So here's a variation on one I've sent to a few people in Tucson that's worked really well.

Subject Line: Your cinematography reel is awesome!


I came across your profile when looking through Tucson Indie Filmmakers facebook group.

Then I checked out your reel, and I gotta say, there are some awesome shots in there! A lot of it reminded me of old Terrence Malick films, especially that one magic hour wide shot of the house in the Sonoran Desert. Nice work, man!

Anyhow, just wanted to reach out and say hi. I'm new to Tucson, and hoping to connect with some likeminded filmmakers. Would love to grab a beer or coffee sometime.



P.S. If you've got any projects coming up, I'd be happy to help in any way I can. Just lemme know!

See? It's super simple, but specific, it's more about them than me, adds praise and value, and doesn't ask for anything. Not too difficult, right?

The polite follow up

Oftentimes, you won't get a response the first time you send a cold outreach message.

That's why follow ups are so powerful. If you did everything right in your initial message (meaning it's not a generic copy/paste thing), a simple follow up will show that you care, and generally lead to the majority of the responses you get.

So, if you don't hear anything back in 3-4 days, just send something like this as a gentle nudge.

Hey NAME, just wanted to bump this to the top of your inbox in case you missed it.


It's simple, and it works. And if someone still doesn't respond to that after a week-ish, you can send one additional follow up message along these lines.

Hey NAME, just figured I'd reach out one more time to see if you needed help on any upcoming projects. Happy to help in any way I can.

If not, best of luck in your filmmaking endeavors :)


So that's all I've got for you in terms of outreach. Now go out there and make some connections!

As I was editing this lesson, the following email came into my inbox. This is exactly what NOT to do. Enjoy :)

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