I’ve interviewed some serious badass creative leaders for my podcast Heroine: design educator Debbie Millman, fashion icon Eileen Fisher, world-renowned author Isabel Allende, and Academy Award winner Brenda Chapman.
The truth is many of us have a creative idol in mind we would love to speak to, but we have no idea how to reach them and make the ask. Or we’ve tried and it never seems to work.
A year and a half ago, I didn’t know any of my show’s guests. So a lot of people wonder how I get such incredible women to agree to come onto the show, especially since I did not have direct connections with many of them.
It turns out I reached out to most of them via email, cold. And I get it. It’s easy to feel intimidated. It’s easy to let the anticipation of rejection deter you from going and getting what you want. But I’m here to tell you it is possible to connect with someone who seems beyond your reach. Here are my 7 tips:
1. Start with them, not you
Whenever the Heroine team reaches out to a potential guest, we don’t begin with ourselves. We don’t say “Heroine is a blah blah…,” or “I’m the Executive Producer of blah blah…,” we actually start with their work: “Your article, talk, book, perspective… really caught our eye.”
And then we follow up and let them know who we are.
Take the time to connect what’s most interesting about their work with the reason you’re reaching out.
The story of Brave is one of my favorite Disney-Pixar movies, which does such a beautiful job of showing the growth that takes place between mother and daughter. It would be an honor to explore some of those themes with you on Heroine, our podcast featuring the journeys of top women in design, arts, tech, and business.
2. Quickly establish credibility
At the end of the day, an influencer (or their assistant) is trying to quickly determine whether you’re legit. They’re getting hundreds if not thousands of emails per day, so they need a quick way to filter. Most of them filter by social proof. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people fail to put their strongest foot forward. They go into a long ramble, gushing about what they admire about the person.
No! Why are you legit? Social proof creates trust. And the great news is that social proof comes in various forms:
- Years of experience
- Brand-name company
- Brand-name school
- Number of followers/audience
You don’t want to list them in bullet form, but you do want to come out of the gate with them—so have it high up and embedded in your intro when you reach out.
Chelsea came to mind as we feature high caliber women: guests who have landed in headlines at Forbes, TechCrunch, TED, Fast Company, GigaOm, The Wall Street Journal, O, The Oprah Magazine, Refinery29, CreativeMornings, and The Great Discontent.
Since launching, we’ve been consistently featured as one of the top podcasts in the Design category alongside Roman Mars and Debbie Millman.
3. Make it very easy and convenient for them to speak with you
Whenever you’re asking anyone with more power or influence to do something for you, it’s important that you make it extremely easy for them to give you their time and attention. When scheduling, make sure to offer 2 or 3 options a few weeks out, but also let them know that you are more than happy to work around their schedule and convenience. Make it super easy to plug yourself into their lives, not the other way around.
4. Be super cordial to assistants
Assistants and interns are gatekeepers who hold the magical keys to everything else. Take the time and care to be friendly and acknowledge these people who are helping you make an interview happen. We always thank the folks who help us organize interviews, because without them, they literally wouldn’t happen.
5. Anticipate rejection
I like to mention how many amazing women have come onto my show, but you should see my spreadsheet of rejections. We aim ludicrously high. As a result, there’s a great possibility of rejection—in fact, I anticipate a high degree of it. Otherwise, I’m not aiming high enough. Every time we reach out to a celebrity, we toss our heads back and think, mmm… wonder what will happen this time! And then we press send.
6. Send smart follow-ups (for as long as you need to)
My husband, who’s an investor, once told me how he’d followed up with another investor for 8 months. Eight months! Every few weeks he would send some kind of correspondence, keeping the conversation going, until finally the guy was able to meet.
“Share something valuable in every follow-up email.”
This anecdote put things into perspective for me. Here I was afraid to seem “pushy” and “annoying” for one measly follow-up (which is totally a good girl complex issue). Now, the Heroine team follows up with prospects with passion. But we do so intelligently. We don’t just keep following up with the same spiel, hoping for a different response this time.
My advice for every follow-up is: (1) share something valuable, (2) share an exciting update/accomplishment about how badass you continue to be, and/or (3) re-iterate your ask in different words, or from a different angle on why it’s so important that you speak with them. And of course, follow up over multiple months. It took 11 months before we landed an interview with Isabel Allende, and it’s one of the best, most tear-jerking interviews I’ve done to date (coming out this fall as the new season starts today, September 7th).
Isabel’s book House of Spirits in both English and Spanish (I’m originally from Argentina) inspires me on so many levels.
I would love to ask Isabel about the power of women’s collaboration and sisterhood on her own creative work. Intuitively, I feel there’s a lot of alignment, which is why we reached out and continue to persist months later.
7. See them as your peer
So many of us err on the side of politeness, not wanting to “bother” or “burden” other badasses. And it’s completely the wrong mentality.
“See influencers as your peers and they’ll respond to you as one.”
Instead of creating an automatic power differential between you and influencer, you must see this badass as a mirror of yourself—yes, as your equal, no matter how large her scope of influence or how incredible her accomplishments. You must see her as a peer, and as a colleague. That’s the only way she’ll respond to you as such.
There you have it—my 7 tips for reaching out to top influencers you admire. Start with their work but establish your credibility, too. Make it simple, be polite, and don’t be afraid of rejection. Follow up intelligently, and remember: you’re a badass reaching out to another badass.
Does this work every time? Absolutely not, but you would be surprised how far these tips can get you (and you have to start somewhere). Connecting with more “reachable” influencers at first can help you build up your network and credibility, making it easier for you to reach higher influencers and heavier hitters later on.
But don’t be afraid to go for broke and reach out cold to your biggest creative idols. The worst that can happen is a polite rejection, while the best that can happen is more than worth the effort.
If you’re interested in hearing fresh interviews with top creative leaders, subscribe to the new season of Heroine on iTunes, which begins today, September 7th.
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by Majo Molfino
Maria José ("Majo") Molfino is a writer, speaker, and women’s creative leadership coach. With a Masters in Design from Stanford, she supports women in becoming better, more resilient creative leaders at top companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, and IDEO. Her work has been highlighted in FastCoDesign, The Huffington Post, Medium, and LinkedIn. She is also the host of Heroine—a podcast featuring the journeys of top creative women leaders and risk-takers. When she isn’t writing, coaching, or podcasting, she’s sipping on tea and writing poems in the Redwoods.