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Never Write "To Whom It May Concern"

I’ve received cover letters with that opening line. I’ve received PR pitches with that same opening line. I’ve also received opening lines like:

  • Dear sirs
  • Dear sir or madam
  • Attn: personnel
  • Dear blogger or expert

In every single one of these cases, these people wanted me to do something for them. Read their resume, give them an interview, review their product or talk with them about their latest study’s findings. Yet, they couldn’t be bothered to figure out my name.

(This seems especially egregious on e-mails directed at me from this site. The title of this site is Rehaul by Lance Haun. My name is right there people.)

Now at times, I could care less that you canned up a letter to me. Sometimes a talent need is important enough to disregard something like that. Sometimes I want to cover something bad enough that I am willing to put aside bad PR. But if you are going to broadcast your message without personalization though, take out the “To Whom It May Concern” or any other phrases that highlight the fact that you didn’t feel it necessary to figure out my name. Cut straight to the point and don’t tell me that you just love my company or my site. A company or site that you couldn’t even name.

Personalization for hiring

If you do want to personalize a cover letter or other correspondence with a company you are trying to get hired at, it is a pretty simple two step process:

  1. Search LinkedIn for the company and see if the person pops up.
  2. If no luck, call and get the information.

The key here is maximizing your time. You don’t want to be spending 15-20 minutes researching the name of the recruiter or hiring manager online. If I can’t find the information on LinkedIn quickly, I simply call the receptionist and ask who I would address my correspondence to for XYZ position. At worst, it would be a transfer to a person in recruiting.

This is, at worst, a five minute process. I know us Gen Yers hate the phone but the quick phone call is ridiculously more efficient in this case. Just do it. And nobody has to know it is you calling anyway.

Personalization for PR

While I think of job hunting as an amateur sport where some leeway can be given to candidates who aren’t professional job seekers, public relations is an entirely different animal. For one, PR pros are well aware that even low grade bloggers like myself receive a couple dozen press releases and communications a week. They should also be well aware that there are companies that sell lists of targeted bloggers and almost every one of those comes with a full name.

In short, there is no excuse for it. This is what you are paid to do and you are doing it poorly.

I think success is a fairly simple process for PR pros:

  1. They build relationships with media outlets before they need them
  2. They figure out what kind of stories they like to run, how they like being communicated with, etc
  3. They follow that formula. All of the time.

I can name off of my head the dozen or so PR pros that actually do this out of the hundreds I’ve received releases from. Most of them have my phone number (but don’t use it). They send me one or two things a month max. They stay in contact with me if they don’t have much to push out. They’ve never pushed garbage to me.

Does their stuff get covered? Not all of the time. In fact, I still have two very good PR pros I’ve done no stories for. These folks are pros though and they understand why and they continue to stay in positive contact with me.

Bottom line

Personalization is an absolute necessity (and bare minimum) if your job is communicating with media professionals. If you’re in a job hunt, it is also a smart idea to not fake the personalization. You either have to do it for real or you don’t do it at all. Just don’t leave that “To Whom It May Concern” red flag up there.

Where are you on this? Do you personalize when you send correspondence or cover letters? How about PR pros?

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