Cold Emailing

Is one of the signs of arriving in the 21st century America getting an internet pitch from a financial advisor you've never heard of, but who knows all about you?

The reaction to a The New York Times story in January about a Web site I edit drew me back in a peculiar way to my previous occupation as a writer for this magazine.

The complimentary story, which appeared at the top of a Sunday Times sports section, told of how my site, Deadspin, had already reached more than a million-plus page views a month since its September launch. A good picture of me — even with my bad posture and the presence of a $5-at-a-garage-sale coffee table in the middle of my tiny New York City apartment — accompanied the article. (Virulent media watchers will be pleased to note that there was a minor factual mistake in the very first sentence, a rare occurrence you'll see more often in the Grey Lady than the pages of Registered Rep.)

I couldn't have hoped for much more out of the story. My parents now have proof that I am employed and I woke up on that Sunday morning to congratulatory emails from my parents, an uncle, an old girlfriend (yes!) and the following.

Will:

Congratulations on making a name for yourself from outside the box. I worked as an agent for voice-over announcers before switching to working as a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley.

As your needs become more complex, it may make sense to you to meet with me and people on my team to help sort things out. You can check me out at nasd.com by using brokercheck link. I am a Georgetown University graduate, fully licensed and have a “clean” record.

Feel free to give me a call or an email…I am sending this from home.

Continued good luck.

Clearly, this guy hadn't looked too closely at the coffee table.

In my two years at this magazine, I had heard all about the varying ways financial advisors attempted to dig up new clients…ethical and otherwise. One guy told me he scoured the real estate section and called any listing with a price above $50,000. In Las Vegas, I met a guy who said he wasn't averse to calling the children listed in their parents' obituary. Another said he would spend Friday evenings at airport hotel bars, though I always wondered if that was actually for business.

But this was different. This was me. He was even using the buzzwords I'd heard other financial advisors use: “outside the box,” “as your needs become more complex” and “help sort things out.” In my years working at Registered Rep., none of my sources ever tried to solicit business from me. (I'm not sure they even remembered my name.) And now here was this guy thinking I had money. It was a valuable lesson: Financial advisors think journalists make less money than bloggers.

And it wasn't just him. I also received emails from three venture capitalists, a tax lawyer and some guy trying to sell me on his company's plaque-framing services. But the financial advisor stuck with me: I had been cold called. No, cold emailed.

Once the shock wore off, I emailed him back as kindly as I could:

Could you tell me more? I have to say, I'm still very early on in the process. Hopefully the site will be able to grow into something larger someday, but as for now, it's just small ad revenue. Do you typically work with clients on their way up the income chain? I mean, I only run a Web site.

This was the most polite way I could think of to say, “Uh, dude? I have no money. I write a blog for cripes sake.” I assumed he would blow me off, but he actually invited me to come to his office and “discuss [my] financial future.” My financial future? My financial future is making sure my rent is paid and maybe someday saving up enough to get HBO.

Though it might have been funny to call him and say, “Yeah, I need some help planning. My fiancée's birthday is coming up. Know a good place to get a cheap dinner?” A Glengarry lead, I am not.

Writer's BIO: Will Leitch is the editor of Deadspin.com and a former staff writer at Registered Rep.

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