4 Ways to Reach Sources Who Never Read Email or Return Phone Calls

Are you finding it impossible to reach sources via email?

You email them.

You email their company’s PR person. You leave a phone message for good measure, naturally getting voicemail.

You email them again a few days later.


And you really need this source.

I recently had this problem in spades while doing research for my upcoming book How They Started. My assignment was to get founders of some of the biggest, hottest companies around to talk to me, as each chapter tells the story of how one company got off the ground.

Here’s what I discovered: The more successful and well-known the person is, the less likely it is that they read their email.

They simply get too much of it.

I began to hear about hot startup CEOs declaring “email bankruptcy” and deleting 1000 emails at a pop. Then, they set an autoresponder that says, “Sorry, I didn’t read your email! Let me know if it was really urgent.”

Superstars — whether movie actors or top CEOs — can’t read email anymore. They are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it.

Often, their PR team is in the same boat. They’re snowed under with interview requests.

So how can you break through and get the interviews you need?

Here are four approaches I used that worked to land me sources where email failed:

  • Comment on their blog. These days, many high-profile people have personal blogs. I got the founder of one of the biggest gaming companies for an hour-plus interview after commenting on a blog post he did about the company’s early days.
  • Tweet them. You can’t direct-message them, since they’re not following you. But just call them out in the tweetstream, as in “@jack – writing book chapter about Twitter’s founding. Could we talk?” You may raise them there. In particular, tech CEOs and venture capitalists seem to conduct much of their business via Twitter now. They’re off email, but they’re scanning Twitter — constantly.
  • Send an InMail. A message sent within LinkedIn is far less common than regular email, so it tends to grab people’s attention better. I got several early investors for my company stories through InMail.
  • Use a personal connection. Sometimes, tapping your own network of freelance writers and professionals for an introduction is the only way you can break through the wall of silence. For one chapter, I contacted a venture investor I had once met — about six years prior. I had been able to get anything from the company. He remembered me — and rattled off one founder’s cell phone number. With this introduction, she ended up giving me a lengthy interview. Later, my connection also helped me get the company’s current CEO, who proved another vital source for the story.

Sometimes, no response doesn’t mean they’re not interested. But you have to get creative to get noticed in the avalanche of information and requests high-profile sources are dealing with each day.

How have you gotten in touch with difficult sources? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

About the Author: Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog, where subscribers get a free report and a monthly live podcast. She also serves as Den Mother of the writers’ learning and support community Freelance Writers Den.

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