Following up media pitches

Following up media pitches: Strategies and tips

June 23, 2024

Pitching news angles successfully to journalists is always a tough PR task. You need to tailor your approach to the individual needs and preferences of each journalist you contact, within the relevant scope of their organization. It is a percentage game – use your professional judgment and prepare thoroughly to increase your chances of success. You can read here some great tips for following up media pitches to increase the chances of the journalist using your material.

Most journalists work remotely

Bear in mind that more than two thirds (69%) of journalists surveyed by Muck Rack in 2024 said most of their work is for online publication, and only 19% are mainly publishing in “legacy” media (old-fashioned media such as newspapers, TV and radio). Also, 66% of the online journos report that their stories are additionally published in a legacy media format. About one third (34%) work full time remotely, and a further 42% work in a hybrid mode. A total of 1,106 journalists responded from North America (60%), Africa (10%), Asia (10%), UK (9%) and Europe (7%) in the emailed survey conducted in Jan-Feb 2024.

In the Muck Rack survey, 70% of respondents said PR pros are either important or very important to their success, while 29% said they are either slightly or not at all important. About half (49%) said they  seldom or never respond to PR pitches, while 26% said they responded always or usually, and 24% said about half the time. In view of this, you should be prepared for journalists to respond to only about 1/4 of your pitches at the most. And therefore you need to be prepared to engage in follow-up contacts with journalists/reporters who haven’t responded.

What’s more, you should prioritize your most important targeted journos for follow up, and contact them first. Then you can follow up with less important contacts.

Following up media pitches to full-time print, TV and radio reporters

Email is the most effective way to make the initial pitch to all journalists. For instance, the  Cision 2024 State of the Media Report found 87% of journalists, liked to receive email pitches compared with 2% who liked phone contact, and  just 11% in total who liked to be contacted via several other channels. Therefore, simple logic would suggest sending all your pitches by email. A total of 3,000 journalists from 19 countries were included in the survey, which was conducted in Jan-Feb 2024.

As noted above in the above Muck Rack survey results, only a small number of pitches to journalists will positively respond to a pitch. For instance, in the above Cision 2024 survey, 73% of journalists found up to 25% of pitches they received were irrelevant, and another 19% of journalists found that 26-50% of pitches they received were irrelevant, as shown in the image at right:

The Propel Q2 2024 Media Barometer report found that US journalists opened an average of 46% of the pitches they received, but they only responded to 3.4% of those pitches.

Benefits from following up by phone

Ideally, you can use media monitoring software to alert you when your story is published, mentioned, or shared. Therefore, you can track when journalists don’t respond. If your email pitch shows as unsuccessful by the monitoring software, you need to know why. A journalist can all-too-easily just delete an email pitch, which leaves you in the dark. Also, it is much easier for them to delete an email than spend time arguing on the phone with you about the merits of your proposal.

In addition, you are usually pressured by your boss or client to give some progress reports on journalists’ responses. If you can succeed in following up by telephone you are more likely to gain useful feedback to report, and at least you can say you have spoken directly to the journalist. 

Also, if you follow up your email pitch by phone, the reporters’ feedback on why your pitch was rejected may help you to fine-tune the content in the press release so it suits them better – and it could help acceptance by other journalists as well.

As part of the initial phone pitching process, you don’t want to spray it to every possible reporter you can think of, or that your database shows. Unless your content is of major news interest, you will only get a proportion of reporters interested. Therefore, it will be unproductive if one reporter says on the phone they will accept the release, and you then send it to their competitors as well. Once you have achieved success with one reporter who covers your industry, it would not make sense in the long run to keep chasing other reporters (unless in your professional judgment you think your initial contact won’t mind – or if your news is big enough for wider media to cover it).

Nevertheless, one of reporters’ top annoyances is the follow-up PR phone call, particularly the one where the person calling just wants “to make sure you received my press release.” I don’t blame them. Not only have you interrupted the journalist, but probably you weren’t offering them anything of value. Imagine if you received these every day! Pretty annoying to them, right?

Phoning to follow up a pitch to a reporter enables direct feedback, but is effective only if:

  • you have the reporter’s direct line or cell phone number
  • you already have a good working relationship with them
  • the topic of your pitch is within their specialty area or at least relevant to them or new and exclusive, and not in your initial pitch email or press release.

Your quandary is that unless you do speak to the reporter about the release in question, you won’t know what their attitude is, and the story might never get off the ground for reasons you will never know about. If you know the reasons, you can fine-tune your material, or find another angle or quickly rewrite the material to change to a more attractive focus the reporter is interested in.

By making the phone contact, at least you can report to the client or boss about the facts of what happened. However, this means you remain under pressure to follow up, even if the reporter hasn’t responded.

If you are obliged to make a follow-up call, make it succinct and straightforward. Assume the reporter is working to a deadline. Practice what you’re going to say beforehand, and be prepared for the reporter to say, “Put it in an email.” If you’re lucky enough to get that response, send that email as soon as possible!

Journalists are more positively motivated if you ensure the story angle is relevant to their current work. They consider this more useful than the merits of the content you are promoting. The takeaway is that you must do this labor-intensive checking to achieve best results. It is a key part of following up media pitches.

News editor or chief of staff

Many PR people will email media releases cold to the news editor or chief of staff, and will then call to see if their carefully prepared missives have been received, accepted and relayed to a reporter. This is an opportunity for following up media pitches to quickly find out their response, and if it is negative, to pitch the angle elsewhere, especially if you have pitched the story as an ‘exclusive.’

The odds are that they will not act on your release – for a multitude of reasons. And usually they won’t discuss why, so calling to follow up may well just antagonize them.

Following up by email

Give the pitch recipient 3-4 business days to respond. Don’t chase them up too soon, eg same day of sending or next day. If you haven’t heard back after sending a follow-up email, you can try to improve the odds of acceptance by offering something new or exclusive that wasn’t included in your initial pitch or press release, and preserves the key angle from your organization’s point of view. Also, you can check the current news scene and see if you can create an angle that can tie in with it.

Keep your follow-up brief, and make sure to include a reference to your original release or a link to this material on your website.

If your press release or pitch scored little interest from other journalists as well, despite your follow-up attempts, reconsider your content and the steps you have gone through.

If you still get no response after trying to follow up, move on. You will only antagonize them if you keep hassling them. Don’t take the rejection personally – there’s always next time. And in the meantime you can consider putting your story via owned media ie on the internet, and on industry publications. If it has a strong human interest angle, set it up for social media coverage,

Using contact databases

If you need to find new media contacts, you can try journalist contact databases like Cision Media Relationship Management, Response Source, Muck Rack Media Database, and Connectively (formerly HARO). Also, you can pay a specialist media release distribution service like PR Newswire and ereleases to reach out to journalists. Such databases are valuable when you are preparing a national email distribution or phone contact list. But it is still highly advisable to try to make personal contact with the journalists in key outlets if you can (after doing your homework so you can demonstrate that you are familiar with their good work).

Another factor is that your approach in the initial contact and in following up your media pitch with the reporter will affect their attitude towards any future contact you make with them – they are likely to respond well in future if you cooperate well with them now.

If you already have an established contact

Ensure your existing contact and proposed angle are relevant and the news value you are pitching is strong enough to interest that reporter. The smart thing is to already maintain a good working relationship with a reporter who covers your industry. This can be easier said than done, but when you can, it is worthwhile. For instance, as CEO of a not-for-profit organization, I knew the chief reporter from the daily newspaper who specialized in that sector, so I found it easy to reach them with an initial news angle and for following up media pitches.

How to directly find a contact person’s email address

Online news outlets may not show the journalist’s name or email address that you can use to follow up your pitch. If the journalist’s name is shown, you can try looking them up on Google or on social media. You can use specialist services like Hunter, which gives paid tools for finding the email address of business professionals, including reporters; email addresses used within an organization (including the most common pattern of addresses used within the entity); plus a verifier for any email address.

In addition, a helpful article outlines “10 Ways to Find Anyone’s Email Address,” which walks you through details for tracking down a person’s email address at no cost. This can be useful for finding a journalist’s direct email address rather than having to email a general news desk where you can’t be sure if the person has redirected your email to the journalist you are trying to reach. Another article gives practical ideas for27 Follow-Up Email Subject Lines & Tips How to Write Them. This applies both to following up with journalists as well as marketing email follow-ups.

If you don’t know who to contact to follow up

If you still can’t find the name of a journalist who has written on similar topics to yours, you can do an online search of the media outlet’s website. Same with TV and radio. Start by watching and listening to relevant programs to learn the names of relevant, current reporters.

Identifying and reaching the relevant reporter will greatly improve your chances of pitching success. So how do you find the right person to pitch your idea to – and to follow up if they don’t respond to your initial contact?

Track and measure your results

When following up on a media pitch, you should aim to track and measure your results. You should use data and feedback to improve performance and learn from mistakes. Recommended action you should take:

  • Email tracking software show when, how, and how often emails are opened, clicked, or replied.
  • Media monitoring software alert you when your story is published, mentioned, or shared.
  • Media relations software help manage contacts, pitches, and campaigns.
  • Media analysis software measure the impact, reach, and sentiment of your coverage.
  • Media surveys or interviews provide direct feedback from the journalists you pitched.

Overall, use the data and feedback to optimize follow-up timing, frequency, content, and tone; while also identifying the best practices and pitfalls of your follow-up strategy.

Further reading

You can read further on the topic of pitching to media in my article, “How to get the best timing for successful media pitches.”

Top of page photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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