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Email still the key for pitching stories to news media

01 Jun, 2020 Media relations

Predictably, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant changes to the scope of news reporting everywhere. For instance, the 2021 Muck Rack State of Journalism survey responses showed that 51% of the 2,482 reporters from the US (68%) and other countries (32%) estimated that “some” of their reporting had pivoted to angles related to COVID-9, while 39% said “most”. Around 65% covered more stories “about COVID-19 and/or health and wellness” while 33% also said they were covering more stories about remote work and/or virtual communication.

Reflecting the changing structure of the journalism employment, the biggest proportion (42%) mainly reported in online-only media, 34% in print, and 18% in broadcast. They were journalism pros: about 63% of the respondents were full-time journalists, editorial writers or bloggers, and 20% were full-time freelancers. Around 52% were aged 40+ years, while 60% had been working in journalism for 10+ years. Scope of the respondents’ coverage (some in more than one category): 47% local or regional, 44% national, 36% international, and 8% trade.

Despite all the chatter about the importance of social media, traditional news media still command the largest news audiences. And the most effective way to provide story ideas to journalists is through email pitches.

Image: Muck Rack State of Journalism report 2021.

Email pitches favored by reporters

Recent media surveys provide some valuable highlights for communicators. The Muck Rack State of Journalism report 2021 found targeted (“1:1”) email by far the preferred channel to receive pitches (94%). Every other channel was disliked, on balance, as in the table below. Total number of respondents was 2,482, who were surveyed in Jan-Feb 2021.

Image: Muck Rack State of Journalism report 2021.

Most reporters use media releases to merely provide a useful topic for an article, and they use some of the material in the ensuing story. Content should be tailored for target audiences. 65% of journalists would rather receive customized press releases, than one mass-audience release. If offered an exclusive, 78% of journalists surveyed by Muck Rack said they were much more likely or somewhat more likely to cover a story.

The most preferred time for receiving email pitches is morning 68% (early morning 5am-9am 34%, and late morning 9am-12pm also 34%). Overnight pitches (11pm-5am) were preferred by 12%, and afternoons were preferred by only 16% (early afternoon 12pm-3pm 10%, and late afternoon 3pm-6pm 6%). Ideal pitch length was <100 words (2-3 sentences) preferred by 25%, 100-200 words 46%, 201-300 words 20%, 300-1,000 words 8%.

About 86% of journalists said they didn’t mind receiving a follow up within one week to a pitch they didn’t initially respond to.

Image: Muck Rack State of Journalism report 2021.

Use of social media

Reporters use social media to develop story ideas and to monitor a topic when working on a story. When reporting on a company, 45% said they usually consult the company’s social media as part of their background checking, while 28% said “Sometimes”. A total of 62% said they track how many times their stories are shared on social media.

The most annoying thing for reporters was receiving pitches that are irrelevant to their ‘beat,’ while the other two main annoyances were receiving repeated pitches of the same story and receiving pitch emails that contained poor spelling and grammar.

Why do you immediately reject otherwise relevant pitches?

Image: Muck Rack State of Journalism report 2021.

Lessons for PR professionals

  • Take the time to develop a positive relationship with key reporters. This will lead to trust in your professionalism and most likely increase the acceptance of your material.
  • Make key reporters your priority for important material. Nurture them and respect their needs. You can distribute material to others after you have dealt with your key contacts.
  • Provide material that is newsworthy, factual, doesn’t exaggerate, has good spelling and grammar, and is delivered in time to meet deadlines.
  • Don’t expect a reporter to use only your material or angle. Most of the time they will use it as a starting point for the theme you have proposed to them. They may well talk with competitors and other third parties in the preparation of a story. This is to be expected, but if you have been on the level with the angle and content of your story, your pitch will still have a better chance than otherwise.
  • Photo by Krsto Jevtic on Unsplash.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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