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How to get the best timing for successful media pitches

06 Apr, 2021 Media relations

Bad timing is the single biggest reason journalists reject media pitches. A total of 25% of journalists participating in the Muck Rack 2021 State of Journalism survey said bad timing by PR and comms pros consistently reduced the number of email pitches the journalists open, as shown in the table below. A total of 2,482 journalists were surveyed in January-February 2021, of whom 68% were US-based and 32% international. Find out in this article how to get your timing right for more successful media pitches.

Image: 2021 Muck Rack State of Journalism survey report.

First, make your news angle actually newsworthy

Pitching stories to the news media is a lot tougher and demanding than might appear. You need to take account of many variables to succeed with this type of work. Better timing of media pitches is one of the key reasons for better pitching results.

Customize your pitch

Rule Number 1 is to make your news angle relevant and topical. Even if your approach is timely, a reporter won’t be interested until you pitch a worthwhile news angle to them. And they need to feel your pitch is customized to their requirements. For instance, the 2021 Muck Rack survey found that 94% of respondents preferred to receive a personalized pitch by email. This is a key subject in my article, “Email still the key for pitching stories to news media.”

How can you be sure your pitch will be relevant to the reporter(s) you email? Do your homework! Would you want to send your story about a hot new tech tool to a travel writer? No, no, no! Read a reporter’s previous articles thoroughly to see their point of view, understand their writing style and see how they communicate with their audience. And ensure their audience or readers are the best fit for your message so you achieve the results you want. All this means you should work thoroughly to find the right journalists.

Ideally develop a trusting relationship with relevant journalists

It is worth spending the time and effort to develop a strong pitch. The 2021 Muck Rack survey found that 61% of respondents said they use pitches from PR sources for a quarter of their stories, and a further 14% said half of their stories originated this way. Knowing this, your ideal situation is when you have established a trusting relationship with a journalist who has usually has a ‘beat’ relevant to your typical news angle. Once they know you are reliable and will only pitch authentic news angles to them, they will accept your pitches. They know you can be trusted to meet their deadlines and have articulate spokespersons available when they want them. This fits your timing and theirs! A big bonus is if they trust you with their cell phone number.

Focus your time and energy

Media relations expert Michael Smart says in a Muck Rack 2020 article to focus your time and energy:

Think about the amount of time you’ve allocated for any given pitch or PR campaign. Then spend 80% of that time researching, cultivating and pitching only the top 20% of the targets from your media list. If you would normally pitch 10 journalists, spend the majority of your time focused on just your top two. This 80-20 principle or Pareto Principle, has been studied by economists for more than 100 years. It means you’re going to get a large part of your results from just a small part of your activities.

Unfortunately, too many either don’t have the time or the smarts to do it well, and so a lot of journalists develop a poor impression of PR people overall.

Check your calendar for the best days

You wouldn’t press ‘send’ without checking that you’ve spelled the recipient’s name correctly. Neither should you hit ‘send’ before analyzing when your pitch is most likely to be effective. News writers, presenters and producers have busy schedules and burgeoning inboxes. Therefore, your timing needs to fit around their requirements.

If your story doesn’t have a fixed deadline, check your calendar for business and general events. It is usually pointless to pitch your story close before religious holidays or school holidays unless the angle is relevant to those topics.

Holidays and observances

These must be taken into account. As an example, the timeanddate.com website lists 264 US federal and State holidays and observances for 2021. News outlets develop their coverage ahead of time for relevant occasions, so a “holiday marketing” pitch too close to a holiday wouldn’t win a slot in the editorial calendar. In addition to the news content being pitched, reporters, like all workers, are likely to take vacation days around long weekends and other holidays. The only way they’ll pay attention to a news pitch close to a holiday is if they’re in the office. But even then, they’re probably trying to wrap up whatever they’ve been working on as their priority.

What’s more, many advertisers don’t run ads during or close before/after holidays – their readers or viewers are likely to be away or to be preoccupied with holiday matters. Fewer ads means fewer newspaper pages and smaller radio/ TV audiences will be present for your news during those times.

If you subscribe to a publication or news outlet through a service like Cision’s Media Contact Database, you can find out content calendar information – at a cost. Then you will be able to coordinate your pitch to what the media will want.

Major industry conferences

Competition for attention from journalists abounds at these shows, so it’s extremely difficult to get coverage for your news angle. Plus, reporters are hopping around from session to session and dealing with a barrage of emails and pitches. You would get more attention if you waited a week or two to release the results of a survey..

Many different types of outlets produce news or aggregate news, so it is much more difficult today to align with their daily timetables than in the past. For instance, news sources now include mainstream, traditional newspapers at national or State level as well as local newspapers with different deadlines. Therefore, you need to work out how to get the best timing for a successful media pitch. What’s more, news websites, social media news sites and aggregators now add to the mix.

Choose your day of the week

Data from the Muck Rack 2021 journalism survey shows that Mondays are their favorite day to receive pitches (57%), followed by Tuesday (20%). All other days were lower than 10%. Mondays are typically used to schedule the program for the rest of the week and to clear out emails and tasks from the weekend or the previous week. Fridays are generally notorious for getting no responses because there are no electronic media news programs for the next couple of days, and major newspapers have often pre-planned most of their content for the weekend and Monday, except for late-breaking major news.

Best times to pitch reporters

Mainstream news media

These reporters tend to start their day mid-morning and work through until their publication goes to press, probably until about 6-7 pm. If you have their direct email address, you can contact newspaper reporters an hour or two before they start work because they may start sifting through their day’s emails before leaving for work. On the other hand, don’t expect a newspaper reporter to respond to your email or phone call at 4.30 pm their time. There is a good chance they are working flat out meet an editorial deadline. Obviously reporters at a weekly community paper will work to completely different schedules. .

Television and radio

Producers tend to start early in the day, and so they probably have broadly organized their programs by the night before, except for late-breaking major news. In view of that, a good guide is to call about 15 to 30 minutes after each show ends, while they are thinking about their program for the next day.

Cable news networks

Same thing. If you are pitching to a producer at a cable news network, check the time their program starts and finishes. Contact is timely, again, about 15-30 mins after the show finishes.

News websites

News websites may operate independently from other news organizations, so you would need to find out the work hours of the reporters from individual sites. Some news websites may be part of a larger news organization, and so reporters’ articles would be used by both. The hours of the traditional news parent organization would probably dictate when an article in a news website would be published.

Likewise, know the location of your recipient. You need to check that a recipient in another city may live in a different time zone, or even a different continent, and is fast asleep when your email hits their inbox. And daylight saving would affect availability as well.

Social media

Interest from journalists via social media stems more from establishing good relationships than from timing. For instance, media relations pros can establish social media connections by sharing appealing visual content on their social media feeds, which may interest journalists, either professionally or personally. In this way, journalists may get to know and trust you as a reliable contributor on social media. Therefore they are more likely to respond more quickly and favorably to your pitches.

You can connect with media on social media platforms in several ways, but Twitter should be your preferred social media channel because it is less personal than Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, which may cross into journalists’ personal lives.

  • Engage with their content, either what they say on Twitter or in their published news. You are likely to find many of the media contacts you want to connect with are on Twitter, so follow them and engage with their tweets, but only if you have a comment of some value for them..Reply, retweet and favorite their tweets – without overdoing it. They are likely to start recognizing your name as a person interested in their shared content. This will make them more likely to respond quickly and positively when you pitch a story to them.
  • Mention a relevant social media post of theirs when you pitch them by email.
  • Share relevant content with them from your industry.
  • Share the journalist’s new, relevant articles on your social media channels to show genuine appreciation of their work.

Pick your hours (and minutes!)

Image: 2021 Muck Rack State of Journalism survey report.

Not only does your choice of day influence your chance of success, but so does your choice of hour. Thinking through the various factors involved will help you reach the best timing for successful media pitches to various media.

Best daily timing

Two thirds (68%) of journalists prefer to receive pitches between 5 am and noon, US Eastern Standard Time, as shown in the above table. Also, 12% prefer to receive pitches overnight, between 11 pm and 5 am. These early starts suit morning TV and radio shows in particular.

A top tip to help you micro-manage your timings is to pay attention to the literal minutiae of your sending schedule. Be aware that competing emails from automated senders are often set to arrive on the hour or half-hour. In view of this, send your emails at other times, probably at least 5-10 minutes before the hour or half-hour. For example, try setting your emails to go at odd minutes, like 8.23 am for a daily newspaper journalist.

Also, you really need to know about your target’s likely work day. Business Assignments’ PR expert Michael Rose, a seasoned editor himself, provides an apt example, saying “if you know that the particular journalist you are reaching out to is an early bird who wants to find their latest scoop ready for a 7 am newsreel, then adjust accordingly.” As Michael points out, not everybody works to a 9 to 5 schedule, so double-check the hours of the TV or radio program you are contacting. You can send your pitch a couple of hours before the start of their program, or even during the previous night. This attention to detail will get your timing right for successful media pitches.

“Why now?”

You need to have an answer ready if the journalist to whom you have pitched asks why you are contacting them at this time – “Is time a factor in publishing this news now?” or “Is pitching the story right now timed to fit in with other news?” or “Can this story wait until I return from the conference next week?” Be prepared to think the issue through beforehand. If you are pitching the story to other news outlets at the same time, this may put you in a spot – because they may publish it quicker than the journalist you are contacting, which would be really embarrassing since this news would not be new anymore. In my experience, a consolation in this is it doesn’t happen very often.

What about following up your pitch?

A journalist can easily delete an email pitch, which leaves you in the dark about their reasons why. 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. Nevertheless, your boss or client will usually pressure you to give some progress reports on journalists’ responses. You would be lucky to reach a journalist by phone, but you are more likely to gain useful feedback to report – and at least you can say you have spoken directly to the journalist.

Image: 2021 Muck Rack State of Journalism survey report.

The above table reveals that most journalists generally don’t mind you contacting them within a week after your pitch. This obviously depends on when their work is published or goes to air. Overall, their response to one follow-up appears to be positive. But don’t push your luck by chasing them up more than once. If you do, they will think you are a pest, and your follow-ups may have jeopardized future responses from them. My article, “Pitching news angles to journalists – should you follow up?” provides more helpful details.

When not to pitch

A big part of successful timing is also knowing when not to pitch your story. Before emailing a journalist, you might see on Twitter that they are on vacation, at a major conference, or just close to a deadline. Clearly, this isn’t the ideal time to pitch. You can also use what you discover on social media to your benefit. Ask about that vacation when the journalist is back in the office. You’ll show that you’re paying attention to them, which will make them perk up.

The takeaway

Some analysis will increase your chances of acceptance, so put in the extra leg work to figure out when your target is most likely to be receptive to emails. Make sure you don’t clash with other significant events or any big news stories that suddenly loom to steal your limelight. Thorough preparation will certainly pay for you.

Top image by Berkeley Communications 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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