How to get the best timing for successful media pitches

How to get the best timing for successful media pitches

April 6, 2021

Journalists want stories that are topical, relevant, or which cast a new angle on a current public issue. Lack of relevance and bad timing are the biggest reasons journalists reject media pitches. There are many ways to convey timeliness in your pitch, so you should focus on achieving the best timing for successful media pitches.

First, make your pitch 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.

Experts say you should generally cover combinations of at least one of six themes or core news values in your pitch for proposed news coverage:

  • Timeliness – the topic could be happening now or imminently
  • Impact – preferably major or potentially major
  • Prominence – preferably significant
  • Proximity – how soon
  • Conflict – personal or wider in business and society
  • Human interest – engaging people in the community or those in significant positions.

The pitch example below helps to show how a story is timely and relevant:

Example

The National Health Department has just announced that the immunity of many cancer patients is being compromised more during autumn than other seasons each year. Cancer is a major killer in every community. Currently cancer patients comprise 5% of the population, and about half of most families have relatives with cancer. Diane Scarf, Chair of the Cancer Patients Health Foundation, is available to discuss why autumn is a difficult health time for so many, and the natural remedies that can be used to help boost the immune system of vulnerable people.

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, “Mastering email pitches: The key to effective stories for 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 trusting relationships with relevant journalists

Approach key journalists in advance

You can contact key journalists up to 1-2 weeks in advance, especially when you have put an embargo on your story. This gives them enough time to fit preparation into their work schedule and to draft their story. Highlight that there’s an embargo on your material, but include all the details when you can trust the journalist from your relationship with them developed over time. Check that these publications are ready to go live by the day the embargo is up. This exclusive access to your story will enable them to interview spokespersons quoted in your story, research data, and liaise with you about facts.

Focus your time and energy on getting the best timing for media pitches

Media relations expert Michael Smart says 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 PRs 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 spelt 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 hundreds of current US federal and State holidays and observances. 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 database 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 2024 State of journalism survey shows that Tuesdays are the favorite day for PRs to send pitches (51%). 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 media have often pre-planned most of their content for the weekend and Monday, except for late-breaking major news.

Best timing for media pitches

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 for media pitches

Around 81% of PR pros prefer to send pitches by noon, US Eastern Standard Time.

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 Rose 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?

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, “Following up media pitches: Strategies and tips” 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 are too 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.

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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