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What the Media Really Think About Our Pitches: The Muckrack Report

By on Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Muckrack recently issued its 2021 State of the Media report, and there’s some key findings of interest to anyone working in media relations. The study surveyed 2,482 journalists in early 2021, so it has current information.

First, reporters are juggling A LOT. Yes, like the rest of us they are trying to work while toddlers dump apple juice on their keyboards and dogs bark and one kid is on zoom – but they are also keeping up with a lot of information. The average journalist covers 3 or more beats. What does this mean for corporate or nonprofit public relations pros? It means we have to “have it together” and be ready to offer great background information, research and more, in a concise and organized way.

And their coverage focus has been massively impacted by COVID-19. Ninety-four percent of them said that the pandemic has caused them to pivot their coverage in some way. Forty-three percent said some or nearly all of their coverage has been pivoted to angles related to COVID-19. Sixty-five percent said that they are doing more stories on health and wellness and/or COVID-19. A third (33%) said they’ve done stories about remote work and/or virtual communication. What this means for PR people is that if you can tie your story pitch into the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on society, or relevant health and wellness, there are good odds for coverage.

Experts and leaders are still valued for their credibility. The vast majority of journalists find academic subject matter experts and CEOs to be credible sources for reporting. So keep pitching and offering these spokespeople for interviews.

They also trust in-house public relations staff more. Significantly more journalists find company PR professionals to be credible sources than agency PR professionals (55% vs 34%). I suspect if more agency people could focus more tightly on niche pitching and developing journalist relationships in a given expertise area this number would shift higher. Least trusted of all were bloggers (13%), social media personalities (12%), celebrity spokespeople (12%) and self-appointed subject matter experts (11%).

Social media remains useful to journalists. 76% of journalists say Twitter is the most valuable social network  and  37% of journalists want to use Twitter more, Twenty-eight percent want to use LinkedIn more often, while 26% want to use Instagram and nearly a quarter (23%) want to use YouTube more. More than half of journalists usually or always consult a company’s social media when reporting on them, with 45% saying they usually check it, and 13% saying they always do. The big takeaways here are – get your organization and its spokespeople on Twitter and continue to feed content to the other major social networks and update your feeds.

Journalists also notice when their stories are shared. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of journalists track how often their stories are shared on social media. So when you share a story from your corporate or spokespeople accounts, it is often noticed. Continue sharing!

Being relevant still matters when it comes to pitching stories to journalists. Seventy percent of journalists said that offering a story that is connected to a trending topic makes a story shareable. Sixty-four percent said it helps if a story contains an image or infographic (so keep those images and infographics coming!). Data remains king – with 59% saying exclusive or surprising data making a story shareable. And 54% of journalists said it helps if a story can be localized or made relevant to their target audience. Twenty-four percent said it helps if the story contains a video and 20% said brevity matters. Ranking last on their list at 9% was a quote from the company spokesperson (often the most common item in a story offering).

Exclusives are still of high interest to many journalists. Seventy-eight percent of journalists say they are at least somewhat more likely to cover a story if offered an exclusive. 10% say no more likely, 12% say it depends and under 1% say less likely.

Because they get pitched a lot – and don’t always bite. The largest segment of journalists receives 1-5 pitches per business day. This equates to 5-25 pitches per week. And yes, often it’s not you – it’s them. About half of journalists write 5 or more stories per week. Among journalists, only 5% get three-quarters of their story ideas from pitches, while 14% get half and 61% get a quarter of their story ideas from pitches.

And why don’t journalists like our pitches? We know they prefer them short (think under 200 words). Unlike every other year Muckrack has conducted the survey, lack of personalization wasn’t the #1 reason journalists reject otherwise relevant pitches. Instead, bad timing and ‘other’ tied for #1 at 25%. Lack of personalization came in next at 21%. However, ‘Other’ consisted mostly of people who wrote in answers like ‘irrelevant’ ‘random’, and ‘not localized’, which could be considered subsets of ‘Lack of personalization’  Ninety-one percent of journalists prefer pitches under 200 words. Nearly half (46%) prefer 1-200 words and a quarter (25%) prefer under 100 words.

And amazingly, your follow-up emails may not be as hated as you think – just wait about a week. Ninety percent of journalists say it’s OK to send at least 1 follow up email; 38% say 2 or more emails are ok. Eighty-six percent of journalists are OK with a follow up email within one week of the initial message. The other 14% prefer a follow up over 1 week from the initial pitch.

PR people need to watch how they pitch stories – email is preferred and journalists prefer Monday pitches before noon. Sixty-one percent of the journalists surveyed agreed with or believed strongly that the way companies share information with the media is outdated. Email is most journalists’ preferred pitching channel, with a whopping 94% saying they prefer to be pitched story ideas via email. Phone is the least popular channel with 66% saying they dislike pitch calls, followed by pitching on social networks like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. More than half (57%) prefer to be pitched on Mondays, with 20% liking Tuesdays and the other days of the week getting support in the single digits. Sixty-eight percent of journalists prefer to receive pitches between 5 AM and 12 PM EST.

And we also need to work on building better relationships with journalists. Only 6% of journalists see their relationship with PR pros as a partnership. Seventeen percent view it as a necessary evil. Eighteen percent describe it as ‘antagonistic’ and 59% describe it as ‘mutually beneficial, but not quite a partnership.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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