10 journalist responses that offer lessons for PR pros

Every response to your PR pitch—positive or negative—is an opportunity to learn about your media contact and hone your media relations skills. Consider these insights.

Learning from pitch responses

It’s harder than ever to earn a journalist’s attention, and you should be proud if you can do it simply by writing a compelling subject line or a snappy pitch. However, good outreach doesn’t just stop after a writer confirms or declines interest for a story.

In 2018, our team recorded every single reply we received from a writer in response to a pitch. In an internal study, we analyzed over 300 of these responses from that year.

Here are 10 things we learned from this analysis:

1. Have an expert available and ready to provide commentary.

“What I’d love is an official statement about the findings to include from someone major in your company, to underscore what you researched.” – Staff Writer, Digital Music News

There is nothing worse than having to tell an interested journalist that you don’t have anyone on your team available for comment. By not meeting this basic expectation, you’re sending a signal to the journalist that you’re not reliable or trustworthy.

2. Sometimes, it’s out of a journalist’s control.

“Thanks for reaching out! I sent your pitch along to my editor and, unfortunately, she’s decided to pass. But please do keep us in mind if you come upon any ideas that might resonate with our audience in the future.” – Contributor, A Plus

A lot of writers must get approval from their editors before moving forward with an article. After hours of research, you can send the perfect pitch to the perfect prospect and they still won’t cover your content. Don’t be discouraged—sometimes these things are out of your control.

3. Consider different content formats.

“We’re taking a bit of a break from infographics for now, but thanks for thinking of us.”  – Editor, Big Think

If you get this response from a media contact, consider changing up the kinds of content your team creates. Offer the writer or editor a different version of the story you’re pitching. If they aren’t open to infographics, see if they’d rather have the content you pitch in the form of a video, GIF, calculator or map.

4. Be a real person and make an authentic connection.

“Thanks so much for sending me this on, it’s a really interesting study and there’s so much information, I’ll definitely be making one or two stories out of it. We’re actually looking to populate our Sex and Relationships pillar a bit more at the moment so feel free to send along any studies on a similar vein! The avo toast is definitely better in Paris, but that might just be the Paris effect.” Staff Writer, Shemazing

Personal connections go a long way. With writers reporting that they receive hundreds of pitches a week, it is crucial to differentiate yourself from the herd.

It’s far more effective to start off on the right foot by actually trying to get to know your outreach target and sparking a conversation about something other than your content. In this case, one of our team members tried to relate to the journalist by commenting on a picture she posted of avocado toast. In this instance, it worked!

5. Timing is everything.

“This would be the perfect kind of fun and evergreen post for Memorial Day. Thanks for sending along.” – Staff Writer, Observer

With dozens of official and playful holidays that fill well-planned editorial calendars set weeks in advance, there can be little room left for outside content. Be aware of national holidays and either create holiday-related content or make sure the content you’re pitching is evergreen.

6. Know your methodology inside and out.

“Thanks for sending along. I’m interested to know more about the methodology of the study.” – Staff Writer, CNN

Our analysis found that the higher the publisher’s authority, the more this question comes up. It doesn’t mean the writer isn’t interested in covering the topic—it means they want to learn more. Some publishers that are notoriously difficult to place with like The New York Times or NPR will ask this question as a way to vet your offering. If the sample size is large enough and the findings have been statistically weighted, that will often be enough for them to get the go-ahead and cover your pitch.

7. Sometimes, your targeting can be too

“These stats are interesting, but I think the story that would come of them might be too similar to other stories about relationships and money that I (and other writers) have written on Brit + Co.”Contributor, Brit + Co

In this example, this Brit + Co writer just published a piece on love and money. At first you may think, “great, I have a project about love and money that would be perfect for their coverage.” You want to think again and reconsider sending that pitch. Writers will not publish the same story twice, so don’t bother pitching if you don’t have anything newsworthy or surprising to offer.

8. Consider the editorial guidelines of the publisher.

“It’s a neat finding, have you had it peer reviewed? I would be more interested if this was published in a public health journal or the like?”Staff Writer, BuzzFeed

Some publishers have stringent editorial guidelines. Know who you’re pitching before you pitch them. The higher the profile of the publisher, the stricter their editorial process will be.

9. Offer geographic data.

“Thanks for reaching out, and reading my story! The disparity between men and women on menu descriptions is weird and interesting. I’m not sure yet how that would lead to a story but it seems so random that men pay less when there’s a description, where women pay more. Weird! Do you happen to have any related data specific to NYC?” – Staff Writer, The New York Post

If you have a massive national data set but only tell one story, you’re not doing your content justice. See if there is any state data available and pitch a slightly different story 50 times—one for each state.

People naturally feel a connection to where they live, so hyper-focused storytelling based on location (states, counties, cities, regions) will earn huge audiences.  If you have granular data, you can pitch city-by-city.

10 Data is great—but without a story, it falls flat.

“Thanks for the study, we decided to pass on it as a story in and of itself. But we are covering gender pay gap regularly and may cite it at a later date.” – Staff Editor, Bloomberg

Figure out what story the data is telling before you send your pitch. Don’t just send standalone statistics. Help the journalist see why your data matters and how it can be important to their readers.

Every time a journalist takes time out of their day to give you feedback—positive or negative—learn from it.

Domenica D’Ottavio is the brand relationship manager at Fractl.

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