No matter how long you’ve been in PR, there are times when you feel like you pitch into an abyss of silence and rejection. The lack of replies causes you to feel insecure. You question your ability to get coverage for your client.
The good news: The lack of a reply almost never means a journalist hates you. Take that off your list. Often no response simply calls for assessing your pitch and making needed adjustments.
To increase your odds of a reply, use this list of often-overlooked mistakes:
1. You have the wrong contact. Even if you worked with the journalist recently, she could be on vacation. Her publication could have shifted coverage or moved to a different outlet. Her job in her media outlet could have changed. Even after you consult Muck Rack, it’s better to be sure before you send that pitch. Call the receptionist or newsroom to ask if so-and-so is still the correct contact for what you’re pitching. Warning: Don’t ask for “the person who covers news.” You may get stuck with a gatekeeper who promises you he’ll “pass your information on,” i.e., a dead end.
2. You didn’t research. It’s essential to conduct due diligence before pitching a story. I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve gotten that had nothing to do with our business blog. Warning: Great writing won’t save your pitch if it goes to the wrong inbox.
3. Your pitch is too long. Journalists are very busy. For every relevant pitch they receive, dozens or hundreds of pitches miss the mark and get deleted. Get to the point right away by answering these questions: Is my news tailored to this outlet and its editorial preferences? Is my news unique and interesting? Is my news time-sensitive? Does it have a clear call to action?
4. Your email subject line was misleading or uninteresting. Keep your subject line short enough for mobile. Capture attention right away and don’t mislead. Warning: If you try to use trickery like adding “Re:” or “Fwd:” before your subject line, you risk being pegged as a spammer. You can count on that journalist promptly deleting your emails.
5. You didn’t offer a compelling story. Just because you’ve been asked to “place” a news release doesn’t mean journalists want to cover it. Home in on the story. Humanize your pitch as much as possible. Consider moving beyond the simple facts. Propose potential story ideas.
6. You didn’t create a sense of urgency. This seems basic, but it’s very easy to forget a call-to-action (CTA) in your pitch. You don’t just want the journalist to consider it. Get the idea across that this pitch is on a time-sensitive event or issue. It’s important for her to consider it now.
7. You waited too long to follow up. This trips pitchers often. Don’t wait weeks to follow up. Send your pitch; wait a few days to re-pitch; be sure to add value with each contact. Warning: If you wait too long, your pitch will be forgotten. You’ll have missed a prime opportunity.
8. You didn’t follow up. I’ve heard reporters say that if you don’t get a reply, they’re not interested and there’s no need to follow up. My experience has been quite different. Journalists are busy. Pitches rarely get picked up on the first contact and follow-up is necessary in most cases. If your research has convinced you your idea is a perfect fit, follow up. Be ready to explain WHY.
9. You didn’t allow enough lead-time. It’s November and you have a fabulous New Year’s idea for a national publication. Even better, you see a perfect opportunity in the publication’s editorial calendar. The problem? Lead-time. Particularly when you work with national media, allow four to six months. Check editorial close dates before you pitch. If you pitched without enough lead-time, point out the error in your follow-up email and offer an idea for months later.
10. You pitched like you were selling something. I see this often; it still makes me angry. PR is not advertising. Your pitch must be descriptive, compelling and persuasive, not pushy, self-promotional or obnoxious. Your pitch should be about the reporter and her publication’s needs, not your own.
11. The reporter just isn’t interested in your story . This item is last on my list intentionally. In my experience, if you craft a well-researched, tailored pitch and follow the above steps, you’ll get a reply.
It may not be the reply you hoped for. Often you’ll get a quick reply thanking you for your idea and explaining that it can’t be covered now, but they will keep you in mind. It’s still a no but it’s a reply, which allows you some closure.
A good pitch is a pitch treated as a piece of art created for the journalist you contact. It should inspire an appreciative response, even if she doesn’t cover your story. Pitches like these result in positive, high-quality, mutually beneficial relationships with journalists.
Kate Finley is founder and CEO of Belle Communications, an integrated communications agency in Columbus, Ohio specializing in PR, social media and content marketing for food, restaurant and startup brands. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists by searching their bios, tweets and articles, and pitch them to get more press.