The relationship between PR professionals and journalists is far from perfect.
PR pros feel neglected and ignored after spending hours upon hours researching and pitching the best fit for a given reporter. In turn, journalists feel they too often get professionally ghosted or catfished by publicists.
Searching for interest in all the wrong places, failing to prove what you can offer the other person and letting potential matches fall off the radar will set you up for professional heartbreak.
Don’t let the parallels between online dating and digital communications discourage your media outreach efforts. As in any relationship, it’s all about communication.
A recent survey reached out to 1,300 reporters, editors and writers at hundreds of publications to determine what they want (and don’t want) in a pitch.
After sifting through hundreds of responses, publishers revealed three mistakes commonly committed in pitches.
Mistake 1: Failing to do your research
One significant change in marketing over the past decade has been a shift toward an inbound mentality—thoroughly researching and targeting ideal audiences to bring potential customers and clients to you, rather than sending out irrelevant messages that inevitably get lost in the noise.
PR pros should follow a similar strategy when it comes to media outreach. Rather than blasting the inboxes of time-starved reporters with press releases that don’t match their beat, investing the time to research the most applicable publication/writer will yield much better likelihood of a response. The survey results support that strategy: Nearly 70 percent of publishers reveal they ignore pitches irrelevant to their beat and audience.
Where, then should you begin with research?
Draft a list of publications and websites your target audience frequents, and determine whether your content would be a match for a given publication’s audience. If you’re having trouble thinking beyond typical news or industry-specific sites, tools such as BuzzSumo can help you find what websites (and even better, which writers) are publishing the most-popular articles on social media based on keywords.
After vetting the publications list to ensure they publish or cover third-party content, scout out the best point of contact. Again, BuzzSumo is a great tool to see what writers are publishing articles with keywords similar to your content, but other resources specific to finding journalists and building media lists exist to help you pinpoint editorial contacts according to a particular beat.
Mistake 2: Failing to prove your value
Journalists shun pitches full of self-serving content that brings no value to their readers.
Most publishers (56 percent) send a pitch straight to the recycle bin if it comes off as overly promotional. Again, that comes down to communication. Often, pitches outline too many mundane details without conveying how the content can benefit readers.
Journalists pride themselves on following a code of ethics, and much of their integrity rests on providing factual, unique and pertinent news and information, so there are three characteristics of content you must point out to catch their interest. Your pitch must be:
- Credible. Mention the foolproof methodology your team used to create the content; name the authoritative, recognizable data source, or explain the method by which you researched the information.
- Newsworthy. Point out newsworthy elements such as the timeliness of the topic or data or the proximity to local readership.
- Relevant. Include how the content relates and can resonate with the publication’s audience, whether it’s by entertaining, educating or motivating readers.
Objective content can appeal to various publishers with different audiences, so clearly and concisely highlight those three points as you develop your content’s distinctive angle applicable to the publisher’s audience.
Mistake 3: Failing to follow up properly
Talk to any journalist, and you’ll be told about how flooded with pitches their inboxes have become over the past decade.
Of those 1,300 publishers surveyed, 57 percent revealed they get from 50 to 500 pitches a week—yet the average writer produces five stories or fewer per week. Clearly these numbers don’t look great at first glance, but fortunately 45 percent of the same publishers also revealed they often or always read pitches.
If your initial pitch fails to get a reply, even after avoiding the first two PR pitfalls, you can still follow up if you feel your email was overlooked or forgotten. Only 16 percent of publishers felt follow-ups were never acceptable; most expect them. To avoid seeming too desperate and getting blacklisted, however, never follow up more than twice. (Usually once is enough.)
Timing is crucial. Wait at least two to three business days to follow up with a short reminder; that allows writers drowning in a sea of pitches to catch their breath. Avoid following up after seven or more business days, or your pitch might no longer be timely and relevant.
When it comes to crafting the perfect follow-up after a few days with no response, follow the same principles as writing the initial pitch, but boil it down. Cite a new (but still relevant and timely) fact or statistic from your content to catch their attention, especially if it relates to any of their most recent coverage or a newly trending news stories.
Pitching isn’t easy, and unfortunately we can do everything right as PR pros and still face rejection.
Keep these common mistakes and their solutions in mind to mitigate any heartbreak—and to avoid becoming the next #PRfail retweeted by @SmugJourno.
Ashley Carlisle is a brand relations strategist at Fractl, a content marketing agency specializing in data-driven campaigns. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.