How journalists and PR pros expect to be treated via email

Does every electronic missive deserve a prompt response? Here’s how media professionals and corporate communicators can adapt to a changing PR landscape without being rude.

Email has made it possible to connect with someone at any time from any place—and that has created a headache for PR pros and journalists alike.

PR pros from around the world have millions of clients between them, all trying to get quoted in stories. Because of this, coupled with the ease of sending someone an email, a journalist’s inbox can quickly fill with pitches.

What is a journalist supposed to do with all of those emails? Is there a responsibility to respond to every single one, or is email one of those platforms where people aren’t always expecting a response?

Here’s what current PR pros and journalists have to say:

Does every email need a response?

Many people experience guilt when they cant’ answer all their emails.

In my experience, I want to reply to them all, I just simply don’t have the time. I am forced to prioritize which ones I will respond to, and which ones will just get dealt with on my end without giving an update. For me, some emails aren’t worth responding to—and I’m not alone.

Responding to every pitch “would be virtually impossible to do, based on my experience, due to the sheer volume of pitches and the amount of work and deadlines each journalist is managing at any given time,” says Andrea Clement, freelance healthcare writer and VP of marketing and media for Moonlighting Solutions.

Liz Jeneault, an Emmy-nominated former television news anchor and reporter says that now that she’s working as a PR pro, she wishes journalists would respond to each pitch email.

“However, I realize it’s not feasible. While working as a news anchor and reporter, my inbox was constantly flooded with emails. While I’m sure many journalists wish they could respond to each pitch, there’s simply too many of them to do so,” Jenault explains.

She advises PR pros to remain patient with reporters if possible, and keep in mind they may not have seen your pitch at all, due to the sheer volume of emails they receive.

Sometimes responding to every email can just make more work for a journalist.

As Sarah Anderson, digital content and SEO specialist pointed out, “I’ve been on both the journalist side and the PR side. It’s tough when you’re a journalist receiving hundreds of templated pitches a week. It also seems that a response, even if it’s a polite decline, solicits five more emails from that source.”

She has a point. Sending a polite decline email for a journalist can trigger more messages that try to position a client to speak on future stories. It’s reasonable to want exposure for your clients, but after a non-related, boilerplate pitch, a journalist is unlikely to turn to you in the future.

When can PR pros expect a response?

PR pros generally don’t expect a response to every pitch email they send.

“I don’t expect a response unless the journalist is interested in covering the story. Why would they bother responding otherwise, really?” says Clement. “It’s a waste of time.

Clement reflected on her past as a journalist, saying: “Sometimes, if I couldn’t cover a story but was interested in future pitches, I’d respond to let the PR person know that I want to be kept in the loop even though I can’t cover this particular story, or if I needed pitches on a related but slightly different topic, I’d let the PR person know.”

Though most PR pros don’t expect a response, many also say that they would appreciate one.

“Because I used to work in the news industry and know how difficult it can be for reporters to respond to all of the emails they receive, I do not expect a response with each pitch email. IT would be wonderful to receive a response, though. Even a ‘not interested’ response is helpful, because that way I know not to waste my time following up again,” Jeneault said.

Anderson has some adroit advice: “I do think the best approach, though, is trying to be as responsive as possible and treat others how you would want to be treated. I’ve found that putting good vibes out there always comes back to me as success and positivity in whatever I’m working on.”

Anderson says that while she doesn’t expect a response, she’s always happy and surprised when she does receive one.

“We’re all in this together trying to create great content, [build relationships] with that content, impress our bosses and reach new heights in our careers. We can help each other with that most times,” she adds.

What do PR pros want from a response?

Jeneault says that unless there is an open channel of communication, a standard reply doesn’t do much good. With an automated response, it’s hard for a PR pro to know if a journalist saw the pitch.

“A personalized response is always preferred, although I realize reporters are short on time and often receive too many emails to do so,” Jeneault added.

Both PR pros and journalists have jobs to do. If you are a journalist and don’t respond to a publicist’s pitch, you can’t get aggravated when they send a follow-up email. They’re just doing their jobs, just like you are.

The consequences of not replying

Here’s what some PR pros had to say when asked if they would stop pitching a journalist who doesn’t respond to pitches:

  • “Yes. No use in beating a dead horse. We can take a hint!” says Sharon Kaslassi, head of media relations at Blonde 2.0.
  • “Not necessarily. If I think I have a source, or input that is relevant, I’ll continue to send it if it seems like a good fit,” says Linda Pophal, marketing/PR consultant at Strategic Communications, LLC.
  • “I don’t think you can be sure a reporter won’t use your pitch in the future, so it’s always good to keep sending emails. Unless they tell you directly to stop emailing them, you may eventually send them a pitch that aligns with what they’re looking for,” says Liz Jeneault.
  • “I like to talk to a journalist before I pitch them and try to set up some sort of relationship,” says Shane Bias, founder of BiasPR. “Developing relationships is an important part of PR. This helps us get responses from journalists to our pitch emails. However, I won’t stop pitching journalists who don’t respond to my emails.”

PR pros seem prepared to go after what they want, regardless of the encouragement they receive. Some of the approaches above will trigger a journalist—but journalists should speak up when a pitch doesn’t fit their niche.

When do you expect a response to an email, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

Jennifer Post is a freelance writer and journalist. 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.

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