Pitching insights from Digiday, CNBC, WHYY & Adweek journalists

What are reporters looking for in a pitch? Four veterans weigh in about pitches that earn their respect—or their ire.

Pitching tips

As the usefulness of the common press release continues to wane, short, customized and targeted pitches are increasingly becoming the No.1 tool for PR pros.

Yet, when journalists receive between 50–100 cold email pitches per day—and admit to rejecting a whopping 95 percent of them—it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re getting it right.

Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what will prevent your pitch from ending up in the trash before you’ve sent it? We had the opportunity to interview four journalists about what they look for in pitches from PR professionals. In this interview, you’ll hear from:

  • Kerry Flynn, Marketing Reporter, Digiday
  • Jim Pavia, Money Editor, CNBC
  • Trenae Nuri, Morning Edition Associate, WHYY News
  • Sammy Nickalls, Departments Editor, Adweek

We asked them each five quick questions about the number of pitches they receive each day, what causes them to reject a pitch, their typical schedule for reading through pitches in their inboxes, how to make a pitch stand out and how they collect story ideas.

Kerry Flynn, marketing reporter, Digiday

1. How many pitches from PR pros do you receive per day? Can you estimate what percent of pitches you accept and reject?

It’s hard to judge, but I would say 50–100 per day. I just counted how many I got on Sept. 5 and it was, I think, 48. The sad thing is if any of them were time-sensitive, I didn’t follow through because I was heads down on the tech hearings in Washington. Scanning through them now I think maybe four of them were useful, but that doesn’t mean the others couldn’t add value in the future.

The vast majority of pitches I don’t accept because they’re embargoes and at Digiday we simply don’t cover them. But if it’s a topic relevant to my beat, I will start to build a relationship with that person.

2. What’s the No. 1 reason you reject pitches?

Embargoes. We don’t cover them at Digiday. Secondly, it’s just not related at all to my beat.

3. Is there a specific time of day you typically go through pitches? A best day of the week to pitch you?

I have my email open all day and I’m always on my phone so there’s no set time or day. But sometimes I’m head down covering a news story, feature writing or at an event. Yesterday I was without my phone for about three hours. So, it really just depends.

If you want to know if it’s a good time to pitch me, check my Twitter and you’ll probably be able to figure out what I’m doing.

4. What can a PR pro do to stand out and get your attention when pitching you?

Get to the point in the subject line and the body of the email. I would much rather see two sentences in my inbox that explain why you’re reaching out than a 1,000-word press release.

Also, if there’s a puppy GIF after those two sentences, I’ll probably reply.

5. Where do you get your story ideas from? Is it typically direction from editors, PR pitches, social media or somewhere else?

I’ve been covering advertising and social media for long enough now that I see the stories before it appears in my inbox, so it’s a lot of me thinking about topics that I think are undercovered and reporting them out. I do take PR pitches when it’s something exclusive and related to what I cover. I do follow a lot of, um, thought leaders on Twitter and just people in the advertising industry and sometimes I see them tweet something interesting like Facebook CPMs are so expensive, and I’ll DM them, “Let’s talk about it!”

Jim Pavia, money editor, CNBC

1. How many pitches from PR pros do you receive per day? Can you estimate what percent of pitches you accept and reject?

I get an average of 75 pitches a day. I will follow-up, use or pass along to reporters about 10 percent.

2. What’s the No. 1 reason you reject pitches?

They are not relevant to my area of news coverage, meaning the person just sent a PR blast without knowing who it was going to.

3. Is there a specific time of day you typically go through pitches? A best day of the week to pitch you?

No. I actually look at every email PR pitch that lands in my inbox.

4. What can a PR pro do to stand out and get your attention when pitching you?

A few things: Make sure it’s relevant to my area/focus of coverage, personal finance. Make it short and sweet; I don’t need to read War and Peace in a PR pitch. Give me something that is new and fresh and newsworthy (not much to ask) and make sure the person you are looking for me to speak with actually is up on the subject.

5. Where do you get your story ideas from? Is it typically direction from editors, PR pitches, social media or somewhere else?

Yes, yes and yes. In the world we live in now, there are so many ways to gather data and create story development…we use all the ways you mentioned. Social media, Twitter and LinkedIn are very key.

Trenae Nuri, morning edition associate, WHYY News

1. How many pitches from PR pros do you receive per day? Can you estimate what percent of pitches you accept and reject?

Our newsroom receives nearly 300+ pitches for coverage.

2. What’s the No. 1 reason you reject pitches?

The number one reason a pitch is reject is that your event may not be a story. I’m looking to tell a story. You may have an awesome event, but it may not hold for a full story. Always think of this phrase, “Why should people care?”

3. Is there a specific time of day you typically go through pitches? A best day of the week to pitch you?

I go through pitches early in the morning between 6–7 a.m.

4. What can a PR pro do to stand out and get your attention when pitching you?

  • Personalize your email and spell names correctly.
  • Tell me something I don’t know. Give me all the details.
  • Know the medium you are pitching. I’m a radio reporter. Although I could record a video or take a picture, I think about sound much more.
  • Remember, you’re a storyteller, too. Get to the point. Why should we really care?

5. Where do you get your story ideas from? Is it typically direction from editors, PR pitches, social media or somewhere else?

I get my ideas from several different places: social media, networking, observing things in my community, PR pitches and direction from editors, too.

Sammy Nickalls, departments editor, Adweek

1. How many pitches from PR pros do you receive per day? Can you estimate what percent of pitches you accept and reject?

I’d say anywhere from 50–150 depending on the day/news cycle. I ignore most of them, as they tend to be out of my wheelhouse; I often go days without accepting anything at all.

2. What’s the No. 1 reason you reject pitches?

Lack of effort. A good pitch makes it obvious that the pitcher has done their research and knows what I’m looking for. It’s not hard to look up an editor’s name and job title, see what sort of topics they’ve covered in the past, and make sure that a) their pitch is in the editor’s wheelhouse and b) it’s not overlapping too much with something they’ve already covered.

I’d say the No. 2 reason—and this is honestly depressing to me—is straight-up rudeness. Just the other day, a PR rep texted me on my personal cell past five on my vacation day about a pitch that I hadn’t even accepted. I hadn’t even given her my phone number! I’ve also received phone calls at 7 a.m. on the weekend, extremely rude and passive-aggressive follow-ups, and other nasty pitching methods that make me instantly reject the pitch. It’s a great way to ensure an editor will never work with you again.

3. Is there a specific time of day you typically go through pitches? A best day of the week to pitch you?

It really depends on the editor, but for me, I prefer Mondays as I try to clean out my inbox at the beginning of the week to get things organized. I also appreciate a late-afternoon gentle follow up after about three days.

4. What can a PR pro do to stand out and get your attention when pitching you?

Make it clear that they know what I’m looking for, have seen what I’ve published in that area before, and have the perfect subject that will work for that topic. For example, I manage several departments, one of which is called Talent Pool. When someone emails me making it clear they know what Talent Pool is and the parameters surrounding it, have seen other Talent Pools we’ve published and have a great candidate that works perfectly for it, I will absolutely respond. Make an editor’s job easier, not harder, and that’s the way to get your foot in the door.

5. Where do you get your story ideas from? Is it typically direction from editors, PR pitches, social media or somewhere else?

I don’t think this one quite applies to me since my job is a weird one!

Although each of these reporters covers a very different beat, they’re all looking for pretty similar things in a pitch.

The bottom line? Do your prep work.

Jessica Lawlor is the features editor for the Muck Rack blog and handles content initiatives and social media for Muck Rack. 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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