Research: PR pros cite spike in difficulty of media relations

Several aggregated surveys deliver some hard—and sometimes hard-to-stomach—data about the current state of public relations, journalism and the crossroads of the two.

Media relations survey data

Media relations is an increasingly tough gig—for everyone involved.

According to the 2019 JOTW Communications Survey, 69% of communicators said that media relations is “getting harder or much harder”—a 17-point increase from the same survey last year.

What can PR pros do about it? Studying the preferences of publications, editors and reporters is a good place to start.

Let’s review results from three separate surveys that polled hundreds of journalists to shed light on what they say motivates them to cover a story.

1. How reporters view social media, embargoes and exclusives.

Earlier this year, Muck Rack published a survey of 700 reporters for its State of Journalism 2019. Consider these takeaways from Muck Rack’s report:

  • Reporters value Twitter twice as much as Facebook. Here’s how journalists ranked the importance of the online platforms:
    • Twitter (83%)
    • Facebook (40%)
    • LinkedIn (26%)
    • Instagram (21%)
    • Reddit (13%)
    • YouTube (12%)
    • WhatsApp (8%)
    • Signal (5%)
    • Snapchat (1%)
  • Reporters review business social media profiles. Sixty-one percent of reporters said when they are reporting on a company, they “always” or “usually” “consult the company’s social media.” Another 29% said “sometimes,” and just 11% said “rarely” or “never.”
  • Reporters love a follow and share. The survey found that “Seventy-eight percent of journalists like when PR pros follow them on social media,” and 71% “track how many times stories are shared on social media.”
  • The best pitches are short emails in the morning. Ninety-three percent of reporters prefer personalized, one-to-one email pitches, although 19% said mass emails and newswires are OK. Another 11% said the phone was fine, and 13% said Twitter pitches are acceptable.

Most journalists (65%) prefer to be pitched before 11 a.m. One-third of reporters “want to receive pitches under three sentences in length, with another 61% preferring pitches under three paragraphs.”

  • Embargoes get mixed reviews. “Fifty-seven percent of journalists believe press embargoes are either detrimental or don’t matter. Forty-three percent find them useful.”
  • Exclusives matter. “Seventy-six percent of journalists are more likely to cover a story if offered as an exclusive.”
  • Follow-ups are OK. “Seventy-three percent of journalists are OK with receiving a follow-up to a pitch they didn’t initially respond to. Only 12% would prefer to not receive any type of follow up.”
  • Credible sources. Who are the most credible sources from a reporter’s perspective?
    • Academic subject matter experts (89%)
    • CEOs (75%)
    • Company PR representatives (58%)
    • Agency PR representatives (37%)
    • Bloggers (16%)
    • Social media personalities (13%)
    • Celebrity spokespeople (13%)

2. What reporters want from PR pitches.

“My biggest issue with pitches is that they rarely have anything to do with my particular beat. It’s like the person who sends them does not even bother to look up what I cover.”

That’s a comment shared by a journalist in a report by Fractl, which found writers at top publications can receive anywhere from 100 to 500 [email] pitches per week.

Consider these stats plucked from Fractl’s survey of 500 writers, editors and publishers:

  • Provide space for reporters to develop their own angle. “Seventy percent of publishers prefer to collaborate on ideas, while only 30% want to receive a finished asset.”
  • Original research has the most appeal. “Thirty-nine percent of publishers want content that has exclusive research.”
  • Contributed articles are often your best shot at earning coverage. “Nineteen percent of publishers requested articles, 13% requested infographics, 12% requested mixed-media pieces, and 11% requested data visualizations.”
  • Get to know the reporters you are pitching. “Sixty-four percent of publishers think it is of some importance that you establish a personal connection before pitching.”
  • Try pithy emails with descriptive subject lines (in the morning). “Eighty-one percent of writers want your pitch to be sent through email, and 85% want a pitch under 200 words.”

Another 9% said social media pitches were acceptable, and just 5% welcome phone calls. In addition, “Eighty-five percent of writers said that they open an email based on its subject line, and 42% want a subject line that is descriptive.” Finally, “Sixty-nine percent of writers want to receive your pitch in the morning hours.”

separate report from Fractl notes there are consequences for bad pitches: “Fifty-three percent have blacklisted at least one person this month due to bad pitches. Thirty percent have blacklisted three or more.”

3. What drives news coverage? (It’s not influencers.)

Consider these insights culled from Ogilvy’s 2019 Global Media Influence Survey:

  • Money, charity and strategy are crucial. According to Ogilvy: “Financial reporting, CSR [corporate social responsibility] initiatives and strategic business decisions are most influential in shaping earned media coverage.”
  • Reporters say Twitter tops Facebook. “Twitter is the social media platform that most often informs reporters’ coverage, ranked first by an average of 48% of reporters worldwide compared to 29% of those who cited Facebook or Instagram.”
  • Media coverage is cumulative. Ogilvy found that 89% of journalists “research past coverage in their reporting, a reminder that both positive and negative stories live forever online—and emphasizing the lasting impact of earned media strategies.”
  • Strike a balance between owned, earned and paid media. The survey found “a plurality of reporters (46%) believe a balanced combination of earned, owned and paid media is necessary to successfully manage corporate reputation and influence their coverage.”
  • Reporters aren’t too hot on social media influencers. “An average of only 10% of journalists worldwide cited third-party social media influencers alone as the most impactful contributor to brand reputation.”

Do these insights strike a chord? Do you believe media relations is getting harder—or is the game just changing? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Frank Strong is founder of Sword and the Script Media. A version of this post first appeared on Sword and the Script.

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