What journalists want from PR people

Credible sources and pitches emailed early in the week, according to a new Muck Rack report.

Muck Rack survey data

Journalists consider academics and CEOs to be the most credible sources for their reporting, far more than corporate communications professionals and agency PR reps, according to a new report published by Muck Rack.

Of the 2,482 journalists surveyed in January, 86% cited academics as the most credible, 75% said CEOs, 55%, corporate comms professionals, and 34%, PR agencies, according to “The State of Journalism 2021: Reporting, social media habits and preferences for working with PR in the year of Covid-19.”

Despite the strain of covering the pandemic, the majority of them are optimistic about their profession.

“Last year was a challenging year for journalists and the industry as a whole. Just a few months into the year, 94% of journalists completely pivoted most or all of their reporting to angles related to Covid-19. Add to that, 23% reported they have a larger workload due to layoffs and furloughs,” Muck Rack CEO Greg Galant says. “But still, journalists remain hopeful about the industry—58% of say they are optimistic about the journalism profession, which is consistent with findings over the past three years.”

Those influencers you might consider working with to pitch a product? Think again. Just one in 10 journalists (12%) said social media personalities and celebrities are credible.

“By far the most credible type of source is an academic subject matter expert,” says Nick Lanyi, a media relations consultant at Ragan Consulting Group who’s worked as a financial journalist and crisis communications executive at Porter Novelli.

“That’s why it’s so important to engage with third-party validators for your messages,” he says. “We emphasize this when we do crisis planning with our clients. When the chips are down, if you can tell a reporter to call the local professor to vouch for what you’re saying, that’s gold.”

Furthermore, the report validates the need for consistent thought leadership in the C-Suite. CEOs should be blogging, submitting articles, and speaking at conferences on a regular basis to share their unique point of view.

The 36-slide report is a treasure trove of data for anyone interested in the news media’s decision-making processes.

While 59% of those surveyed said relationships with publicists are mutually beneficial, but not a partnership, 18% describe the relationships as antagonistic, and 17% as a necessary evil. The largest segment (43%) said they receive five to 25 pitches per week, many of which go unheeded, especially if they are “random” or lack personalization. The majority of journalists (61%) said one-quarter of their stories come from pitches, while 19% said none of them do. Half of them said they write five or more stories per week.

The most shareable stories are connected to an ongoing trend, 70% of them said, while slightly fewer (64%) said images and infographics make for shareable content. Very few (9%) said quotes from a company spokesperson merit sharing, further validating the need for C-level authenticity.

“We all know that images and infographics are important online and in social media, but they will also help make a pitch come alive,” Lanyi says. “Every organization has some proprietary data. Use it to pitch a story. If you can be surprising, counterintuitive or controversial, you’re going to have a better chance of success.”

Quotes in press releases tend to rank low on the media’s list of esteemed qualities because many of them lack news value. Instead of platitudes, quotes should contain genuine insight about, say, the newly inked deal, or the product you’ve brought to market. Explain how your company’s services actually benefit others.

“We tell our clients all the time to make quotes sound like a real person would say them,” Lanyi says. “Delete the ‘we are thrilled’ and “we are so excited’ corporate speak.”

It’s been said that catching reporters on social media is the right approach, but Muck Rack’s study says to reconsider.

Of those surveyed, 94% said email is the best way to reach them, while 12% said so of Twitter. Fewer than one in 10 journalists (9%) cited Facebook and LinkedIn.

Publicists should send emails on Mondays between 5 a.m. and 12 p.m. Eastern, offer exclusives when possible, and provide just enough information to demonstrate newsworthiness. Nearly half of the journalists (46%) said pitches should be between 100 and 200 words.

“Year after year, journalists overwhelmingly report they prefer to be pitched via 1:1 email…This tells PR pros that journalists want them to do their homework and ensure the timing of sending a pitch makes sense in relation to what the journalist is covering and what’s going on in the world,” says Galant, whose company helps publicists identify the specific keywords journalists use in their stories and tweets. “This shouldn’t be new to most PR pros, but the tactical advice in the State of Journalism is always a good reminder of media relations best practices.”

The debate about the credibility of in-house comms pros vs. agency people is nuanced.

“Beat reporters are more likely to have a relationship with inhouse PR people than with an agency rep,” Lanyi says. “Second, a lot of clients will pitch interesting stories themselves and give the less interesting stories to the agency to pitch. It’s human nature. If it’s going to be successful, you’re going to do it yourself.”

You can learn more about Muck Rack’s report here.

Ragan Consulting Group specializes in corporate communications training, consulting and strategic counsel. Contact Kristin Hart at Kristin.Hart@raganconsulting.com to learn how RCG can help improve your communications strategy. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here.

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