How to stop journalists being ‘overwhelmed and underwhelmed’ with your story pitches

How much do we know about the way covid has changed the media landscape?

We’ve all seen a change in the way news is brought into our homes, with remote interviews carried out on Zoom at least temporarily replacing face-to-face ones.

And we’ve seen that newspaper circulations and advertising revenues have taken another hit.

But what do we know about the changes it has made to the way journalists work, the stories they want to cover and the ways they want to be pitched?

Well, the 2021 Global State of the Media Report offers some detail, containing the views of more than 2,700 journalists across 15 countries.

So, what does it tell us?

Well, some of the findings are not as “surprising” as the Cision report claims, but it does include insight that should help to shape media strategies this year and some reminders about the best ways to pitch stories to journalists.

One of the more interesting findings is the confirmation of a view we have often mentioned in our media training blogs about the desire for positive stories.

The report says journalists are looking for “feel-good stories on getting back to normal”, including those on how communities, companies and technology are helping each other. 

Additionally, 30 per cent of reporters are looking for more research-based, thought leadership content.

What is also clear from the report is that metrics are becoming an increasingly significant factor in journalists deciding what stories to cover.

According to the survey, 59 per cent of reporters are considering views, engagement and demographic figures. They are looking for the stories that will generate the most shares on social media channels and ultimately lead to more advertising revenues.

The report doesn’t detail what factors would make a story more shareable, but it would be driven by the same factors that make something newsworthy. On our media training courses, we talk about the need for stories to be Timely, Relevant, Unusual, contain an element of Trouble, and be Human (TRUTH).

And these components, particularly the human and unusual ones, are vital to a story attracting social media clicks.

But before you rush away to pitch your positive news stories, the report also says journalists are both “overwhelmed and underwhelmed” by the quantity and quality of pitches they receive.

One in four reporters said they received more than 100 pitches a week and that most are quickly dismissed as being irrelevant.

Almost 70 per cent of the surveyed journalists said that only around a quarter of the pitches they receive are relevant.

What they want is for PRs and comms officers to do their homework on their audience before they pitch.

And when that homework is completed, they want all the information upfront – data, quotes, images and people to interview.

One journalist quoted in the report said: “Ninety-nine per cent of those emailing me have never even read a story I wrote.

“I don’t expect every single pitch to be relevant, but if you have no idea of my beat, you’re just spamming me.”

Timing of pitches is also critical, with journalists showing a clear preference for receiving them earlier in the week. More than 60 per cent of those surveyed said they prefer to receive them on Mondays and around 43 per cent saying that Tuesday was good.

And what about following up on those pitches?

Well, many journalists want two to three days before people follow up on their story pitch and 30 per cent do not want a follow up at all. If you are still keen to do it, the report suggests avoiding early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Another crucial consideration that emerges from the report is being available when you capture a journalist’s interest.

Just under 30 per cent of reporters said the move to home working had made it more difficult for them to reach sources.

And have spokespeople available to tell the story. One journalist said: “Don’t send a press release, then be unable to put me in touch with anyone from the company who I asked to talk to.” Another added: “Actually set up interviews rather than just provide canned statements.”

So, what does this all mean?

Well, while the media landscape has changed – and it will be intriguing to see how far it reverts back as the world opens up more – essentially the relationship between PRs and journalists remains the same.

If anything, with journalists being asked to do more for less – the survey shows more than half of reporters now cover five or more ‘beats’ – it feels like there has never been a better time to capture a journalist’s attention with a strong, well-timed pitch.

Here are a few more tips for good pitches and gaining coverage from our training courses:

 

Be brief

Hiding your message in the third paragraph is a sure-fire way to make sure you get nowhere, and the journalist misses out on something that could make the news.

 

Have a case study

Without a human example to back up your story, your message is hollow.  Countless brilliant stories have bitten the dust on the first phone call because there’s no case study.

 

Accurate

Don’t send out figures you cannot explain to a journalist afterwards. There have been occasions when a newsroom has been ready to roll with a story only to find there’s an anomaly with the statistics, and the whole thing collapses.

 

Avoid gimmicks

This includes fancy dress, stunts, irrelevant celebrities.  Far too often, the phrase “it’s just puff’ is uttered in a morning meeting, and your beloved campaign is quickly dumped.

 

Write well

Because journalism is so pressured now, with the deadline all but dead, it’s no great surprise to see a press release appear, barely subbed, in some local newspapers. So, write your press release well, and you may not even need much of a follow-up with the newsdesk other than a touch of fact-checking.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our practical crisis communication and media training.

 

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