What do journalists want from PR pros?

Wouldn’t it be good to know what journalists look for in press releases and story pitches?

Perhaps understand more about why some go on to achieve great coverage, and others are instantly spiked?

Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the best times to send story ideas, have more insight into the issues reporters want to cover and the best times to pitch to them?

Well, Cision has followed up on its Global State of the Media Report, which we recently covered in our media training blog, by releasing the findings from the UK journalists who took part.

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

And the views harvested from 306 journalists provide valuable information and insight.

Here are the highlights.

 

Journalist struggles

We know the media landscape has changed in recent times and that journalists are increasingly asked to do more with less, as staff numbers and advertising revenues decline.  

But two other struggles emerge from the report.

Firstly, more than 43 per cent of journalists have said they feel fatigued covering the pandemic.

And a similar figure reported finding it difficult to reach sources with so many people working remotely.

It serves as further evidence there is a big appetite for stories away from covid.

And it shows there is a need for spokespeople who are ready, willing and available to tell those stories – which is where good media training comes in.

 

Death of the press release?

Much has been written about the death of the press release.

Alex Aiken, the executive director of government comms, declared it had died back in 2013 and argued that tweets, infographics and video were better ways of getting messages out.

Those comments inflamed a long-running debate that has continued to be discussed.

But the Cision report suggests overwhelmingly that journalists like and want press releases.

More than 85 per cent of those who responded said they wanted to receive news announcements and press releases. Only 22 per cent were keen on infographics.

But the press release has evolved, and journalists now want it to include images and videos they can use to help tell the story.

Other forms of content reporters are keen to receive include original research reports (71 per cent), invitations to events (52 per cent) and opportunities to meet spokespeople, either virtually or in person (41 per cent).

 

All in the timing

The report also provides a crucial reminder that news is not necessarily immediate.

More than half of respondents reported they plan their stories in advance.

Around 22 per cent are working on stores a month in advance, and just over 20 per cent are looking at stories a week ahead.

Of course, many journalists work on stories in real-time, but the findings show that factoring in more time for pitches of stories that are not time-sensitive could lead to greater success.

 

Don’t spam

Ok, this is not new. But it is helpful to see just how much irrelevant story pitches infuriate journalists.

More than 78 per cent of the reporters who took part in the survey said that receiving irrelevant pitches would make them “block a PR Person or put them on the don’t call list”.

So, before you press send on your story idea, ensure you have researched the reporter, the stories they cover and understand their audience.

Another significant irritation is regular follow-ups, with 65 per cent of respondents highlighting this as something not to do.

Journalists overwhelmingly reported follow-ups should only happen once and that that they should take place two to three days after the pitch has been sent.

Other issues that could lead to being blocked include producing story pitches that sound like marketing material and providing inaccurate and unsourced information.

 

Words not to use

Regular readers of our media training blogs will know we have produced several articles highlighting the words not to use in media interviews and when talking to journalists.

The Cision report identified 10 words and phrases not to use in story pitches and press releases. Some of them we have covered before, and some are new.

Here they are, together with our thoughts on why they should not be used:

 

Best of breed

A phrase that originates from the world of dog shows and has, for some reason, been adopted by technology companies, large corporations, software and investment firms.

Essentially, it is used to describe almost anything that has nothing to do with breeding.

It is overused and has lost its meaning. And describing anything as being ‘the best’ should be avoided unless you can substantiate the claim.

Only use the phrase if you are judging a dog show.

 

Cutting-edge

A boastful claim that often cannot be substantiated.  

 

Leading

Many organisations describe themselves as ‘leading’. Such is its overuse it has lost any meaning. After all, not every organisation can be ‘leading’.

 

World-class

See ‘cutting edge’ above. And I would add ‘ground breaking’, ‘revolutionary’, and ‘game-changer’ to this bracket. Avoid using any of these phrases unless you can prove any of these things.

 

Unprecedented

There was an unprecedented increase in the use of ‘unprecedented’ during the pandemic. Apart from being technically inaccurate – covid isn’t the first infectious disease to spread across the world – it has been horribly overused.

And that overuse means it has become boring and causes people to switch off. Find an alternative – there are more than 30 synonyms for unprecedented.

 

ROI

Not a phrase that has factored particularly highly on our annoyance-metre. But it is another business buzzword and an acronym that is thrown around frequently. Apart from its overuse, another problem is meaning can differ.

 

Exciting

We get that you are enthusiastic about what you have to say. The problem is no one cares about your excitement level, and it is meaningless. People just want to know what the announcement means for people like themselves. Quotes in press releases that contain ‘excited or thrilled’ tend to sound contrived.

 

Thrilled

See ‘exciting’ above.

 

Unique

Is your product or service really unique? It probably isn’t, especially if you feel compelled to tell us that it is. A better approach is to show what it can do better or different and the impact that can have on people.

 

Disruptive

Everything seems to have to be described as ‘disruptive’ these days. And every new product or service appears to be claiming to ‘disrupt’ something. But what does it mean?

It became popular around 10-year-ago as a way to describe innovation in the technology sector and since then has become completely overused.

Now it seems almost compulsory for companies to describe themselves as either ‘disruptive’ or ‘leading’. Or both.

But how many of them are making significant changes to their market? Probably not that many. Instead of falling back on this tired word, focus on showing what makes your business, service or product special or different.

 

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. 

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