Christine O'Connor | April 1, 2021
Muck Rack’s State of Journalism 2020 and 2021 reports conveniently bookend the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. This year’s survey responses, gathered from almost 2,500 reporters who cover beats from politics (47%) to fashion and beauty (8%), show that no matter what else is going on in the world, you can position your enterprise for success with a strong social media presence, personalized pitches and a human touch.
Fewer reporters, one big story make PR challenging
Last year there were fewer working reporters in the field. Layoffs were abundant and 23% of those still employed said their workload increased, which left less time to consider every pitch sent their way.
Plus, pandemic actions got the most attention: 86% of reporters surveyed said COVID-19 impacted their work. If your enterprise wasn’t involved in COVID-19 relief or otherwise central to life during the pandemic, you probably had trouble breaking through the noise: 94% of reporters said that some, most or all their coverage had a COVID angle.
Social platforms remain the media’s water cooler
Due to lockdown restrictions and safety concerns, online communication was king in 2020, so it’s no surprise that social media maintained its relevance.
Brands with a strong social media presence may have had a leg up on the competition. When reporting on a company in 2021, 86% of reporters said they sometimes, usually or always consult the company’s social media, about the same as in 2020.
Twitter remains the most valuable platform (MVP) among journalists, but its staying power is somewhat diminished. In 2020, 85% of journalists said Twitter was the MVP, with 38% expecting to spend more time using it in the future. In 2021, 76% of reporters called Twitter their MVP, with 37% expecting to use it more in the future.
Facebook saw slight gains. In 2020, 35% of reporters called Facebook their MVP, with 12% expecting to spend more time using it in the future. In 2021, 38% listed Facebook as their MVP with 14% expecting to use it more in the future.
TikTok, still the new kid on the block, gained steam as well. In 2020, 76% of reporters said that they didn’t use TikTok and that they didn’t expect to in the future. In 2021, that dropped to 65%.
Personalization and timeliness rule
Both Muck Rack surveys verify two key PR principles: First, recognize that not every story is right for every moment. Many businesses held off on major announcements or new launches for this very reason. Second, personalization has always mattered and always will. Communicate your news to the press with the understanding that good business is built on good relationships, and good relationships are built on mutual benefit.
In the 2020 survey report, the number one reason that journalists rejected otherwise relevant pitches was lack of personalization, with 33% of respondents selecting this option. This trend, which had remained consistent since the first year the survey was issued, was shaken up like everything else in the pandemic. This year, bad timing and “other” tied for first at 25%, while lack of personalization came in second at 21%. That said, many of those who selected “other” wrote in answers like “irrelevant” or “not localized,” which could be considered subsets of “lack of personalization.”
If your communication team is still blasting pitches to 1,000 contacts and hoping something sticks, it may be time to rethink your strategy. Yes, it takes a lot longer to hunt and peck through a list to find the right reporters and tailor a pitch to their interests than it does to send a blast. But the results are worth the effort.
You’re reaching out to people, not bots
One overarching fact that loomed large in every aspect of life in 2020, including the results of this survey, is that we’re all human.
The work we all did every day over the last year, from adjusting to new norms to engaging in increasingly online communication, was performed by fallible, often tired, sometimes grouchy, usually well-meaning people working and living under enormous stress.
Those who acknowledged and acted on this dynamic may have seen better results from their efforts, and certainly positioned themselves well for the future.