How to reach journalists: annual survey shows the way

Image courtesy Muck Rack

Muck Rack’s State of Journalism 2020 report just came out, and like it did last year, it shows that PR success hinges on the time-honored practices of building relationships and giving media what they want: timely stories that plug into the zeitgeist. The annual survey polled over 1,000 members of the media on areas that intersect with PR, such as pitching, news sources, social media and what they think of PR pros. Here are a few tidbits to give you a feel for the state of PR play and how to reach journalists.

Don’t ignore social networks if you want media attention.

Much as people sometimes wish Twitter would go away, it’s a clear favorite for journalists: 85% find it the most valuable social platform for their work, followed by Facebook (35%) and LinkedIn (23%). Twitter’s value ticked up two points this year, and 38% of respondents said they plan to use it more, while Facebook trended down, with 42% saying they plan to use it even less than last year. TikTok appeared on the scene as a newsgathering tool this year, but only for 1% of respondents.

Nothing beats online publications for news.

Most journalists (60%) use online newspapers and magazines as their primary newsgathering source, followed distantly by Twitter, which 22% of respondents go to first for news. Broadcast/cable and print are mere blips, with only 3% and 5%, respectively, using them first. What this means: appearing in print is nice, but it’s not as good as appearing online—the opposite of what many think.

Pitching is dog-eat-dog.

Not complaining! It’s just that the numbers don’t favor those of us in the pitching position. Most journalists are pitched at least once a day (48% of survey takers reported getting 1 to 5 pitches per day), and a lot of them get many more: 30% fall in the 5 to 20 range, and 13% get more than 20 in an average day.

Ratcheting up the difficulty level: 28% of journalists say they do zero stories based on pitches. There is some light: just over half say a quarter of their articles originate from a pitch, and 15% say half their pieces are pitch-based. You can do the math—which may be why PR people try “batch and blast” approaches. But that’s not the route to success.

Success is largely timing; the rest is in the pitch.

About a third (31%) of journalists reported that bad timing is the No. 1 reason they reject a pitch that is otherwise relevant, and a few more (33%) say a lack of personalization—which communicates the sender didn’t do their homework or simply doesn’t care—is the top reason. Journalists also don’t want to waste time reading long pitches (more than 3 paragraphs) or deciphering mysterious subject lines.

Ultimately, a large part of PR success is making journalists’ jobs easier and building strong professional relationships based on credibility and trust. A little less than a third of journalists surveyed say PR relationships are antagonistic or a necessary evil—most said they see PR relationships as mutually beneficial (64%) or a partnership (7%).

Partnership—and at least mutual benefit—is what we strive for. One aspect of achieving that goal has remained the same through waves of media change: you have to tell a good story to get a good story.