Pitch perfect: results from journalism and PR surveys

The days when a PR representative could pick up the phone and cold-call a journalist—and get more than a cold shoulder—are long gone.

But despite the vast preference for email outreach, a couple of recent surveys indicate that media relations is still about building relationships. Almost all journalists want personal, one-to-one pitches about topics relevant to them and their outlets. And even more PR pros say that approach is what gets the best traction.

The data comes from Muck Rack, which, as a media relations and journalist portfolio platform, has a vested interest. (Full disclosure: we use it.) But their 2019 surveys of journalists and PR pros deliver useful findings that illuminate how each side can work better with the other.

I say “side” because about a third of the 700-plus journalists surveyed in the State of Journalism 2019 report say the PR-media relationship is “antagonistic, but not necessarily a bad thing” or “a necessary evil.” Most (63 percent) regard their dealings with PR reps as mutually beneficial, but trust still has to be earned—on both sides—and that’s a healthy thing.

For us in PR, earning trust starts with getting to know journalists. We read their stuff. We follow them on social media, like 93 percent of roughly 800 PR pros in the State of PR survey.

That’s all to the good: lack of personalization is journalists’ most-cited reason for rejecting otherwise relevant pitches, and the vast majority (93 percent) want that personalized pitch via email. On the flip side, most (69 percent) definitely do not want to be called, and almost half say no to Twitter pitches.

So, what makes the best pitch, apart from a personalized email tailored to the journalist’s interests? Two-thirds of journalists prefer pitches of two or three paragraphs, and about one-third like two to three sentences. And 65 percent of them want to get it before 11 a.m.

Here are a few other tidbits:

Newswire releases: Only 19 percent of journalists like getting news this way. However, 13 percent of PR people use a newswire “heavily” and most send releases at least occasionally. (Reasons cited include pleasing management, SEO and tradition, along with generating coverage and regulatory requirements.)

Offering an exclusive: Most surveyed journalists report that they are more likely to consider an exclusive story (40 percent say it definitely makes a difference, and 36 percent say it matters somewhat). Embargoes are another story: 57 percent say they are detrimental or don’t matter; 43 percent find them useful.

Best reporting sources: A big majority (89 percent) of journalists say academics are credible sources, and 75 percent like CEOs too. Just under 60 percent said company PR reps are credible, and only 37 percent said agency PR people are. (Bloggers, celebrity spokespeople and social media natterati are not taken seriously at all.)

This pecking order doesn’t surprise me, and it speaks to my opening point: we have to earn journalists’ trust to be successful. In a world where there are six of us PR people for every working journalist, the only way we stand out is by making their jobs easier.