With earned media playing an increasingly important role in content-sharing, media relations remains a crucial element of public relations.
But media pitching is highly challenging. Some surveys suggest that 95 percent of pitches never get a media response.
Here are five reasons your pitches may be falling on deaf ears.
1. You didn’t do your homework. The difference between a mediocre PR firm and a top-notch agency often comes down to preparation. Agencies that “spray” a press release broadly at any target they can find are usually ones that get limited pick-up. They also tick off reporters and give the rest of us a bad name.
PR firms that excel at media relations will spend hours – sometimes days – doing the homework essential to successful pitching. That means we fully investigate the story idea or topic we are about to pitch. Has it already been covered? By whom? How recently? And for each journalist, we conduct the same due diligence. What has she already covered this year? Does our topic align with what he already writes about?
When our media list is finally built and we’re ready to begin pitching, we can be reasonably certain that most of the names on the list will find the pitch interesting and relevant. That’s not always a guarantee of an article, but it’s a good start.
2. Your timing was bad. Timing is important on several levels. First, you don’t want to pitch a journalist too close to deadline. Make it a point to know what time of day is best to pitch a particular outlet. There are usually a couple of golden hours in the day, before stories need to be filed, when reporters and editors are more open to hearing from PR folks.
More broadly, make sure your pitch isn’t conflicting with breaking news. Any type of national or international event or crisis is usually a bad time to pitch, unless you have an expert who can comment on the situation. If you follow news closely, you will become attuned to daily, weekly and seasonal lags in the news business when your pitch is more likely to get a hearing.
Speaking of timing, successful pitching often requires patience. Unless you are pitching a time-sensitive, breaking news story, don’t be discouraged by a long wait before you hear back. A shrinking news hole means it can take weeks (and sometimes months) before a journalist has time to respond to a good pitch. This is where personal relationships can help accelerate consideration (or at least get you an acknowledgement that they received the pitch).
3. You made over-the-top claims that didn’t seem credible or couldn’t be backed up. Journalists, by nature, tend toward skepticism; they deal in facts and truth.
Our media friends tell us they become suspicious at “too good to be true” claims or overly hyped verbiage. Be judicious in using words like “first,” “unique,” and “one-of-a-kind.” Be prepared to defend your claims. If you have research that bolsters your statements, share it.
4. You didn’t find a creative way to enter the news cycle. The most successful firms practice “news hijacking” – finding ways to introduce their clients to already cycling news. When a major consumer data breach is making headlines, watch for the security experts who offer tips. Chances are good an on-the-ball PR person helped cycle them into the news.
A pitch needs to occur with context around it. You increase your chances of getting a good reception if you can link your pitch to a larger trend or angle.
For a recent blog post, we interviewed a former Page One editor for The New York Times who now works as a senior consultant for us. Her advice on pitching top-tier media outlets is excellent:
“News outlets like The Times that are aimed at a broad audience seldom do single-source stories, and almost never cover one product, person or event in isolation. Understand the way who or what you’re pitching fits (or swims against) a trend. Look for a wider, national or global angle.”
5. Your pitch wasn’t newsworthy. Even if you get the first four of these steps right, it’s doubtful they can overcome a bad pitch.
One of the single, most important skills needed in media pitching is news judgment. Sound news judgment is developed through experience and by regularly consuming news. You will never develop that sixth sense for which story has “legs” unless you are routinely reading, listening and watching the news.
News judgment is also closely aligned with media outlets. What passes for news in a micro-local newspaper isn’t going to qualify as news for The New York Times (unless you find a way to tie it into a larger trend or story; see # 4 above).
Make sure you are pitching to outlets whose readers and listeners will agree that the story is of interest to them. Be prepared to make your case to the journalist or editor you’re pitching. And don’t be afraid to engage in a little back-and-forth to see if you can find common ground.
One of the best media pitchers I ever worked with used this response any time a reporter turned her down. “What would make this story more interesting to you?” She was successful in turning a number of “no’s” into strong placements for our clients.
Media pitching requires strategy, homework, creativity and patience. It is rarely as simple as just drafting a press release and blasting it out.
If you invest the upfront time in planning, your pitching efforts are likely to enjoy better reception.