The 2019 Go Fish Digital Reporter Pitching Survey

by Posted @ Sep 24 2019

Love it or hate it, pitching is a key component to public relations and digital marketing. It’s an effective way to get your campaign, message, or idea out to news organizations and it gives those news organizations an opportunity to source additional content for their publication. One drawback of pitching, however, is that PR professionals significantly outnumber journalists in a shrinking media landscape and pitches have to stand out and provide maximum value to the reporter.

With that in mind, we conducted a survey that asked real journalists how they are pitched and how they would like to be pitched. Two of our initial questions were on the relevancy of pitches and the number of pitches received each day. What we found was that, on average, journalists receive 30 or more pitches a day and only about 25% of them are relevant to their news beat. 

Our main goals from running this survey were to make our pitches better and to help journalists and their inboxes by presenting the findings of the study for other marketers to use. 

Check out the results below: 

Email Timing

When it comes to sending a pitch, how and when you send it plays an important role in your ultimate success. A pitch communicated via the wrong method or at the wrong time is likely to be ignored (at best) or make a journalist dislike you (at worst).

With that in mind, a significant portion of our survey focused on factors that we could easily control and change for pitching: contact method, timing, and frequency. 

One of the first questions we asked was on the journalist’s preferred method of getting pitches. With so many writers active professionally on Twitter and other social media platforms, we wanted to find out the best way to reach them. What we found is that journalists still prefer email, and it’s not even close. Not one person said they prefer social media, and all but two said they prefer email (the other two said they’d like a phone call). So, we recommend sticking to email pitches for now. 

One of the questions we wanted to answer was, “What’s the right time to send a pitch?” To help answer that, we asked reporters the three most common times of the day they receive pitches as well as the three times they most prefer to receive them. Using those responses, we calculated the data using a simple weighted formula where the most preferred time was worth three points, the second-most two points, and the third-most one point. We then compared that to the days in which reporters receive the most pitches using the same formula. Here are the results:

The main takeaway from this data is that reporters want their pitches waiting for them in their inbox when they get to work. Our results show that most people are sending pitches too late in the day and that reporters want them earlier in the day (or even overnight). By far the largest difference between preferred and actual was for the early morning hours (5:30 am – 7:59 am).

In many ways, this is a logical result. Many news organizations have morning editorial meetings to decide the coverage for the day. If you can get your pitch in before that meeting, the reporter or editor has time to review it, ask you questions, and potentially pitch it to their staff.

Additionally, we asked the same question for the day of the week. The results echoed the time of day question:

Overall, journalists want pitches waiting for them in their inbox early in the week. The results show that the most preferred days are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. With how stories are assigned, writers want to be able to plan their workloads at the beginning of the week, and if a pitch comes in later than that, they may not have the bandwidth to cover it. Interestingly, we had a number of people who say they prefer Sunday pitches, and this follows the trend of wanting to have pitches waiting for them early in the morning. 

Another question that we, like many PR professionals, had was on the frequency of pitching the same contacts. If you have a number of clients or campaigns that are in the same industry or on the same topics, you might find yourself reaching out to a similar pool of writers and organizations over and over. So, we asked journalists how often is too often to pitch them and here are the results:

The good news for media outreach professionals is that it would be moderately hard to pitch someone too much. Only 12% of respondents said that any more than once a month is too much. By far the highest response was ‘a few times a week’ with ‘once a week’ being the second-highest response. Roughly 20% said that once a day or multiple times a day was acceptable. 

Along with the frequency of an initial pitch, we asked about follow-ups and how many times it is acceptable to follow up. While 25% of respondents said they’d prefer zero follow-ups, the majority (57%) said that one follow up was fine.

Our advice is to go with the majority: one follow-up is fine, but a second or third is unnecessary or even annoying. Those additional follow-ups could potentially be harmful to your relationship with that journalist.

What makes a good email?

The contents of a pitch email are the most important part of outreach. Sending your email at the right time gives you a better chance of a journalist opening and reading it, but that doesn’t ensure your pitch will get results. Even if you send an email at the absolute perfect time, a reporter won’t bite if your message contains fatal flaws. The important components of a pitch are the email subject line, the message body, and the supplementary elements (i.e. visuals).

Our survey provided us insight into how to execute each of these elements well, as well as how to do them poorly. The first question is on the topic of email subject lines. When pitching a study or a piece of content, you need a subject line that tells the reporter what you’re emailing them about. There are several options to do this. You could use a headline title (e.g. An Analysis of America’s Favorite Pies), a stat (e.g. 40% of Americans love apple pie), a question that’s answered in the pitch (e.g. What is America’s favorite kind of pie?), or even some kind of clickbait (e.g. America’s favorite kind of pie will shock you).

As it turns out, nearly half of respondents (46.9%) said they prefer a specific stat from the study. The second-most preferred is a headline title (37.0%). Only 12.3% say they like a question, and a measly 3.7% said clickbait. These findings are consistent with our experience with media outreach. Reporters don’t want to be left guessing, nor do they want to feel tricked or deceived. They’d rather have someone get right to the point when pitching them. A question or clickbait subject line leaves them without important information, whereas a stat or a headline gives them a clear expectation of what your pitch will include.

Next, we asked about the characteristics of an effective email body. In this ‘select all that apply’ question, reporters were asked what makes an email pitch better. The possible answers included “graphics included/linked to,” “a reference to your previous work,” “a longer email that includes highly detailed information,” “gets to the point right away,” “includes bulleted summary points,” and “short and concise.”

These results, again, show that reporters want you to convey your message directly and clearly. Nearly 3 in 4 reporters (74%) say a pitch is better if it gets to the point right away, while 61% say a pitch should be short and concise. 45% of reporters say they prefer an email to have bulleted summary points. The remaining three possible answers are not as important to reporters. 23% say they would like graphics included, which makes sense with some pitches not having graphics to include. Only 16% said they like a reference to their previous work, and a mere 7% said they prefer a longer email with highly detailed information. In summary: it’s best to communicate concisely and clearly and to make it easy for a reporter to find the most important information in your pitch.

We then asked specifically about the use of visuals or graphics in a pitch.

Our data shows that visuals can be incredibly valuable in the right setting. Data is everywhere and more and more reporters are using data for their articles. Content created by our team and other marketers has followed the same data-heavy trend. We asked reporters if they felt that the inclusion of graphics for a data analysis pitch made the outreach email stronger. 81% of reporters surveyed said that it did. This could be an image attachment, a link to an Imgur album, or otherwise. Regardless, having a chart or data visualization provides another way for the journalist to digest the information you’re sharing. It (hopefully) highlights the most important part of your pitch, and consequently can be the difference between a reply and a ‘delete.’

Next, we asked journalists about their pet peeves.

We can gather one overall insight from these results: Reporters want clear communication, and they don’t want you to waste their time. Their biggest pet peeve is an unclear message. Journalists want to know what you’re trying to tell them and don’t want to have to dig through your email to try to find your point. The second- and third-biggest turn-offs are the use of an incorrect name and a robotic/overly canned message. You shouldn’t send the same pitch to every single reporter, and if nothing else, you must personalize the name used in the emails. Consider when someone calls you by the wrong name or says to you what sounds like a scripted message – do either of these circumstances make you inclined to keep speaking with them? Probably not. PR professionals should keep these pet peeves in mind when pitching reporters.

Relationship Building

Building a strong, lasting relationship with a journalist is both one of the toughest and most important things to do for PR and media outreach professionals. Having a reporter who views you as reliable, trustworthy, and worth spending time on makes the process of getting coverage much easier. According to our survey, 80% of reporters said they were more likely to consider a pitch if it was from someone they had worked with previously.

One of the biggest questions is how to build these relationships. While it all starts with a strong pitch (and a strong idea that you’re pitching), there are a few ways to strengthen a relationship with a journalist and make it last. We asked about preference for several of them.

Interestingly, the highest response (38.1%) was that they did not care about any of them, they only care about the quality of the pitch. The lowest response was interacting on social media with them at 6%. 

We also wanted to find out the value of pitching an exclusive story to journalists. When it came to relationship building, 28.6% of reporters said sending exclusives was the best way. But does that translate to coverage?

We found that it doesn’t have a significant effect on most pitches. When asked how they prefer to be pitched, 26% said they prefer it as an exclusive (as in, the content is not published on the client’s site or another site), 22% said they do prefer to have the results live of the client’s site, and 50% said they don’t have a strong opinion. 

Finally, we asked about the value of a personalized note and if it made the reporter more likely to write a story. 

What we found is that a personalized note is preferred, but surprisingly not overwhelmingly. 52.9% of journalists said personalization such as, “I was reading your article on [topic] and thought the following was relevant to you,” would make them more likely to write an article from your pitch. But on the other hand, 47.1% said it would not.

Our major takeaways here are that relationship building is important, but reporters want it to stem from sending them strong ideas and pitches. Personalization is important and can help, but without a strong pitch, it’s unlikely that a reporter will cover your story. 

Conclusion

Pitching journalists is not an exact science, but there are some best practices to consider. Our survey results show that reporters are fairly consistent in how they want to be contacted. More than anything, PR professionals should think of pitching the same way they think about speaking with another person. There’s a real human being on the other end of that email, so pitches should be written as humanly (not robotically) as possible. No CRM tool or technological advancement should change your thinking on that. 

Methodology 

To complete this study, we surveyed 88 reporters between late 2018 and mid-2019. The survey was conducted through a Google Form, which was emailed directly to journalists from a variety of news beats and publications (local and national outlets). These contact names were sourced from Cision or PressRush. Journalists were not compensated for their participation, though they were incentivized with a gift card raffle.

Maddi Salmon contributed to the creation and analysis of this survey as well as the drafting of this report.

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