Stop making these common mistakes in your PR and media outreach

Jan 24, 2017
Stop making these common mistakes in your PR and media outreach

It’s no secret the relationship between PR professionals and the media is far from perfect.

PR pros feel neglected and ignored after spending hours upon hours researching and pitching the best fit reporter, while journalists feel as if they’re being professionally ghosted or catfished by publicists.

Searching for interest in all of the wrong places, failing to prove what you have to offer the other person and letting potential matches fall off the radar will inevitably set you up for professional heartbreak. But don’t let the ironic parallels between online dating and digital communications discourage your media outreach efforts.

Just like in any relationship, it’s all about communication.

That’s why my team at Fractl reached out to 1,300 reporters, editors and writers at hundreds of publications to determine what they want (and don’t want) in a pitch.

After sifting through hundreds of responses, publishers revealed three mistakes commonly committed in pitches.

Mistake 1: Failing to do your research

One of the most significant changes in marketing within the past decade has been the shift towards an inbound mentality- thoroughly researching and targeting ideal audiences to bring potential customers and clients to you, rather than sending out irrelevant messages to the masses that inevitably get lost in the noise.

PR pros should follow a similar strategy when it comes to media outreach. Rather than blasting the inboxes of time-starved reporters with press releases that don’t match their beat, investing the time to research the most applicable publication and writer will yield much better odds of a response. The survey results support this strategy: nearly 70 percent of publishers reveal they ignore pitches irrelevant to their beat and audience.

Where to begin with research? First draft up a list of publications and websites your target audience visits often, and determine if your content would be a match for that publication’s audience. If you’re having trouble thinking beyond typical news or industry-specific sites, tools like BuzzSumo can help you find what websites (and even better, which writers) are publishing the most popular articles on social media based on keywords.

After vetting the publications list to ensure they publish or cover third-party content, scout out the best point of contact. Again, BuzzSumo is a great tool to see what writers are publishing articles with keywords similar to your content, but other resources specific to finding journalists and building media lists like Muck Rack exist to help you pinpoint editorial contacts with the best fit beat.    

Mistake 2: Failing to prove your value

Another popular pet peeve among the media is pitches full of self-serving content that brings no value to their readers.

In fact, 56 percent of publishers agree they send a pitch straight to the recycle bin if it comes off as overly-promotional. Again, this all comes down to communication. Often times pitches outline too many mundane details of the content without conveying how it can bring value to the writer’s readers.

Journalists pride themselves on following a code of ethics, and much of their integrity rests on providing factual, unique, and pertinent news and information to their readers, so there are three characteristics of quality content you must point out to catch their interest.

  • Credible: Mention the sound-proof methodology your team used to create the content; name the authoritative, recognizable data source or explain the method in which you researched the information.

  • Newsworthy: Point out newsworthy elements like the timeliness of the topic or data or the proximity to a local readership.

  • Relevant: Include how the content relates and can resonate with the publication’s audience, whether it’s by entertaining, educating, or motivating readers.

Objective content has the possibility of appealing to various publishers with different audiences, so clearly and concisely highlight these three points as you develop your content’s unique angle applicable to the publisher’s audience.

Mistake 3: Failing to properly follow-up

Talk to any journalist, and you’ll immediately catch on to how flooded their inboxes have becomes over the past decade with pitches.

In fact, out of those 1300 publishers, 57 percent revealed they receive between 50 and 500 pitches per week-- yet the average writer only writes five or less stories a week. Clearly these numbers don’t look great at first glance, but fortunately 45 percent of the same publishers also revealed they often or always read pitches.


Remember you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

If your initial pitch fails to get a reply, even after avoiding the first two PR pitfalls, you still have a the opportunity to follow-up if you feel your email was overlooked or forgotten. Only 16 percent of publishers felt follow-ups were never acceptable, so an overwhelming majority are okay and expect them. To avoid seeming too desperate and getting blacklisted, however, never follow up more than twice (usually once is enough.)  

Timing is crucial. Waiting at least two to three business days to follow up with a short reminder allows writers drowning in a sea of pitches to catch their breath. Avoid following up after seven or more business days, otherwise your pitch may no longer be timely and relevant.

When it comes to crafting the perfect follow-up after a few days have passed and you still have no response, follow the same principles as writing the initial pitch, but be more succinct. Try to call out a new (but still relevant and timely) fact or statistic from your content to catch their attention, especially if it relates to any of their most recent coverage or a newly trending news stories.

Pitching isn’t easy, and unfortunately we can do everything right as PR pros and still face rejection.

Keep these common mistakes and their solutions in mind to mitigate any heartbreak-- and to avoid becoming the next #PRfail retweeted by @SmugJourno.    

Ashley Carlisle is a Brand Relations Strategist at Fractl, a content marketing agency specializing in data-driven campaigns. She works alongside a team of creative strategists producing innovative studies on the latest industry trends.  

Photo via Pixabay

About the author

Brand Strategist by trade at @fractlagency, adventurist by nature. Lover of analog photography and dad jokes.

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