Media relations and email etiquette: Does every pitch warrant a response?

Apr 22, 2019
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Media relations and email etiquette: Does every pitch warrant a response?

Email has made it so you can get in contact with someone whenever you want to.

When multiple people have this tool at their fingers, you can imagine what someone’s email inbox is going to look like. Now take that, and add being a journalist to it. Publicists from all over have millions of clients between them, all trying to get quoted in stories. Because of this, and the ease of sending someone an email, a journalists inbox could grow by upwards of twenty pitches per day, sometimes more.

But the real question is, what is a journalist supposed to do with all of those emails? Is there a responsibility to respond to every single one, or is email one of those platforms where people aren’t always expecting a response?

Let’s find out.

Does every email need a response?

Some sort of guilt sets in when you receive so many emails a day.

In my experience, I want to reply to them all, I just simply don’t have the time. I kind of have to prioritize which ones I will respond to, and which ones will just get dealt with on my end without giving an update. I’m between a rock and a hard place, but some emails just flat out aren’t worth responding to. Turns out, I’m not alone in that.

Responding to every pitch “would be virtually impossible to do, based on my experience, due to the sheer volume of pitches and the amount of work and deadlines each journalist is managing at any given time,” said Andrea Clement, freelance healthcare writer and VP of marketing and media and Moonlighting Solutions.

Liz Jeneault, Emmy-nominated former television news anchor and reporter now working on behalf of Faveable.com, said that now that she’s working as a PR pro, she wishes journalists would respond to each pitch email.

“However, I realize it’s not feasible. While working as a news anchor and reporter, my inbox was constantly flooded with emails. While I’m sure many journalists wish they could respond to each pitch, there’s simply too many of them to do so,” Jenault explained.

She advised publicists to remain patient with reporters if possible, and keep in mind they may not have seen your pitch at all, due to the sheer volume of emails and sometimes the emails getting lost due to a purge of some kind.

Sometimes responding to every email can just mean more work for yourself on top of that, even if you don’t mean for that to be the result.

As Sarah Anderson, digital content and SEO specialist pointed out, “I’ve been on both the journalist side and the PR side. It’s tough when you’re a journalist receiving hundreds of templated pitches a week. It also seems that a response, even if it’s a polite decline, solicits five more emails from that source." 

And she’s right. Sending a decline email doesn’t mean the end of that relationship. I’ve had publicists pitch me completely non-related topics to what I write about, and when I politely tell them that, in the hopes they won’t pitch me again until they’ve done a little research, get more emails explaining to me what their client is available to speak on should I ever need them in the future.

I get that they want exposure for their clients, but after a non-related, boilerplate pitch, I’m not likely to use them in the future. So now this all begs the next question:

Do publicists expect a response to every pitch email?

The general consensus is no, PR pros do not expect a response to every pitch email they send. The relationship between a journalist and publicist is a symbiotic one. We understand each other, and though we get a little frustrated with some of the standard practices of each other’s profession, we get it.

“I don’t expect a response unless the journalist is interested in covering the story. Why would they bother responding otherwise, really? It’s a waste of time. Sometimes, if I couldn’t cover a story but was interested in future pitches, I’d respond to let the PR person know that I want to be kept in the loop even though I can’t cover this particular story, or it I needed pitches on a related but slightly different topic, I’d let the PR person know,” Clement said.

Of course there will be times when you have to make a choice as a journalist. Responding to a “no” pitch to further the relationship can do both the journalist and the PR person good, but publicists don’t expect that response. While they don’t expect it, most said that they would appreciate one, though.

“Because I used to work in the news industry and know how difficult it can be for reporters to respond to all of the emails they receive, I do not expect a response with each pitch email. IT would be wonderful to receive a response, though. Even a 'not interested' response is helpful, because that way I know not to waste my time following up again,” Jeneault said.

Anderson gave great advice, saying, “I do think the best approach, though, is trying to be as responsive as possible and treat others how you would want to be treated. I’ve found that putting good vibes out there always comes back to me as success and positivity in whatever I’m working on.”

I do have to agree with her on that. When I have the extra time and can respond to more than just the pitches I have deemed relevant, it does seem to come back to benefit me in the future. Not always, but it’s important to always be open to those things and not write it off as an automatic “no.”

Anderson said while she doesn’t expect a response, she’s always happy and surprised when she does receive one.

“We’re all in this together trying to create great content, garner relationship with that content, impress our bosses and reach new heights in our careers. We can help each other with that most times,” she elaborated.

If a journalist does choose to respond to every pitch email, what’s the best approach?

I am always torn with this. I’m not sure if it’s better to try and personalize every response, or just have a standard response that I use and just change the names/other specific information. That’s why I usually don’t end up replying to most of them at all, because once I start a pattern, I feel like I have to keep up with it forever.

Jeneault said that unless a there are other forms of communication open between the two parties, a standard reply doesn’t do much good. With a standard reply or automated response, it’s hard to know if the journalist saw the pitch, or if the publicist will get that response at all.

“A personalized response is always preferred, although I realize reporters are short on time and often receive too many emails to do so,” Jeneault added.

That seems to be what it comes down to. Everyone would like a personalized response, but both parties recognize how busy people are, and are understanding if they don’t get that response they desire. Which is great because it takes the pressure off of the journalist and the publicist.

But we both still have jobs to do. If you are a journalist and don’t respond to a publicist's pitch, you can’t get aggravated when they send a follow-up email. They’re just doing their jobs, just like you are. But just know that if you don’t respond to a PR person’s email, they may stop pitching you altogether.

The consequences of not replying

A lot of time, in my inbox I get pitches that are so unrelated to what I write about that I don’t respond in the hopes that the PR person who sent it will not email me again -- at least not until they’ve familiarized themselves with my content. It’s just a waste of time for both parties. But you could also be missing out on something great in the future. So that’s definitely something to keep in mind. But of course, that doesn’t fall just on the journalist.

Here’s what some publicists said when asked if they would stop pitching a journalist who doesn’t respond to pitches:

  • “Yes. No use in beating a dead horse. We can take a hint!” Sharon Kaslassi, head of media relations at Blonde 2.0
  • “Not necessarily. If I think I have a source, or input that is relevant, I’ll continue to send it if it seems like a good fit,” Linda Pophal, author, professor, journalist, marketing/PR consultant at Strategic Communications, LLC.
  • “I don’t think you can be sure a reporter won’t use your pitch in the future, so it’s always good to keep sending emails. Unless they tell you directly to stop emailing them, you may eventually send them a pitch that aligns with what they’re looking for,” Liz Jeneault.
  • “I like to talk to a journalist before I pitch them, and try to set up some sort of relationship. Developing relationships is an important part of PR. This helps us get responses from journalists to our pitch emails. However, I won’t stop pitching journalists who don’t respond to my emails,” Shane Bias, founder of BiasPR.

So it seems like, just like in life in general, if someone wants something, they are going to go after it until they are told not to. Some of the approaches above will trigger a journalist. It’s not always up the PR person to deem what is “a good fit” for the journalist. So if it’s not a good fit, the journalist has to speak up.

Being in either one of these professions is no easy feat and takes a lot of jumping over hurdles and putting out fires. The relationship between publicists and journalists is a strong and passionate one, so let’s not make it any harder on each other than it has to be.

Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. Having worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing, she is now a full-time freelance writer. When she's not working, you will find her exploring her new home town of Somers Point, NJ, trying out a new recipe, or channeling Marie Kondo for organization inspiration.

Photo via Pixabay

About the author

Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. …

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