11 reasons why journalists aren’t replying to your pitches
This journo has seen one too many bad pitches in his day.
No matter how long you’ve been in the public relations field, there are times when you begin to feel like you’re pitching into an abyss of silence and rejection. The lack of replies to your pitches can cause you to feel insecure as you question your ability to gain much needed coverage on behalf of your client.
The good news is that the lack of reply is almost never because a journalist hates you. Whew. So you can take that off your list. Often the lack of response is simply a matter of assessing your pitch and checking for needed adjustments.
Use this list to ensure you’re not making often-overlooked mistakes to increase your odds of that much-coveted reply.
1. You have the wrong contact. Even if you worked with the same journalist recently, they could be on vacation, have a shift in coverage focus or moved on to a different outlet. Even with the help of services like Muck Rack, roles change often within media outlets and it’s better to be sure before you send that first pitch. Call the receptionist or newsroom to ask if so-and-so is still the correct contact for the focus area you’re pitching. Warning: Don’t just ask for “the person covering _____ news” or you may get stuck at the gatekeeper being promised that they’ll “pass your information on” which is most often a dead end.
2. You didn’t research. It’s essential that you conduct due diligence prior to pitching a story idea. I cannot tell you how many pitches I’ve received that had nothing at all to do with our business blog. Warning: It doesn’t matter how well written your pitch is if it’s going to the wrong inbox.
3. Your pitch is too long. Journalists are very busy and for every targeted, relevant pitch they receive there are dozens or hundreds of pitches that miss the mark and get deleted. It’s essential that you get to the point right away by answering these questions: How is this news tailored to my outlet and my individual editorial preference? How is this news unique and interesting? Is this news time sensitive? Is there a clear call to action?
4. Your subject line was misleading or not interesting enough. Keep your subject line short enough for mobile, capture attention right away and be careful that you aren’t misleading. Warning: If you try to use trickery like adding “Re:” or “Fwd:” before your subject line, you risk being pegged as a spammer and you can count on that journalist promptly deleting your email.
5. You didn’t offer a compelling story. Just because you’ve been tasked with “placing” a news release doesn’t mean journalists want to cover it. Focus on the story. Humanize your pitch as much as possible and consider moving beyond the simple facts and propose potential story ideas in your pitch.
6. You didn’t create a sense of urgency. This seems basic, but it’s very easy to lose sight of a clear call-to-action (CTA) within your pitch. You don’t just want the journalist to consider it. You want to communicate that this pitch is related to a time-sensitive event or issue and is important for them to consider immediately.
7. You waited too long to follow up. This one trips pitchers up often. Don’t wait weeks in between following up on your pitches. Send your pitch, then wait a few days to re-approach, being sure to add value with each contact. Warning: If you wait too long, your pitch will be forgotten and you may miss a prime opportunity.
8. You didn’t follow up at all. I’ve heard reporters say that if you don’t get a reply from them, they’re simply not interested and there is no need to follow up. My experience has been quite different. Journalists are busy. I find that pitches rarely get picked up on the first contact and follow up is necessary in most cases. If you are convinced this idea is the perfect fit based on your research, follow up and be ready to explain the WHY.
9. You didn’t allow enough lead-time. Say it’s November and you have a fabulous New Year’s idea for a national publication. Even better, you see a perfect opportunity within the publication’s current editorial calendar. The problem? Lead-time. Particularly when you are working with major or national media, you have to allow four to six months on average. Be sure to check editorial close dates before pitching. If you made a mistake and pitched without enough lead-time, point out the potential error in your follow up email and offer an idea that’s further out.
10. You pitched like you were selling something. I see this so often and it still makes me angry. Public relations is not advertising. You must pitch in a descriptive, compelling and persuasive way without being pushy, self-promotional or obnoxious. Your pitch should be more about the reporter and publication’s needs than your own.
11. Finally, maybe the reporter just isn’t interested in your story. I’ve included this item last on the list intentionally because, in my experience, if you craft a well-researched and tailored pitch and follow the above steps, you will get a reply.
Now, it may not be the reply you were hoping for – but often you will receive a quick reply thanking you for the idea and explaining briefly that it can’t be covered now but they will keep you in mind. It’s still a no but it’s a reply, which allows you to have some closure.
Remember, a successful pitch should be treated as a piece of art that was created specifically for the journalist you are contacting. It should inspire a response that is appreciative, even if your story isn’t covered. These are the pitches that result in positive, quality, mutually beneficial relationships with journalists.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’re a journalist. What would you add? Do you agree?
Kate Finley is the Founder and CEO of Belle Communications, an integrated communications agency based in Columbus, Ohio specializing in PR, social media and content marketing for food, restaurant and startup brands. Kate is a young entrepreneur who founded her agency at the age of 28 with the goal of equipping brands with the tools and exposure they need to THRIVE. Kate and her team have secured more than 2000 media opportunities for clients, including coverage with TODAY, Oprah, CNN Money and more. She has been featured on CNNMoney, Cision, PRDaily and Spin Sucks.
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