Yes, reporters, you need to answer your emails
Journalists have a serious communication problem.
We like to vent about bad PR practices, and sometimes it's well-deserved. But every time I've turned the tables and asked PR pros what bugs them most about us, the answer is always the same:
"Journalists don't answer their emails."
On the one hand, it's understandable. We get dozens, even hundreds, of new pitches every single day. Trying to keep up with the constant influx of emails is a daunting task, even for the most organized journalists. I've often heard fellow reporters say that if they answered every email they received, they'd never get anything else done.
On the other hand, PR pros have a job to do, too. Every unanswered pitch leads to a frustrated client or boss demanding to know why they didn't get the lead. That's why those "annoying" second and third follow-up emails (and phone calls) keep coming in if reporters ignore a pitch: The PR rep needs to be able to say they tried.
But even those extra efforts are often fruitless. As Large Media, Inc. co-founder Micah Warren put it in his recent Muck Rack post, "If I had a nickel for every unreturned pitch to a journalist, I'd be typing this article on my iPad on my yacht."
Having been on both sides, I can sympathize with each party's struggle. But as a journalist, I've found that the best way to stem the tide of follow-ups is to just answer the emails in the first place. In a lot of cases, PR pros will gladly accept a curt "no" over radio silence any day. Their client may wish they knew the reason, but at least they won't be holding out hope for coverage that will never come.
How journalists can make it easier on themselves
You can't and shouldn't take the time to compose a personalized response to every single pitch you get. But by setting some ground rules and writing up a few generic stock responses, you'll be able to knock out replies to the majority of PR pros who pitch you — without letting your inbox take over your work day.
To accomplish this, I follow three basic rules with external emails:
1. Threads for active stories are addressed ASAP.
2. All new pitches and pitch follow-ups get filed away upon receipt to a separate folder, where it will sit until I have a block of free time to answer it.
3. Obvious mass pitches (i.e., BCCed recipient list, no greeting, etc.) don't get a response unless I can use it.
When I do have time to sift through my new pitch folder, I go into it knowing that I probably can't use the majority of the pitches I've gotten. Awhile back, I took a few minutes to write up a series of scenario-appropriate responses that could easily be copied, pasted and sent in a matter of seconds. These ready-to-send answers work for almost every pitch I have to reject:
Irrelevant pitches: I don't cover this, but thank you anyway.
Relevant, but not interested: I'm not interested in this story idea, but I appreciate you thinking of us.
Relevant, but too busy to cover: I don't have room on my calendar to cover this right now, but I'll keep your client in mind for future stories.
This approach solves two problems at once: It gives PR reps something to go back to their client with, and it keeps them from inundating your inbox with more emails about the rejected pitch. Plus, it's a little more courteous than just saying, "No," despite it taking just a few seconds longer.
How PR pros can make it easier on journalists
Send us your pitches through platforms like Muck Rack, HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and PressRush. These tools give reporters the option to simply click a button and automatically respond yes or no, which makes it even faster and easier for us to give you an answer.
If you're going the traditional route of direct email, please try to be patient with us as we work through our daily barrage of pitches. Follow up if you don't hear from us: It's very likely that we either haven't read your email yet or it slipped through the cracks. However, try to wait at least 24 to 48 hours before sending a follow up, and don't do it more than twice. I'll always firmly believe that we reporters should respond to pitches, but if your third email goes unanswered, you might want to take the hint.
So, journalists...what do you think? Will you start responding to your emails?
Photo: Emails via Shutterstock