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5 Things Journalists Look for in Pitches

5 Things Journalists Look For In Pitches

Our team at OnePitch launched the Coffee with a Journalist podcast in 2019 with a clear goal in mind: to better understand how journalists and publicists can work more cohesively. 

In honor of our 100th episode of Season 2, we’re releasing a list of 5 exclusive insights generated through an analysis of the responses from journalists interviewed on the podcast. These insights include journalists thoughts on subject lines, what journalists want you to include in your pitch, whether or not it’s appropriate to send a follow-up email, how journalists perceive exclusives and embargoes, and their thoughts on building relationships with sources.

Read about the 5 things journalists look for in pitches to improve your open rates and response rates and ultimately build stronger relationships with journalists.

 

Breakdown

When looking at our guests from episodes 51-100 on Season 2 of Coffee with a Journalist, 33 were reporters and 18 were editors. Roughly 21 journalists are or have written for top-tier publications, 19 journalists are or have written for trade outlets, and 11 journalists are or have written for mid-tier publications. Of those, 27 journalists were writing from a Business to Consumer (B2C) perspective and 24 journalists were writing from a Business to Business (B2B) perspective.

Our findings also note that 2 journalists wrote for both a digital and print medium and 3 journalists were affiliated with both digital and broadcast media content.

Let’s take a closer look at the various insights uncovered within the show and dive into the learnings (and a few real responses) from journalists below.

 

Subject Lines

While most PR professionals know the importance of a strong subject line, it’s also important to recognize how journalists feel about them.

Out of the 51 journalists we spoke with during the second half of Season 2 on Coffee with a Journalist, 43% of them said subject lines are an important area of consideration for pitches. Many of the journalists echoed one another in saying subject lines need to be clear, relevant to the pitch, and of a decent length.

 

Subject Line Preferences by Journalist Role

 

A number of journalists (47%) mentioned searching their inbox for subject lines AFTER they’ve received the pitch. Whether it was flagged or filed, reporters, as well as editors, are looking for keywords within subject lines or the pitch itself. This also means they’re saving pitches for reference and future use so don’t lose hope if your pitch was on target but hasn’t received a response yet.

“It’s definitely the subject line when it has something that has an eye-catching phrase like launching X or exclusive Y. Or even if it’s from someone I know and it says, “Hey, what are your thoughts on this?” That’s something where I’m like, ‘Okay, maybe I should actually look at this.’” Emma Sandler, Glossy

 

Additional Assets

There are a number of things you can include within a pitch such as links, press releases, informational documents, and images like a headshot or product photo.

A small percentage (12%) of journalists said these were helpful and encouraged sources to include them in the pitches they send. Although the numbers were low, the majority of journalists who wanted multi-media included in pitches were writing for B2C audiences, nearly all of them were reporters, and none of them were writing for trade publications.

“I love them [press kits]. If you put your founder headshot on your website, would save me so much time. Logos, if we’re going to do a graphic, like companies that have their logos out there was great. Even if there were a fact sheet, if you’re a private if you’re a startup, total raise, investors, founders, CEO like all of that on a PDF, I would love that.” Shannen Balogh, formerly Insider

On rare occasions, an additional asset can mean receiving an actual product. Many journalists who cover product reviews want the physical product to use in everyday life and share with readers their personal experiences.

“As an analyst now, I’m handling products. I’m working with the vendors to send me the products and review them. So I actually unbox them. I set them up. I write about the whole experience.” Angela Moscaritolo, PCMag

 

Data

As we know, data tells a unique story, and leveraging it within pitches can yield extravagant results when done correctly. Whether that be customer usage data, financial data, or even data from a study or survey all of these are viable options you should consider if you plan to include numbers and statistics within your pitch.

“​​I also then get the sort of pitches that are more survey or data-heavy pitches. I do a lot of stories that involve surveys or data collection, things like that. I find that those are usually really great pieces, especially with lots of charts. I’m a sucker for a good chart.” Megan Leonhardt, Fortune

In regards to including data in PR pitches, a surprising number of journalists (37) said they either didn’t need data in a pitch or that it’s not important to include in a pitch. While this might seem contradictory to the norm, most journalists are interested in data just not within the initial pitch you send to them. First, consider sending an introduction about who you are, your company, and any sources the journalist might find value in speaking with.

 

Data Preferences by Journalist Role

 

When we looked further into what journalists actually wanted in pitches, 75% of the guests interviewed said they were looking for, and wanting to speak with, sources specifically. And, 53% of the guests said that pitches from a known source, or someone they had a preexisting relationship with, were preferable to a cold pitch.

 

Follow-ups

Arguably one of the most controversial topics in media relations, sending a follow-up email never guarantees a reply let alone a placement or backlink. For many PR professionals, follow-ups to pitches are a necessity and the good news is that journalists (and their inboxes) are open to them too.

“Sometimes things get lost in my inbox. Sometimes, I don’t respond to people, and most of the time I will respond to a follow-up. When things just get caught in the web, and I haven’t responded to you three or four times, let it go.” Sandra Gutierrez, Popular Science

Over 66% of the journalists we interviewed said they were open to receiving a follow-up and claimed within 1-7 days was an appropriate amount of time to send one. For editors, 78% said they were open to receiving a follow-up, and for reporters, 61% said they also were okay with receiving a follow-up to the first pitch.

“​​You can always follow up with me, actually…Oh, yeah. Twice, three times” Jill Wagner, Cheddar

For reporters and editors alike, sending more than one follow-up email was acceptable but they did mention waiting at least one day before you send a follow-up email and no more than 7. They also shared that sending at most 3 follow-ups was acceptable, however, not everyone was in agreeance with the total number of follow-ups they would like to receive.

 

Exclusives & Embargoes

Another controversial topic on each side of the aisle is how to effectively pitch, let alone understand, exclusive stories and embargoed news. A common tactic that many PR professionals have implemented, these types of pitches are meant to drive more interest and uniqueness around the news being shared and, if done correctly, can result in higher pitch conversion rates. After all, most journalists want to be the first and only ones to break news when it happens.

“If it is a really fairly complex piece that’s under embargo, like let’s say we’re talking about some kind of brand new sound system that’s never been seen before, and there’s a lot of technical aspects to it, a longer embargo time is really appreciated. It gives me time to really think about it and get in touch with follow-up questions. Maybe even conduct an interview if necessary, as opposed to something where it’s just like a new set of headphones that pretty much have more or less the same features that other headphones have out there.” Simon Cohen, Digital Trends

While we did not directly ask all the journalists interviewed about their thoughts on exclusives and embargoes, we did hear from 18 journalists (11 reporters and 7 editors) directly who were open to receiving one or both. An interesting takeaway, though, was that the majority of journalists preferred being pitched exclusives but they were unsure whether or not PR pros fully understood what pitching an exclusive actually means.

“I prefer exclusives over embargo. And I think every journalist respond with that. Embargoes, I’m fine with respecting them. But I go into it knowing that it’s obviously not going to be exclusive, and that there’s going to be five other stories that are the same exact story is the one that I would write about this.” Angel Au-Yeung, formerly Forbes

In terms of audience, both B2B and B2C journalists were open to embargoes and roughly 38% of journalists from each group said they do like receiving these types of pitches.

 

BONUS: Relationships

If you’ve read this far, then you now know the 5 things journalists look for in pitches. As a bonus, we also wanted to share some information about how journalists want to work with sources.

As we already mentioned in the data section above:

 

Relationship Preferences for Journalists

 

While it may not come as a surprise, journalists are far more likely to open a pitch and respond to it if they know who it’s coming from and if you’ve built rapport with them. More so, 75% of journalists don’t want pitches about the news they deem irrelevant or uninteresting. They would rather receive pitches, or information, about sources they can speak to regarding subjects they cover closely.

“Many of these people are sources that I’ve built up over the years. But many of these people are are also just contacts that I’ve never actually spoken to, but that I think would be potentially great people to speak to for a future story.” Alexandra Levine, formerly Politico

 

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Every piece of information above was pulled from guests 51-100 on Season 2 of Coffee with a Journalist. While it took us hours to review and compile the data, each episode only lasts 20-30 minutes and you too can learn directly from journalists and the insights they share with us.

Visit our video page to watch (and hear) from journalists about their pitch tips, relationship-building preferences, and their responses to your most pressing questions in the Fill-In-The-Blank series.

Want more tips from journalists?

Click below to subscribe to Coffee with a Journalist and receive weekly emails highlighting reporters, journalists, and editors and their individual pitching preferences.

Jered is the co-founder, COO and support manager at OnePitch. He handles operations for OnePitch; along with strategy, support, business development and hiring. He studied Communications with an emphasis in marketing at Cal State University Long Beach. In his free time, he enjoys surfing, eating cheap street food, cooking, and exploring the outdoors.

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