The things you might be doing that stick in a journalist’s craw according to our annual Media Survey

Two years ago, the ratio of PR professionals to journalists stood at 6:1. Surprisingly, it’s hard to find data on where that number stands today. Two years seems like a lifetime ago. While an argument can be made (in the U.S.) that Trump’s presidency was good for the business of journalism, it seems pretty certain that the novel coronavirus pandemic was not. The PR industry did not fare much better, with one in five agencies laying off staff and/or instigating furloughs. Like most industries, both Public Relations and Journalism have struggled to get through the past year. It stands to reason that the battering both industries absorbed probably leaves the ratio of PR pros to journalists about the same as it was in 2019. But for those of us in either industry lucky enough to have a job, we’re all somehow busier … mainly with seemingly constant Zoom meetings that allow for little practical work to be done.

Journalists, I would argue, still have it much worse. Assuming the ratio hasn’t changed, they remain on the receiving end of countless, endless pitches from a much larger industry (which is most certainly true based on conversations I’ve had with every journalist I know). Their email inboxes are much different than most of ours. Yes, we all get unsolicited offers from companies who have bought our data or tapped into an algorithm that floods our inboxes with offers we roll our eyes at. But a journalist’s inbox also includes a vast array of pitches to cover news way outside of their beat, geography, or basic human interest.

This was more than evident from the responses to question 19 of our annual Media Survey sent to thousands of journalists across the globe, which asked: “What are your pet peeves when receiving story pitches?” The number one response, at 71 percent, was, “Story is irrelevant to your local market audience, brand or beat.” A distant second was “Cold calling” at 42 percent. The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems.

What was more telling were the comments from our survey respondents to question 19. If you are in the business of pitching journalists story ideas, I highly recommend reading the following list and making a note to avoid doing any of these things:

  • The only one that really bothers me is the irrelevance. I’ve told newsrooms I’ve managed constantly that any pitch (that’s relevant) is a good one … and we’re the ones who decide whether to act on it or not. News can come from anywhere. Don’t send an irrelevant pitch!
  • The follow-up call … if I saw it and didn’t get back to you, chances are I’ve discarded it.
  • Following up the same day the press release was sent. I don’t need to be reminded about an email three hours after I receive it.
  • Contacting me when I don’t respond to an email pitch within a day or two. We receive dozens of pitches daily, irrelevant ones usually don’t get a response.
  • Calling to follow up on whether a press release has been received. That phone call will never be returned.
  • Not including photo(s) with a press release … send good, useful photos.
  • Not including photos or illustrations when the company has them. Then I have to email them back and wait for a reply.
  • Pitches clearly sent en masse.
  • Not bothering to find out what my beat is and then sending me a press release about new technology in bras… which is irrelevant to me because I write about cars.
  • Misspelling my name.

From our Media Relations Tips video series

Amy Hollyfield, Sr. Deputy Editor for News at the Tampa Bay Times, talks about some of her pet peeves when being pitched in this video from Business Wire's Media Relations Tips video series .


The most important tips I can share are:

First, get to know the journalist you want to pitch. Set up alerts on Muck Rack for journalists you’re interested in reaching and read their stories for a few weeks before deciding whether to pitch to them.

Second, ALWAYS include useful photos with your pitches/news releases.

Third, if you’re going to follow up on a pitch, give it a little time and be a reasonable human being when you do reach out. Recognize that journalists are insanely busy people who are being approached nonstop and treat them accordingly. It will go a long way. Maybe not for what you’re trying to pitch in the moment … but certainly for the long haul.

Learn more

Thank you for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed our six-part series on what we learned from our annual Media Survey. If you missed any of our previous posts, please check out the Business Wire Blog.

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