8 questions you always wished you could ask journalists

How long should a pitch be? What social network do they like best? What time of the day is best to pitch them? Get your answers here.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Having trouble getting traction on your pitches?

We hear you.

It can be maddening to pitch a fantastic story—one that you know is perfect for a publication—only to have journalists ignore you.

You’re left to guess what the problem was. Wasn’t the pitch detailed enough? Was your email too long? Should you have tweeted that producer instead, or tried a phone call?

Gather around as Gregory Galant, co-founder and chief executive of the digital PR and journalism site Muck Rack, expounds on the behavior of the bewildering creature known as the American journalist.

In his Ragan Training talk, “Use Data to Pitch the Right Journalists and Build Relationships withthe Press,” Galant offers insights that will help you land your pitches, rather than cause both you and your targeted reporters to tear your hair out.

Muck Rack has surveyed thousands of journalists; Galant has identified vexing questions that trouble PR pros. Here are a few of the questions he asked:

1. Which social network is the most valuable professionally?

Turns out PR pros are crazy about Twitter, with 80 percent of them listing that as their favorite. Facebook lagged far behind, with 13 percent.

Twitter is a source of quotes from journalists and fodder for story ideas. They can keep an eye on trending topics and find out what public figures, celebrities and ordinary people are thinking. All that creates an opening for PR.

“They just love it so much because it’s such a real-time platform,” Galant says.

2. Do you like it when PR pros follow you on social media?

Who knew? Some PR people are reluctant to follow journalists on Twitter, not wanting to look pushy. Don’t be so shy. Who doesn’t like followers?

A total of 86 percent of journalists like follows from PR types, and only 14 percent don’t, Galant says. Having many followers is a point of pride for them, and it could lead to career advancement if they build a major social media platform.

There’s another reason to follow them, Galant says. Many journalists say that if you’re going to pitch to them, you should read their work. Twitter feeds are a good way both to see published stories and to get a heads-up on what they’re working on.

For example, a New York Times reporter tweeted at @Uber_wage_war, a site critical of the ride-sharing company, “Would you be willing to chat for a story?”

“If, God forbid, your job was crisis communications for Uber,” Galant says, “you’d now know the New York Times is working on a story about you. This is big news.”

That allows you to reach out to journalists and say, “Here are some facts to include.”

3. How do you prefer to be pitched?

Your target journalist might be all over Twitter, but don’t take that as an invitation to tweet your pitch. Ninety-three percent of reporters prefer to be pitched by email. Only 2 percent each say you should phone them or tweet at them.

Unless they mention in their Twitter bio that they welcome tweeted pitches, reach out to them by email. Twitter is, however, a good platform for engaging and building relationships.

For follow-ups, direct messaging tends to be acceptable, but don’t make it your first means of contact.

“It’s a great follow-up tool if you send an email with the information and a DM to remind him,” Galant says.

4. What’s the best time of day to pitch?

Good news for early birds: The best time to pitch is in the morning, when hungry reporters are prowling the landscape for stories.

Here are the preferred times (adjusted according to the time zone the journalist lives in):

  • More than a third (37 percent) want to be pitched from 9-11 a.m.
  • Another 30 percent say earlier yet is fine—from 6-9 a.m.
  • Only 16 percent want you flooding their inboxes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“In the morning, they have a big problem,” Galant says. “‘What do I write about? I’ve got to come up with something today.’ So that’s the best time to pop with that story idea.”

In the afternoon, on the other hand, they are on deadline, and it is more likely your pitch will be regarded as a nuisance.

5. Do you respond to pitches from people you don’t know?

Go ahead, pitch a reporter you’ve never met. Eighty-seven percent said they accept pitches from strangers, while only 13 percent said no.

6. What’s the ideal pitch length?

Shorter is sweeter, Galant’s figures show.

  • More than half (53 percent) prefer pitches of one to two paragraphs.
  • Nearly as many (41 percent) request two or three sentences.
  • A small contingent (5 percent) ask for 500 words.
  • Want to spend 1,000 words or more detailing that story? You’re nuts, right? Well, only 1 percent of journalists like inbox depth charges of that length.

PR pros are trained to think (as reporters do) about the five W’s. Galant suggests you reframe your approach with this question: How do I get this journalist interested in learning more?

7. Why do you reject otherwise relevant pitches?

Twenty-eight percent of journalists say the lack of personalization (or exclusivity) is a problem. In the internet era, they won’t get much traffic on a story that a dozen others are writing.

Some 22 percent find the pitches too lengthy. Large attachments sink another 3 percent, and bad timing cost another 16 percent their chance at landing a client in a media outlet.

As for subject lines, we told you they matter: 10 percent of journalists say a bad subject line is enough to torpedo your pitch.

8. Do you mind if I follow up with you after a pitch?

Relax. Seventy-two percent of journalists are OK with this; only 28 percent said no. (The question is which kind you’re dealing with.) Best to send a one-line email following up—or try a DM.

Is it hard to get journalists to follow you? Here’s a tip: Follow the people they follow. You’ll learn about what interests them-and you can become part of the conversation.

Final tip: Galant quotes an AP journalist who said, “Keep it short, meaningful and understandable.”


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