Why 95 percent of pitches get no interest

The author explains why so many cold solicitations for coverage fall flat—and how you can improve your chances for success.

This article originally ran in January of 2017.

Reporters get tons of cold pitches from PR reps.

If you’ve ever wondered why a journalist isn’t responding to your email or why you can’t seem to land coverage for your clients at a certain publication, you can blame the dozens of other PR pros pitching that same journalist in any given week.

I’m not exaggerating. Two years ago, I tracked my inbox for a week to see how many pitches I received.

The final number was 116, or an average of 23 per workday. This number did not include newswire subscriptions, email blasts, follow-ups, “check-ins” or any internal emails-just straight-up, cold pitches, direct from a PR rep.

I recently tackled this project again to see whether anything had changed.

The result? I got 131 pitches, or 26 per day on average. Guess how many I used? Seven.

That’s right: Of the 131 surveys, byline proposals and story ideas that landed in my inbox that week, I used a whopping seven of them.

That’s just above 5 percent, which means I rejected almost 95 percent of the pitches I received.

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This rejection rate is pretty staggering, though hardly surprising. In an April Muck Rack article, reporter Mike Rosenberg reminded us that there are about five PR professionals for every one journalist. Those aren’t great odds for a hopeful publicist looking to get a placement.

The good news is that you can still stand out among the flood of pitches most journalists receive daily. Those seven pitches I did use all had a few important things in common:

  • They were personalized. These PR reps took the time to get my name and publication right. (You’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen.) Some referenced my beats or past articles on Business News Daily. They made a point to demonstrate, in some way, that they’d done their research to match their client’s story to our coverage.
  • They filled a gap in our coverage. Whether they took a totally new approach to a topic we’ve covered before or presented a unique entrepreneurial story, the pitches I accepted didn’t say the same old thing as everyone else.
  • They weren’t self-promotional. Self-serving pitches (e.g., “Our survey found that most business owners have this problem, and our product solves that problem!”) don’t do a whole lot for us. We aim to give our readers objective, vendor-neutral advice in our feature stories, and the pitches I chose delivered on that.
  • They were flexible. It’s rare that journalists can use a story exactly as it’s pitched to them. The PR reps whose ideas I used were open to slight tweaks to the original angle, to make the final piece better aligned with what our audience wants. Most important, they were very accommodating and assured me they’d do their best to meet my deadlines. Though I understand this isn’t always possible, the effort is truly appreciated.

You might be wondering how it’s possible that so few pitches met the above criteria.

To be honest, a fair number more than those seven would have been suitable for our site’s coverage. However, sometimes the issue isn’t the subject matter, but the timing.

As with many things in life, poor timing can derail a seemingly perfect arrangement, and media pitching is no exception. For example, we had wrapped up our holiday-related coverage for the season, so a “holiday marketing” pitch that would have been perfect two weeks before didn’t merit a slot on our editorial calendar so late in the season.

The same goes for pitches that cover a topic we recently addressed in depth. In these cases, I’ll tell the rep and keep their client in mind for similar stories in the future.

Discounting these “bad timing” pitches, most of what I received in that week were stories I’d never be able to publish.

As a rule, our site doesn’t cover book reviews, funding/launch announcements, partnerships, executive hires or company initiatives, which made up nearly half of the pitches I got. I responded to these reps to let them know our policies, in the hope that they’ll take me off similar distribution lists in the future.

Here’s the most important lesson I can impart to PR reps competing for media coverage: Pay attention when a journalist takes the time to explain why they can’t use your pitch.

I know that explanation doesn’t always come, but when it does, there’s something to be learned. Perhaps next time you can adjust your pitch or check in with a reporter to see whether any of your clients can comment on a feature that’s already in the works.

You might not always get the exact story angle your client wants, but as The Rolling Stones sang, “If you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.”

Nicole Fallon is the managing editor of Business News Daily, a resource for small business owners, entrepreneurs and job seekers. Follow her on Twitter. A version of this article first appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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