We’ve all been there. You pitch an amazing story to the media and eagerly await the onslaught of responses you think you’ll get from reporters. You’ve prepared talking points and have media assets ready. But then…crickets. No response. Nada.
For example, a nonprofit which serves struggling children and families recently released new research showing the leading causes of homelessness amongst single mothers. The organization provided comprehensive data on the topic and offered interview opportunities with the chief clinical psychologist. At first glance, the story sounds very compelling. However, it received no pick-up or response from the journalists who received the pitch.
So what happened?
In our dream world, reporters at our top target publications would respond to each and every pitch within minutes. For purpose-driven companies that are doing important, life-changing work, it seems like each pitch should get a response and a story published, right? In theory, yes. If you are doing good work and making the world a better place, why wouldn’t a reporter want to cover your story? As it turns out, there are many reasons why a reporter may not respond to your pitch. Here are four reasons why you may not be getting a response and what to do about it.
The problem: You are reaching out to the wrong journalists and publications
Perhaps the number one reason why your pitch is not eliciting a response is that you sent it to the wrong person. Always do your research on reporters and their beats. A reporter may have the title of “health reporter” but “health” is pretty broad and can mean a lot of different things. If you are pitching the health reporter on the opioid epidemic, make sure they are actually covering behavioral health topics as opposed to nutrition, holistic healing, cancer research, or any of the myriad other topics that fall under the blanket term “health.”
In addition to researching your reporters, thoroughly research the publication. For example, Prevention has one of the highest readership levels for health and wellness publications and probably would be on your media list if you pulled a list of “health” publications. However, if you take a deeper dive into Prevention’s audience and who they are writing for, then you might gain some understanding of why your pitch on the opioid epidemic isn’t getting covered. It’s just not something that would appeal to their readers and is outside the scope of their typical topics. On the flip side, just because a topic is outside their typical scope of story coverage doesn’t mean they won’t cover it, sometimes this can work to your advantage. But your pitch needs to be framed in a way that speaks to the audience and explains to the reporter why the story is relevant to their readers.
The fix: Double-check your list and do your research
Make sure the person and the publication you are pitching are a good fit. Read through several past articles by the reporter. Check their Twitter feed and LinkedIn profile to get a sense of their interests. Tailor your pitch accordingly to speak to the reporter and even reference past relevant articles that your story would be a good follow-up for. If you are unsure about a publication and its true target audience, check its media kit (these are often posted online or can be requested via email). The media kit will outline the publication’s readership demographics for their advertisers, so you can get a sense of their audience. Make sure the audience is a match for your story, if not, scratch them off your list.
The problem: They’ve already covered it
Perhaps the reporter hasn’t covered your exact product, service, or organization, but they may have already published one (or several!) stories about your competitors, peers, or on a similar topic to the idea you are pitching. For example, if you are pitching a story on your organization’s work to collect clothing donations for impoverished children in Central America and the publication covered another organization that collects school supplies for impoverished children in the same region, it’s highly likely that they will pass on your pitch because they’ve already covered a very similar story.
The fix: Frame the pitch in a fresh way
Publications are looking to provide fresh, engaging content for their readers. They are in the business of getting the most page views or subscriptions they can possibly achieve in a very competitive market for readership. As a communications professional pitching stories, make sure the pitch you are sending is fresh news for the publication. And if they’ve already covered something similar, find a way to frame your story in a way that showcases how unique and different it is from what they’ve already published. Make a compelling argument for why their readers should hear about your news.
The problem: Your pitch is boring
Reporters receive anywhere from several to hundreds of pitches each and every day. In order to get your pitch read, you need to have a catchy subject line to encourage the reporter to open your email. Beyond that, the pitch itself needs to capture their attention and imagination. A boring pitch tells the reporter it will be a boring story. Further, if your pitch is too long, the reporter may get distracted and lose interest.
The fix: Humanize your pitch
First, remember that journalists are pressed for time; keep the pitch precise, punchy, and to the point. Also, find ways to humanize your pitch. You may have a rather mundane data set to share but, framed correctly, it can make for a great story. Think of ways to adjust your pitch to capture the imagination and hearts of the journalist and their readers. For example, if you are a research hospital and have just released new data on new healthcare modalities, find a patient to tell their story and experience at your hospital. Create human interest by finding spokespeople to share personal histories and create ways for readers to find affinity with the information you are providing. Though your CEO could provide great technical detail on the topic, the better interview is more often the person whose life has changed as a result of the news you are sharing.
The problem: The reporter is busy
Reporters, like the rest of us, are busy people. They are dealing with multiple deadlines, writing and research, and the whims of their editors. They receive hundreds of emails each day and, like most of us, fail to respond to every item that comes through their inbox. A lack of response can either mean you are dealing with a busy reporter juggling multiple stories and deadlines or, your story is not relevant or of interest.
The fix: Follow up and know what they are looking for
Always follow up twice. Sometimes bumping your email to the top of their inbox is the magic trick that elicits a response. If you don’t hear back after two rounds of follow-up, then it is time to accept that the reporter is not interested in your story. You can help a reporter – and yourself – by being aware of what projects they are working on. Check their publication’s editorial calendar to see what stories and themes are planned for the coming months. If their focus for the month is mental health and wellness and you are pitching a story on the college application process, then you likely won’t get an answer. Tailor your pitches so you are helping the reporter and supporting their work.
Most importantly, always make sure your pitch is timely, relevant, and interesting
At the end of the day, if the pitch is not timely, relevant, or interesting, you won’t get a response. Evergreen stories can be put off for another day indefinitely. Pitching a story that needs to be covered now, as opposed to anytime in the future, is always more compelling to the reporter. Stories that are irrelevant, either to the reporters’ beat or to the publication’s audience, will never receive a response. Finally, if your story isn’t interesting, the reporter won’t want to write it nor will their audience want to read it. Ask yourself if you are pitching a story that you’d be interested in reading. If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, then it’s time to rework your pitch.
Diana Crawford is a seasoned public relations consultant with more than 15 years of agency, consulting, and in-house experience. She joined Orapin in 2013 and manages account services and client communications strategy development. She has worked across a variety of industries and has expertise with professional services, food/alcohol, health and wellness, lifestyle, sports, education, tech, and non-profit organizations.