Last week, I had the great honor of participating in a webinar with my longtime, former Chicagoan friend, Aaron Friedman, and his boss, Zach Cutler, the co-founder, CEO, and chairman of Propel

In it, we discussed what the framework of a perfect pitch looks like in 2022, including how and when to send a pitch, what to include (and not to include) in the email, and the dismal results most communicators are getting when they focus on their earned media efforts. 

It turns out, journalists have become even less responsive to email pitches from PR pros, which doesn’t bode well for those who do this for a living. Earned media efforts are becoming less effective with journalists but even more important with executives.

What is one to do?

Make Your Pitches Relevant

The Q2 Propel Media Barometer is out, and some of the results are depressing. The response rate communicators receive from journalists continues to decrease. At this time last year, the average response rate was 4%. Today? It’s dropped an entire percentage point to 3%.

If we were talking about email marketing and lead generation, I’d tell you something is definitely wrong and the strategy needs to change. Getting a 3% response rate or clickthrough rate means something is wrong and your strategy needs to change.

Even though this is not lead generation, I’d look at it the same way. If your response rate is 3% or lower, it’s time to rethink the strategy. 

Zach and I spent a good amount of time during the webinar discussing this. There are a few things at play here; most notably, communicators are playing a quantity game rather than a quality game.

Just looking at Spin Sucks as one example: we have received 26 pitches for guests in the past week for the Spin Sucks podcast.

It always makes me roll my eyes when the pitch starts out with, “I’ve just listened to a few of your most recent episodes and love the guests you’ve had on recently.”

Now I know you’re full of it because we have never had a guest, outside of a cameo from the small human who lives in our house.

Come on, people. Do your homework. Don’t fake it. Every blogger, podcaster, influencer, and journalist will see right through you…and that’s why your earned media efforts are dismal. 

In addition to the podcast pitches, in the past week, we’ve received pitches for Mother’s Day, books about weight loss, skincare products, NFT stories, a cannabis conference in Tokyo, and Chicago entrepreneurs. They at least get the Chicago part right with that latter one, but still not something we cover.

This. This is why your earned media results are so dismal. Your pitches are not relevant.

Tip number one: make your pitches relevant and shorten the list of who you’re pitching. That will increase your results exponentially. Don’t be lazy. Do your research. And target the right people. 

Done and done.

Follow Email Marketing Best Practices

The next statistic we discussed is that journalists respond the most to subject lines that are between one and five words. The webinar chat got really engaged when we discussed this one. People were incredulous that they can’t write long subject lines and were adamant they had to be longer than five words.

But here’s the thing, subject lines longer than five words have even worse response rates than the average of 3%…to the tune of 1%. It’s hard to argue against that.

Every email marketer on earth has figured this out—they know that short subject lines are the way to go. Just Google “email subject line best practices,” and you’re rewarded with content from HubSpot, Mailchimp, Salesforce, and Content Marketing Institute. 

I know you’re not technically an email marketer, but when you are using email to pitch a journalist, that’s what you are doing. Use the best practices that cover the internet. They’re not hard to find, and you’ll find far more success when using those tips than trying to shove everything about your pitch into the subject line.

And, to that point, a webinar attendee asked how we feel about using the words “interview opp” in the subject line. It certainly depends on the subject. If the person you’re offering for an interview is famous or someone the reporter might know, then it probably works. But be very judicious in giving up five of your subject line words for something that bland and not personalized. 

Tip number two: follow the best practices of the best email marketers. Do your homework. Test different subject lines with different journalists. Write short ones. And make a note of what works—and what does not.

Learn How to Optimize Your Pitches

How many links and/or attachments do you include in your pitches? The Propel research shows that most communicators use four or more links—and some are still sending attachments. Gasp!

Please, please, please do not send attachments. Not only are they likely getting caught in spam filters, which is lowering your chance of the journalist even seeing your email, but pretty much every organization on earth has an edict that you don’t open attachments from someone you don’t know. This is how people are hacked and systems are taken down.

Do. Not. Send. Attachments.

And, like subject lines, there are lots and lots and lots of best practices from optimization experts on how many calls to action to include in content.

How many do you think are recommended?

One. One call-to-action. Not four. One.

When you send more than one link in your pitch, you are dividing their attention and overwhelming them. Include one link. One.

This brings me to tip number three: follow the best practices of the optimization experts. Without your having to Google it, I can tell you the best practice is one link. One call-to-action. But do your homework. Research best practices. And treat your earned media efforts like you’re optimizing for success.

Measure Your Earned Media Efforts

The last thing Zach and I discussed during the webinar is measurement. The chat was alive and engaged during this discussion, as well. There were a lot of comments about how challenging it is to measure your earned media efforts.

I agree.

And…you can do it! I promise you can do it.

One of the things we focus on for an entire module of the PESO Model Certification™ is measurement. This is because it’s incredibly important that we stop hiding behind media impressions and advertising equivalencies and we begin to show how our work contributes to the success of the organization. 

I don’t care what type of organization you work for, either. The “oh, we don’t measure results like a normal business does” excuse is getting old. Because it’s just an excuse. You absolutely can measure results toward the things the organization measures.

Depending on the business and the goals, we measure either first or last touch attribution. We haven’t quite gotten to multi-touch attribution, but I’m willing to bet we’re there by the end of the third quarter. That’s how important this is. We keep banging away at it until we find the answer.

But for now, use your earned media efforts to show first-touch attribution, which means when a person first came to your website, how did they find you?

In some cases, it might be a Google search. In others, it might be a paid ad. And, in others, it most certainly is because of your earned media efforts. 

All it takes are Google Analytics and a basic understanding of how to read the reports so you can measure effectiveness.

If you don’t know how to do this—or you aren’t clear on what attribution even means—there is a ton of content on Spin Sucks that speaks to it. Just do a search on the site for “attribution” or “measurement” and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

And, if you want to learn it deeply so you can implement it quickly, I would be remiss by not encouraging you to get PESO Model™ certified. It will teach you everything you need to know—and give you the tools to be able to do it.

This leads me to tip number four: learn what it means to include first-touch attribution in your results reporting—and begin to implement it immediately. If you want more sources than Spin Sucks, just Google “PR measurement” and “first-touch attribution.” 

Four Tips for the Perfect Pitch

To recap the four tips for the perfect pitch, they are:

  1. Make your pitches relevant to the human being you are pitching.
  2. Follow the best practices of email marketers.
  3. Follow the best practices of conversion rate optimization experts.
  4. Learn how to measure your efforts beyond metrics that aren’t real (cough, media impressions and advertising equivalencies, cough). 

Getting Extra Earned Media Help

If you need help with any of this, or would just like to hang out with like-minded individuals, join us in the Spin Sucks Community.

It’s a community full of crazy smart professionals. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s smart…and you might just learn a thing or two from your peers. 

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich