The relationship between the PR industry and reporters should be mutualistic; akin to the relationship between bee and flower. Unfortunately, reporters analogize their relationship to PR professionals more to “telemarketers” and their unsolicited calls during dinner and/or our favorite shows. Telemarketers are not known for delivering qualified value to their audience; unless you happen to be in the market for an extended warranty on your car. 

The reality of how reporters view PR pros is clear in the consistent volume of content condemning the PR industry’s approach to pitching. HubSpot shared a post entitled “500+ Journalists Agree: These Are the Worst PR Tactics in 2020.” Muck Rack has a monthly report on horrible PR pitches reporters share, check out September’s. 

Reporters are also taking the “glass half full” approach, PR Daily posted “10 Ways Journalists Wish PR Pros Understood their Work.”

Is this branding well deserved? Can it be “rebranded?”

The answers to both are emphatically, “Yes.” However, finding the way out requires an understanding of how this challenge came to be.

Whenever I meet with reporters, I ask for them to share their unfiltered experiences on PR pitches; the anecdotes are both priceless and dumbfounding.

Here are some examples:

  • Receiving a form-letter pitch that starts “DearMediaContactFirstName” is a near-daily reality. 
  • Good Morning America producers receiving a pitch stating, “I watched the segment with Al Roker this morning on TODAY that you did and…” is also a common error. If this is happening at the top-tier, imagine the quality control for all other targets.
  • It is far more common to receive a pitch that seemingly communicates no prior knowledge of their coverage than it is to receive a qualified relevant idea. 
  • “Spray and pray” pitches are easily identified by reporters; most times within the lead sentence. 
  • Reporters deleting pitches like most clear their spam folder; mass deletes without opening the email. 
  • Producers sharing they only open and respond to all pitches that come from approximately three to four PR pros; during their entire careers. 

How has the industry turned a blind eye to these anecdotal proof points that reporters have been openly sharing for so long? 

There was no empirical data to “prove” this objectively.

The PR Industry Now Has Empirical Data

For the first time ever, we can shout to the mountaintops that only 3.27% of all PR pitches sent are ever responded to by the reporters being targeted; even less convert into coverage. Since 2020, Propel PRM has released three Media Barometer reports that among other areas, shed light on: 

  • Response rates to pitches
  • Percentage of reporter responses that result in coverage
  • What categories of outlets respond more frequently (newspapers, wires, TV, magazine, etc.)
  • Best time of day to pitch
  • Best day of the week to get a reporter to respond

There is no excuse any longer for sweeping these “inconvenient truths” under the rug. Rather, this is a time for renaissance and reveling in the opportunity to improve, learn and evolve from this Data. The opportunity is at hand for the PR industry to “rebrand” its relationship with reporters and become a trusted resource.

Gini Dietrich wrote about this in the summer, sharing great perspectives and tips for all to consider

Resistance Is Futile

It is no surprise that the PR industry hasn’t immediately embraced this long-overdue evolution; we all knew the problem long before the empirical data made it impossible to ignore.

Why aren’t we holistically embracing this change? 

Change is uncomfortable, unknown, risky, and requires work; you get out what you put in. Many in this industry only know one way to operate and they have not been “open” to the signs that have been clear for more than 20 years. 

Closing ourselves off to “knowledge,” severely hampers the ability to be successful in Earned Media; an “idea” industry. The day we stop learning, is the day we stop breathing.

If we want to change the outcome, we need to be “open” to reevaluate the process. 

With the fourth Media Barometer due out shortly, the supporting data for this impending evolution is only gaining momentum. Are you going to ride on the crest of this wave OR risk getting pummeled into the surf as the “innovators” and “disruptors” shoot past those holding on to the antiquated past? 

Darwinian principles at work!

Be the Change

As in effective media relations, if you aren’t setting the trends, you are chasing them. Nobody wants to be playing catch up in this evolution. 

How can we prepare today? 

Do unto others as you would have done unto you: 

  • Deliver value and authenticity in all outreach, which both builds credibility and increases reporter engagement
  • Research and qualify your targets by directly consuming their content; not immediately going to a list building service
  • Ensure pitches lead with what you are offering of value to the reporter’s audience, not what you want the reporter to promote for your client
  • Quality over quantity—spray and pray needs to be replaced by personalized pitching; no more mail merges or shortcuts

Rome wasn’t built in a day and the PR industry’s poor branding won’t change overnight, either. However, the mutualistic principles exist for this to be a successful partnership between reporters and PR pros; underscored by the consolidation we are seeing in the media industry. 

Be The Change.

To connect with Ryan Smith, you can find his LinkedIn profile here