Perfect pitch: Successful story placement in 2024

Keen to see more success with your pitches? Want to understand more about how journalists’ preferences are changing when dealing with PRs? Two recent surveys – Cision’s State of the Media Report 2024, and Muck Rack’s State of Journalism Report 2024 give us some great indications. Both surveyed very respectable sample sizes of just over 3,000 and 1,000 journalists respectively, in Q1 of this year. 

An industry in flux – journalists’ key challenges 

Before sharing some hints and tips, a good place to start is to ensure we understand the landscape in which journalists are operating, and the kind of challenges they face.  

In Muck Rack’s survey, over 1/3 of journalists reported layoffs or buyouts at their organisations in the last year. This presumably accounts for why ‘declining revenues’ and ‘lack of funding & staffing’ feature highly in Cision’s list of journalists’ top challenges. Top of the list, however, is the challenge of ‘maintaining credibility as a trusted news source/combating accusations of “fake news.”’ For us as PRs, this underscores the need for us to be extra diligent in ensuring we can back up our stories with objective facts, verified data and credible sources. These reported challenges have been sadly similar for a few years, but one new challenge cited for 2024 is the emergence of artificial intelligence. Barely a blip on the radar last year; this year AI was cited by 26% of journalists as a top three challenge for the industry.  

AI in the newsroom 

Even though AI has emerged as one of the biggest challenges for journalism, it’s interesting to see that a significant number of journalists have or are experimenting with it. In fact almost half (45%) have or are using generative AI tools either ‘a little’, ‘a moderate amount’ or ‘often.’ This certainly seems to show that they are open to AI if it makes sense, can be validated, and used responsibly.  

Although only 12% reported using it a moderate amount, it’s interesting to note how these early adopters are using it. The most popular responses were to research topics, create article outlines or summaries, or to brainstorm new story ideas. As we should always be striving to make journalists’ lives easier, knowing that journalists are turning to AI to brainstorm story ideas makes us wonder whether there is more we can do to provide some support there ourselves.  

The role of social media 

Unsurprisingly, only three percent of journalists said they didn’t use social media at all for work purposes. In fact, isn’t it surprising that there is even a three percent who aren’t using it?! As you’d expect though, the majority use it for a wide range of activities, from publishing content and sourcing info to networking and picking up trending topics. What’s more interesting is the list of platforms journalists said they were planning to use more in the next year. Instagram came out top, with 44% of respondents saying they plan to be more active there. LinkedIn was second, and Facebook – which last year wasn’t even in the top five of social media platforms journalists planned to increase activity on – came in third. Does this mean we PRs should all start reaching out to journalists via Insta and Facebook? No – and more in a second on why not. What it does mean is that we should consider the different types of content that work well on these platforms when pitching journalists for story ideas that could play well on social.  

What journalists need you to know  

  • 70% of journalists say PRs are either important or very important to their success. 
  • 46% of journalists receive six or more pitches a day. 
  • 49% say they seldom or never respond to pitches. 

So what’s going on here? The answer: relevance. The importance of this shone through in both reports. A staggering 75% of Cision’s 3,000 respondents say that only between 0–25% of pitches they receive are relevant, and 68% said that ‘understanding my target audience and what they find relevant’ is the biggest way PRs can make their lives easier.  

With the changing nature of the media landscape, and certain publications closing and new outlets, blogs and podcasts launching, something we have certainly found over the last few years is that the balance of our media relations activity is changing. Whereas five – ten years ago PRs would probably spend the majority of time (80%) pitching and a relatively small amount of time (20%) prepping and researching, the tables have turned. We need to spend more like 80% of our time researching. If we do that, then our 20% pitching time is more targeted, relevant and hence successful.  

Including multimedia can help pitches 

While social media use is growing, 87% still cited email as their preferred channel for receiving info, and the good old press release is still the favoured content format by journalists, with 68% saying it’s what they find most useful. Happily, direct pitches are the second most useful source. Multimedia content also featured here – with 37% saying they would potentially (depending on the type of multimedia) be more likely to pursue a pitch if it contains multimedia elements. So – we PRs should start getting creative. 

The perfect pitch 

Last year most journalists reported writing 2–4 stories a week, whereas this year some still write 2–4, but almost as many write a whopping 11 or more! And 10% write between 8- 10. This is clearly the sharp end of those funding cuts and staff shortages kicking in, so when PRs are pitching, never has it been more important to try and make journalists’ lives easier. The three key things journalists say make their lives easier are relevant pitches, expert connections and data (in that order). 

In terms of the type of experts they favour, 82% of Muck Rack’s respondents simply said ‘subject matter experts’ were what they needed, which gives us a good idea of how to position our spokespeople. Mirroring what we have found in our Tyto Tech 500 ranking of the most influential people in tech, journalists also say they favour ‘researchers’ (77% cite them as more credible) and ‘CEOs’ (46%).  

Here is a great snapshot from Muck Rack which really gets to the nuts and bolts:  

And what better way to end than some advice from the horse’s mouth on that perfect pitch: 

“Personalization is key, we can tell when it’s a mass-email.”  

“Journalists seldom read past 200 words. Avoid ridiculous hyperbole and get to the point already.”  

“Provide short pitches with facts that enable me to produce short-form content quickly.” 

“Provide print-ready copy, the better written the better.”  

“Include multimedia assets and make sure they are usable – full resolution printable photos for example.”  

“A direct headline and delivers in 25 words to entice the journalist to continue to read.”