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7 journalism statistics from a survey of 3,000 reporters to improve PR performance

Media coverage is harder to obtain, but journalists are open and candid about what they need – which can make a difference for those PR pros who are willing to listen

A while back, Spin Sucks was kind enough to publish a piece I wrote with tips for better PR pitching. The first tip I offer is to avoid dwelling on what we can’t control – like the economics of news – and focus on the things we can.

For their part, reporters and journalists too are pretty candid about what they need from PR. A recent survey of more than 3,000 reporters around the world by Cision spells out some of the things you can do to drive better coverage.

Below I’ve identified a few journalism statistics that give such perspective – along with some suggestions for taking action.

>>> Need an extra pair of hands? Sword and the Script Media can help with B2B marketing, PR and social media.

1. 42% of reporters say credibility is the top challenge facing journalism

Credibility is the lifeblood of news and while B2B, which is my focus, doesn’t see as much turmoil over “fake news” as other sectors, it’s still top of mind for reporters. Nobody wants to be duped, but for a reporter, their careers depend on it.

Being truthful in pitching is an implied task for ethical PR people, but there are simple things you can do when pitching a story to convey trust:

  • Use descriptive subject lines for email pitches – not click-bait;
  • Personalized pitches so they know you know their coverage;
  • Articulate specific details, dates, names and dollar amounts;
  • Avoid adverbs and excessive adjectives – these are hyperbolic; and
  • Be responsive when you get a response.

The key is that credibility matters in reporting, so PR pitches should strive to follow the same rigors in teasing out a story. You’ll have way more success that way.

2. 60% of journalists say downsizing is their top challenge

There’s far greater consensus around the top personal challenges than there is facing the industry overall. The single top challenge, by far, is carrying a heavy workload amid fewer reporting resources. The key for B2B PR is to make it easy:

  • Easy to understand;
  • Easy to interview; and
  • East to get questions answered.

It’s worth noting too that the second (42%) on this list is “balancing reporting on important topics against pressure to drive business.”

As one journalist noted in an open-ended comment:

“The fact that so much of journalism has become about ‘clicks’ and ‘shares’ and those often seem to take precedence over keeping the public informed.”

A PR professional who finds a nexus between important topics – and also those topics that drive business (i.e. eyeballs and by extension advertising), will improve their chances of coverage.

3. 67% of journalists use social media to source information

Too many B2B organizations do a lousy job with social media. It’s like they are not even trying. Like all things cultural in a team, this usually stems from the leadership.

If the leadership believes social media is worth the effort, the team does too. If they don’t, the channels are poorly tended. Many look like sun-bleached billboards on a backwood highway.

But you’re struggling to get coverage – this statistic should prompt you to reconsider. Journalists can and do check social media when sourcing stories and sources. If your feed is inactive or a stream of sales pitches, chances a journalist will conclude your organization won’t have much to offer in terms of value for a story.

4. 55% of journalists want exclusives

I once worked on an exclusive that landed my employer in a story on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Hours after the story was published, I got a note from a very unhappy editor at a leading trade publication.

Of course, the WSJ is worth it every time, but that interaction is one reason why I’ve shied away from offering exclusives in general. Someone always gets upset and it’s additional drama that nobody in PR needs.

But this statistic is causing me to soften that stance. It is harder to get coverage, and reporters don’t want to cover something that’s already been covered elsewhere. So, exclusives, used judiciously are worth consideration.

5. 72% of reporters use images provided by PR

As a rule of thumb, you should always have multimedia ready for every announcement. Multimedia is another asset that can be indexed and ranked. It also contributes to the formation of a story. For example, a good graphic or explainer video helps convey the point.

A product manager for a press release distribution service I worked with once did a compelling data analysis: press releases that included multimedia improved time on page by as much as 30 seconds. That’s a lot of time on the internet and that’s solid engagement.

There are lots of other studies about content and blogging that have similar findings. The annual Orbit survey of bloggers is a good example. It always finds engagement lengthens when visuals are in play.

Are “press releases” the best source of information – as this annual survey concludes every year? I don’t think so.

Reporters care far more about the idea than they do about the format. A good story is a good story no matter what. You can write, publish and pitch a press release without paying for distribution – and the markup costs for multimedia.

That said, and pump and dump scams aside, a press release published on a wire has had some level of vetting. That might provide some additional assurance for a reporter in the era of fake news.

6. Three-quarters of journalists find value in 25% of pitches or less

Reporters get a deluge of email pitches – many I know can get a 100 or more every day – and most of them are terrible or off-topic. Can you imagine 100 unsolicited emails – on top of all the other routine emails you get?

I believe many of these are digital marketers and SEOs moonlighting as PR people – but it definitely makes it harder for all of us – including reporters.

So, put the effort in to write a good pitch. Think about it from the perspective of a reader that follows a journalist. Will it land with their readers?

That’s what reporters are thinking, and PR needs to have this perspective too. Nearly 7 in 10 (68%) of reporters polled in this study said the number one thing PR can do to be useful is to understand what the reporter’s audience finds relevant.

The survey also found that email is still the preferred method of pitching. Every now and then a PR pro will write a contrarian post saying, “Pick up the phone.” That always creates a stir but it’s more bravado than anything else.

Do you ever pick up the phone when it’s from a number you don’t know? Of course, you don’t.

It’s disruptive and needy to call. Don’t do it unless you a) have something really juicy – like life-on-Mars-juicy or b) you know the reporter well.

7. 48% of journalists will block a person following up aggressively

One tactful follow-up message a few days after your initial pitch probably won’t get you in trouble. Any more than that and you might wind up getting blocked. The survey found nearly half of journalists surveyed (48%) will block a PR person for repeated follow-up messages.

The report also indicates the frustration with follow-ups is growing:

“Last year, 17% of journalists told us it’s okay to follow up more than once. This year, only 8% said the same.”

So, what should you do? My advice is to write another pitch. Come at things from a different angle. Introduce new data or views from a customer. It’s got to be good, and it’s got to be different. Good pitches get saved, and reporters sometimes come back to them later.

* * *

Cision polled 3,016 journalists globally, including in the US and UK, for this report. There’s a lot more to be gleaned from the full report: 2024 State of the Media Report.

>>> Need an extra pair of hands? Sword and the Script Media can help with B2B marketing, PR and social media.

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Image credit: Pixabay and respective study

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