I got an email from someone recently who said she was unsubscribing from this blog.
This is what she said: ‘I’ve been sending you press releases and email pitches for months now and you haven’t replied once. I read all the content you put out there, so why haven’t you read mine?”
For those of you who don’t follow this blog regularly, I use my experience as a journalist and editor to provide actionable PR tips and strategies on everything from how to generate compelling story ideas to writing more effective pitches and press releases (and a whole lot more).
I share my content on social media and some people opt-in to get regular updates (using web forms like the one below this post), but I certainly don’t force anyone to read my blog. Nor do I expect people to respond in the form of comments or social media updates (although I’m certainly pleased when they do).
So her email puzzled me – not least because it showed no understanding of three of the most fundamental PR ‘rules’:
1. Journalists don’t have to read your press releases or email pitches. It’s your job to create story ideas they can’t say no to and write compelling email subject headers that make them stand out.
2. There is a relationship between the quality of your idea (and its suitability for the publication/programme you’re pitching to) and how likely a journalist is to respond.
3. Pitching is never about you or your organisation (at least it shouldn’t be). It’s about helping journalists solve their problems (Their biggest problem? Filling column inches or airtime with content that’s a perfect fit for their audience).
Some uncomfortable truths
When a journalist doesn’t respond to your email pitch or press release, it’s easy to tell yourself it’s because they’re busy, they don’t know your client/organisation or ran something similar recently.
While this can sometimes be true, in the vast majority of cases it’s because they’re just not interested. If they were, they’d pick up the phone or drop you a line – probably by return.
Think of it like this: I may think this blog post is brilliant, but ultimately its success will come down to how much it resonates with my audience and/or helps them solve their problems. So the only true measure of its success is the number of pageviews, social shares and comments it gets.
It’s exactly the same with pitching: you might think you’ve got a cracking story idea, but if it doesn’t solve a journalist’s problems (i.e. it’s the not the perfect thing to fill column inches or airtime on their publication/programme), you may as well forget it.
Why I love being ignored…
As a freelance journalist, I’m in the unusual position of being pitched to and pitching to others on a daily basis. And if you follow my blog regularly – or have attended one of my live events, masterclasses or webinars – you’ll have heard me talk about upping my pitching success rate from around 3/10 in the early days to around 9/10.
So when a journalist ignores an email pitch these days, I love it. Why? Because it reminds me that I still have lots to learn and (call me sadistic) I kind of enjoy the process of analysing what went wrong.
These are the three questions I ask myself:
1. Was my idea really suitable for the publication? (that means rereading the programme – find out how I do that in minutes here)
3. Did I send my idea to the right person? (this usually involves a quick phone call).
In the vast majority of cases the problem is number 1 – the quality of the idea.
Sometimes it’s a case of tweaking the idea slightly and re-pitching. Other times you have hold your hands up, admit your idea’s rubbish and go back to the drawing board. But taking responsibility for the problem and asking yourself tough questions like these is never wasted time. Even if your pitch is beyond rescue, you’ll learn valuable lessons that will help you nail the next one.
And if you’re wondering what happened to the grumpy emailer…when I searched my inbox, she had sent me dozens of emails and press releases. But guess what? Her ideas were no good. Well not for me, anyway. I write primarily for the national press, but her ideas were much more suitable for local and trade publications…which is why I hadn’t replied.
If she’d done her research, she’d have known that and could have (a) avoided wasting time pitching to someone who clearly wasn’t going to be interested (b) put her energies into trying people that would be – two things that are crucial for pitching success.