At our webinar earlier this month, we were joined by Wilf Dinnick, a communications and media professional with more than 25 years of global experience as a journalist working in national broadcast, digital and early-stage startups. Wilf has covered major stories for news networks including ABC News, CNN, CBC News and Al Jazeera and is a past winner of the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award. This vast experience on both sides of the camera has given him a keen understanding of what it takes to secure media coverage in today’s environment.
Here are 3 key takeaways you missed:
#1 The Odds of your Media Pitch Resulting in Coverage are Disappointingly Low - And the Trend is Not Good
Wilf Dinnick discussed the sobering stats from a study of over 400,000 pitches conducted by Propel media that reveal that only ⅓ of emails sent to journalists are opened. But equally disappointing is the fact that only 3% of pitches result in coverage and this trend appears to be continuing. What Dinnick went on to explain is that “journalists see many pitches as an interruption as most fail to clearly demonstrate relevance to the stories they want to publish for their audience.
#2 Journalists are Busier than Ever. So You Need to Connect with Them In Places they are Going for Story Ideas and Expert Sources
Dinnick also shared some important data that reveals how journalists are spending their time. Where they get their story ideas and how they search for experts. This helps explain the diminishing rate of return on traditional media pitches. For instance, Twitter remains dominant as a platform used by journalists to quickly discover trending stories. So making your story ideas more discoverable with appropriate hashtags on social is an important way to promote your experts in the flow of the conversation as a story is breaking or emerging.
Wilf also highlighted the importance of dialling into the daily news cycle by looking in the same areas journalists are going for their ideas. The latest research reveals that journalists find newspapers and magazines most valuable. Why? Sites such as the Washington Post, CNN, BBC, New York Times and Axios are well funded and resourced to develop the longer format, well-researched stories. They often focus on exclusive stories and break important news that is echoed through other outlets. And they set the pace of the news cycle as it echos through regional news outlets where journalists look to localize the story for their audiences. Closely monitoring these sites allows you to be in touch with the key stories and offer clear value to journalists, by offering your experts who can help explain key developments in the context of their research or localize the story for a regional audience.
#3 There are Ways to Beat the Odds and Improve your Media Coverage by Following Proven Best Practices When Pitching
Despite the poor odds when pitching journalists, there is hope for media relations and PR pros. Dinnick unpacked a number of important best practices that can substantially improve your odds. Drawing on research from a number of media organizations that track journalist engagement, he laid out a number of guidelines that you should be following when putting together your media pitches. Some of these included:
Timing Your Pitch
Journalists are more receptive to pitches early in the day between the hours of 5am and 11am. This is when the stories are breaking and work is being assigned - and journalists are looking for expert sources. Also, there is evidence that pitching earlier in the week on a Monday or Tuesday yields better results.
Keeping it Brief
The research Dinnick presented on the profound changes that have been happening in Newsrooms and the overload that journalists are experiencing underscores the importance of being to the point with journalists. That begins with understanding how journalists are spending their day - glued to mobile devices. “This impacts how you need to write subject lines that generate curiosity and fit into mobile devices, given the limited set of characters they can display,” said Dinnick. He also shared stressed research that shows the body copy of a pitch should be under 200 words.
Mind the Links
Loading a journalist up with lots of links to research, videos, and media coverage in the body copy of your pitch may seem like a good idea to help them evaluative a story idea But this is a no-no. It creates unnecessary clutter and detracts from the key messages you want them to focus on. Instead, journalists report they want as few links as possible. Wilf Dinnick recommends 1-2 links max. It’s important to note that this will present a challenge if you don’t have your content organized into comprehensive expert profiles which include important information that journalists want to see such as past media and speaking appearances, research, publications, education/credentials, affiliations etc.
There was a lot to take away from this session which was jam-packed with research and best practices for media relations and PR pros. However, perhaps the most important lesson was how to ”flip” the traditional approach to pitching 180 degrees - starting the pitch process by first developing “owned” content that gets published to your website.
As Wilf Dinnick stated, “you have to think like a journalist” as you approach the story ideas you want to pitch. Start with owned content and publish stories that focus on your experts which clearly show them to be relevant and credible while making their work more engaging and human through visual media helps “set the table for the journalist.” If it’s well structured and engaging, it gives journalists the added context they need to immediately understand how your pitch is relatable to their audience.
What’s most powerful about this approach is that it helps media relations and PR pros avoid the “earned media trap.” Instead of being overly focused on coverage, we can think more strategically about the value we bring to the organization as storytellers to create quality “owned” content that boosts search engine (SEO) authority and PageRank as well as site engagement with visitors to boost reputation, relationships and revenues. It was clear from the many examples shared by healthcare organizations, universities and associations that this approach is where the real gains can be made. And how media relations and PR pros can show more tangible value to their organizations.
Stay tuned for more on this topic of owned content and how it helps improve your media coverage as we explore this in our next post.
To see the entire webinar, make sure to sign up for BrightTalk to watch the full webinar here.