Bottled Imagination co-founder Luke Cope shares his tips for getting campaigns approved, landing pitches, and wowing clients.
Journalists are the OG influencers.
For centuries they’ve had the power to push our brand and its content further than we ever imagined possible.
And yet, we still don’t really get them.
A quick search for the word “pitch” in the subreddit /r/journalism returns 237 results – many of which are from PRs, asking things like:
We don't know what journalists want, and it's a problem.
According to Cision's 2022 Global State of the Media Report, 2 in 3 journalists say the pitches they receive are irrelevant.
That's why we've set out to tackle the PR pitch once and for all.
In the first half of this report we’re going to unpick the power of the journalist, and in the second half, we’ll get to grips with what it takes to become pitch perfect.
We analyzed our database of 600K+ journalists over the last year to get to grips with who they are, how they create, and what they want.
In BuzzSumo, we define a journalist as someone who writes for a popular online media publication, and track a huge whitelist of media publications.
We also pay close attention to journalist-related positions referenced in a users’ Twitter bio, and use this data to connect journalists to their published content.
And lastly, of course, we analyze billions of social engagements.
“Engagement” is a catch-all term to describe all the ways an audience can interact with a piece of content shared on social media; including comments, likes, pins, upvotes, and reactions.
BuzzSumo specializes in monitoring this engagement and, since 2021, has given you the ability to assess the engagement of journalist content, with Journalist Profiles.
If you were in any doubt of the value a journalist can add, we’ve conducted some wide-scale research to underscore the power of the journalist, and their ability to drive home blockbuster engagement.
We analyzed 673M pieces of content to work out just how much more engagement journalist content is able to drive.
On average, journalist content manages to rack up 315 engagements, while non-journalists achieve a comparatively modest 114 engagements.
Journalists also have the ability to generate more than double the amount of awareness when compared with non-journalists.
“Content written by journalists for a recognised media outlet is far more likely to generate social media amplification and engagement. Period. Anyone using BuzzSumo’s Content Analyzer will have known this for years. But this new analysis of a huge sample of content provides even more robust evidence. It reinforces the fact that an optimal content strategy will involve a combination of media relations and creating your own content – for both social and SEO purposes. BuzzSumo provides the data to allow you to make informed decisions about how best to allocate your resources to gain maximum impact.”
While there’s no question that journalists create top-tier content, it would be wrong of us to suggest that they don’t benefit from the in-built audiences of the large publications they write for.
Nevertheless, quantifying this engagement can help you estimate the increased reach that your brand or client stands to benefit from, if they land that all-important journalist mention.
By power of association, not only can they increase awareness, but build authority and credibility in the eyes of the reader.
“This is an important aspect of business growth! Third-party validation from recognized and relevant media outlets increases trust among your customers and employees.”
According to the data, journalists are most likely to generate engagement with entertainment content. Each individual article averaged an impressive 1,071 engagements – that’s over 3x the amount that a non-journalist is able to attract with the same kind of content.
But when it comes to travel content, the engagement gap closes, and non-journalists have a far better chance of attracting attention. In this industry, journalists are only 1.5x more likely to generate interest when compared with a non-journo.
This data will come in handy when you’re building a business case for investment in journalist relationship building.
“Using PR (digital and traditional) tactics should always be viewed in the context of a business’ industry and their marketing goals. If you learn that it won’t move the needle significantly, it would be best to invest time and effort in a different growth method.”
To help you with just that, we’ve re-visualized the same insight to show you the industries that benefit most from journalist coverage.
Journalist-created marketing content receives 188% more engagement than marketing content created by non-journos.
If you work in this industry, building strong, authentic connections with journalists is essential for improving awareness.
We analyzed 4.2 billion Facebook reactions over the last year, and found that journalist content is 9x more likely to generate a reaction compared with non-journalist content.
On average, journalists give rise to 75 reactions per piece of content, while non-journalists produce just 8.
This could be symptomatic of the increased reach that publications wield, but the data still makes a compelling case for investing energy into journalist relations.
This stat speaks to the objective view that journalists typically bring to the content they create. In the PR industry we stress that they focus on the story that will connect with their audience rather than producing advertorial content, which can be a tendency of non-journalists.
Tamara Sykes, Outreach Manager, Stacker
Forming a connection and building trust with a journalist is just about the most important thing you can do as a PR.
But how often do PRs get it right? And how much awareness do they tend to generate?
We studied 3,016 brand alerts found in BuzzSumo’s Monitoring and Alerts tool over the last three months.
Brand alerts are notifications that marketers set up to discover when they’ve been mentioned in content online.
In BuzzSumo terms, they refer to the overarching query set up by a user surrounding their brand.
Usually, alerts are only made up of the brand name, but may also include filters such as additional keywords and country-specific domains.
Using BuzzSumo’s Journalist Profiles feature, we discovered that 1,143 brand alerts had landed a mention from a journalist.
This meant that 38% of brands had been name-dropped at least once by a journalist over the past quarter.
Not a figure to be sniffed at, when you consider that outreach and PR pitching is one of the trickiest tasks a PR has to undertake.
In fact, according to a Twitter poll of 94 PRs carried out by Thea Chippendale, Head of Digital PR at Media Vision, 37% of you think outreach is the hardest part of Digital PR, second only to PR campaign ideation.
Yes, PR outreach is difficult! It’s more than sending an email. It requires research to find the best journalists to contact, collecting and organizing assets from the brand you represent, and facilitating interviews between spokespersons and journalists. Then PR campaign ideation can be tough to navigate since the PR must get buy-in from the client, which is doable but still a challenge. Sometimes brands want the story’s focus to be about them and their achievements but that’s not usually what will earn them coverage.
Tamara Sykes, Outreach Manager, Stacker
It’s important to note that behind each brand alert are thousands of individual mentions.
During our study, we analyzed 12,530,039 mentions over the course of three months.
So, how many of these mentions came from a journalist?
On average, we found that 5% of all brand mentions in our study came from journalist content.
To work this out, we analyzed the percentage of journalist mentions for each individual brand alert in BuzzSumo…
Then we added up those percentages, and divided by the total number of brand alerts. This gave us 5%.
So if 5% of mentions come from journalists, that means the remaining 95% come from non-journalists.
At risk of stating the obvious, that’s a fairly big difference! And it just underscores the challenge that PRs face every day, when it comes to pitching their brand as relevant and valuable in the eyes of journalists.
To say you should treat this 5% as a KPI for your own brand mentions would be to oversimplify things.
While it’s always important to take a temperature check and set goals, the process of building strong working relationships with journalists shouldn’t be one that is metric-obsessed.
Say it louder! Relationship-building is a long-term play. Applying metrics to this crucial art of PR turns it into a transactional relationship that doesn’t typically yield consistent results.
Tamara Sykes, Outreach Manager, Stacker
The more you numericize relationship building, the more you risk depersonalizing the process, and alienating a journalist altogether.
"For a decade now, I’ve cautioned marketers about the “robot invasion in Digital PR”, where agencies prioritize emailing hundreds of writers in one fell swoop, instead of building a relationship with the person on the other side of the inbox."
Kelsey Libert, Co-Founder, Fractl, in 4 Agency PR Tactics That I Avoid At All Costs
Being hyper-focused on targets will lead to desperate practices like pitch-spamming.
And if you prioritize the quick-win, you’ll end up wasting time in the long run.
As Gisele Navarro, Founder of NeoMam Studios, writes:
“When you plan and execute outreach campaigns that automate a vast majority of steps in the process, you’re leaving the human in you out of the equation. That is the moment when outreach is no longer a human to human connection, at that point your outreach is just spam.”
According to Cision’s State of the Media report, 43% of journalists want PRs to stop spamming them, and 74% of journalists simply won’t tolerate it.
Our own survey data backs this up, with 65% of journalists saying that their number one pet peeve is being spammed repeatedly by email or phone.
And, just to drive that point home a little further, journalists across the /r/Journalism subreddit are very vocal about their hatred for spam, with many stating that they immediately delete it.
“If you keep spamming the inboxes I’m just going to delete everything because I don’t have time for that. The few PR people I do have good relationships with have all been through direct contact, not-mass-spam emails. My suggestion is: pick one or two reporters that you can build a relationship with. Talk to them as human beings first, and then after building that relationship, pitch them the stories they’ll be more likely to respond to.”
Jaded-Cheesecake-423, Reporter, Reddit discussion: PR person here concerned about our bad rap
Being KPI-consumed or scale-obsessed is a recipe for disaster when it comes to pitching journalists.
Instead be selective, patient, and above all else, human.
When it comes to including any link in their articles, journalists are just as likely (or just as *unlikely*) as non-journalists to link out to external sources.
We took 10K articles written by journalists and 10K articles written by non-journalists published between July 2021 - July 2022, and found that the average number of links to external domains for both groups came in at an incredibly modest 2.1.
External linking doesn’t seem to be high on the agenda for the average journalist, so giving them a reason to link is all-the-more important.
You can do this by pitching unique hero content, exclusive angles, primary data, and expert commentary.
Yes! The link has to bring value to their piece or provide a story angle that hasn’t been addressed before. The idea that journalists must include a link to your content because it may seem relevant is a misconception.
Tamara Sykes, Outreach Manager, Stacker
We also studied the percentage of brand mentions that had been linked to by a journalist.
Our research shows that a fairly healthy 23% of brand mentions are linked to from journalists.
When it comes to building links from authoritative publications, there is hope!
What is the solution to better pitching journalists?
It’s all about finding the right journalist, and getting to grips with who they are, how they create, and what they want.
One way to find journalists is to identify them based on their title or position. While email is unsurprisingly the favored channel for PR pitching, our study showed that 14% of journalists preferred to be pitched to via social media.
So we took our analysis over to Twitter, and studied the Twitter bios of 600K journalists, to understand how they refer to themselves online.
Only a small percentage of journalist profiles shared relevant title-specific words in their bios.
Nevertheless, it was interesting to find that more journalists refer to themselves as “Writers” over “Journalists”.
Try using a combination of these keywords in your process of journalist discovery.
Here are two ways to do just that:
Search journalist-related keywords in Twitter bios
Start your discovery process by searching “Writer” or “Journalist” on Twitter, and heading to the People tab.
This will automatically suggest 2nd or 3rd connections featuring those words in their bio.
Search journalist-related keywords in BuzzSumo Twitter Influencers
Head to the Twitter Influencers tool in BuzzSumo and search a journalist moniker in the “Twitter bio includes” search, while applying a Journalist Profile filter:
These kind of techniques are great for building a list of journalists, but effective pitching is not about scaling your efforts.
It’s crucial you find journalists that have a vested interest in what you’re pitching.
Hone in on journalists with a beat that’s relevant to your niche, by appending a relevant keyword.
Following on from this, you can find out even more about a journalist in their Journalist Profile.
But more on that later!
Another way to get to know a journalist is by taking a look at the content they’re already putting out there…
The most engaging journalist content types
When you’re contacting journalists, do you know what kind of content you should be pitching? Which style of article they prefer to write? What topics will they most readily cover?
This kind of intel is not only helpful for crafting a relevant PR pitch – it can also give you great content ideas from the outset – since you’re working to a formula that you know already engages.
We’ve taken a look at the most engaging content types written by journalists across different industries, to give you inspiration for your next PR pitch.
When you’re preparing your pitch, make sure you take content types into consideration.
If you’re pitching entertainment content, for instance, make sure you feature bitesize points in your pitch that journos can easily turn into lists, since this is the most likely format to engage their readers.
According to Cision, journalists are feeling the pressure right now to drive audience engagement, as advertising revenues decline.
59% of journalists say that they pay close attention to audience engagement data when evaluating stories.
That's pretty significant.
Doing the heavy lifting for them, and qualifying the potential engagement of the story you’re pitching, can make for a far more compelling PR pitch.
We analyzed 200K pieces of journalist content to help you do just that!
Here’s a full list of the most engaging journalist content types across different industries, complete with examples:
And remember, the more personal you get with your pitching, the better.
If you have a specific topic you’re pitching, analyze how journalists prefer to create content around it.
For example, imagine you’re a Marketer at Spark PR looking for pitch-worthy campaign ideas for your client eHarmony. If you search “dating” in the Content Analyzer…
… toggle on the Journalist filter
… and fire up the Analysis Report…
… you’d quickly learn that the most engaging journalist content around this topic usually summarizes “relationship and dating” based podcasts.
With this information, you might re-ignite eHarmony’s podcast and pitch an exclusive discussion topic.
Or use BuzzSumo’s Journalist Profiles to identify journalists that have previously mentioned any competitors.
Take the journalist below. They have written a feature all about rival dating app, Hinge, so may be open to covering a story around eHarmony.
Whatever method you explore, honing in on beat-specific and relevant journalists is imperative when pitching.
Using SparkToro, an awesome audience research tool, we discovered which topics journalists are discussing and sharing most on social media.
To do this we analyzed the hashtag #journorequest, which is popularly used by journalists to source PRs and contributors for features.
This gave us access to 3,384 journalist accounts across the globe. Here are the other hashtags they were using:
One thing that jumped out straight away were all the other related hashtags journalists use when actively looking for contributors:
Make sure you start following these hashtags. Fulfilling a journalist request is a great way to build a relationship, since you’re helping them out and pitching to them when they’re most receptive.
Being proactive will make you a memorable and trusted source that they’re more likely to come back to.
Stacey MacNaught gave a great presentation on this method back in 2021 at BrightonSEO, and now has journalists seeking out her clients for all kinds of features.
Another thing to note about these hashtags is that they commonly feature calendar events (ie. Mental Health Awareness Week, Valentine’s). Pitching these kinds of topics will be more likely to get you on a journo’s radar.
To become even more proactive, create and maintain a Publicity Calendar that’s relevant to the brands you represent. You can house such a calendar in Notion, Google Sheets or GCal.
Tamara Sykes, Outreach Manager, Stacker
Here are some other commonly occurring phrases shared by journalists on social that might pique their interest in your PR pitch:
Creating a newsworthy story is all about evoking an emotional response from the audience.
You want to make them care enough to share.
As we already know, journalists have an impressive ability to do just that.
So when you’re pitching journalists, knowing what emotions they tend to evoke can help you shape a story that will resonate with them and their audience.
“I genuinely think if you can come through [the ideation] phase with an idea that’s linked to successful themes and that taps into 1-2 emotions, you are already on your way to running a winning campaign.”
We took a top-level look at the types of Facebook reactions that are most commonly invoked by journalist content across different industries.
When it comes to journo content, there’s a lotta love to go around 💖
Audiences across five of the eight industries primarily engage with content using the love reaction – most notably in Fashion, Marketing, and Entertainment.
Meanwhile, Health and Business journo content is least likely to land a love reaction. Instead, the former is the most likely of all industries to evoke sadness, while the latter has the greatest ability to anger.
If a journalist writes about Tech, they’re most likely to amuse or wow their audience when compared with journalists covering other industry beats.
So, what does all of this mean?
Well, what it doesn’t mean is that you should start creating provocative pitches for the sake of it.
Instead, use this information as another tool for understanding the journalist you’re pitching to: what they’re most likely to want to write about; what tone their content is most likely to take.
You can take this research further yourself by diving into a niche topic in BuzzSumo.
For example, if you wanted to analyze journalists covering “Artificial intelligence” as part of their Tech beat, just search it in the Content Analyzer…
You’ll see related topics or beats beneath the search bar. If you want to expand your search, hit the “OR” button.
Then toggle on the journalist filter…
And hit “View Analysis Report”
This will give you a top-level analysis of journalist content in that specific niche. Now head to the “Reactions” section.
And from this you’ll know that Tech journalists will want their audiences to be wowed by their content, which should give you an idea of how to pitch.
To see the articles behind the emotion, head back to the Content Analyzer and hit “More filters”
Then select a “Dominant reaction” filter.
This will let you zero in on the headlines and journalists creating the strongest emotional response.
You can also analyze audience emotions by hovering over the Facebook icon next to a headline.
Then simply hit the Journalist Profile to research a specific journalist, including their beat, past headlines, and top publications.
Gisele Navarro from NeoMam Studios advises PRs to “Tailor pitches to verticals by writing subject lines that mirror their headlines.”
Reflecting the language and emotion journalists most successfully evoke in your subject line can be the difference between your PR pitch being opened or being canned.
According to Cision’s 2022 survey of 3,800 journalists, more than 50% of journalists receive over 50 pitches a week via email, phone, and social media. A further 24% receive up to 100.
Here’s how to create a scroll-stopping, junk-evading pitch…
We surveyed published journalists, and 48% said that the number one thing a PR can do to get in their good books is to “Understand my current beat and position, and make their pitch relevant to this.”
When asked about the best example of a cold pitch they’d ever received, one journalist stated “A cold pitch where the person showed they had followed my advice for 3 months and the results they achieved.”
This is an extreme example of personalization, but the fact remains that journalists need proof that you understand them and their audience.
Here’s some key things to consider about a journo when pitching:
Know what a journalist is writing about right now – not two months ago. Check their social profiles for recent content, or:
Make sure they’re the right person to be contacting, and check if they’re likely to cover your story.
Writers on SEO desks don’t tend to accept pitches for example.
Pay close attention to the positions listed in their social media bios, or on the Contact Us page of a publication.
Dig deeper on social media or HARO to check whether a journalist has ever requested contributions or published PR pitches in the past.
Here's a handy list of journalist titles to pitch to, and what they mean.
Their recently published content
If you reference or praise recent content, make sure it is recent.
Their most engaging content
Tapping into the formula that led to a journalist’s most successful piece of content is a great way to customize your pitch.
It shows you’ve taken time to understand what works well for them and their audience.
This could be reflected in the subject line/headline you propose, or the data/expert you pitch.
Whatever the case may be, just make sure your proposal is relevant to the journalists current beat.
Their audience’s reactions
Look at the reactions the journo you’re pitching most often evokes.
Then pitch how your story can garner that same reaction.
The language they use
Pay attention to the language the journalist uses, and build it into your PR pitch.
“Pitch your content to each vertical and region in your target list using words that fit their way of writing, and highlighting points that align with their way of breaking news.”
Their style of referencing
Does the journo you’re pitching usually provide a link? Do they like to use expert commentary?
Make sure you know this before you begin pitching, to save yourself time.
Here's 3 ways you can find that out:
1. Check back through their content archives using Journalist Profiles
2. Set up alerts for your competitors in BuzzSumo Monitoring & Alerts, and toggle on "Show mentions with links"
Then look out for journalist icons in your mentions
Any former PR requests they’ve made
Look through successfully published articles as a result of prior journalist/PR collaborations, and use this information to inform the topics you pitch them, as well as your style of pitching.