Rinse, Lather, Repeat: Tailor Pitches, Use Data, Be Upbeat and Diverse

newspapers lined up

Surveys can serve several purposes. Sometimes their data surprises. Other times surveys offer a snap shot of a topic or industry. Most important, perhaps, they test assumptions. For example, a company might think its customer service is great. A survey of customers will test that assumption.

On the other hand, Cision’s 2021 State of the Media is, like other journalism surveys, short on revelations. Still, it's helpful, as it tests assumptions about media performance during the "dumpster fire" that was 2020. In addition, it's loaded with timely statistical nuggets and useful insights for savvy PR pros.

Another plus is that its use of language is succinct and memorable. Journalists are “both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by pitches,” it says. More than 25 percent of reporters receive 100+ pitches each week. Yet so many of them “end up in the virtual trash due to irrelevance.”

The takeaway: a small, tailored, well-researched list of media members is a pitcher’s best friend.

Another beauty: “PR pros should avoid pushing journalists’ biggest buttons.” Those include pitches that sound like marketing copy. Another bad move: failing to follow up with a journalist who asks a question.  PR pros who are opaque  also draw reporters' ire.

Cision released the survey of 2,700 journalists based in 15 countries today (April 15). It was in the field in January and February 2021.

Heavy Workload

It’s not a revelation to hear journalists, who continue to cover multiple beats as news consumption and revenue are increasingly segmented, seek help from PR pros. Indeed, we learn 47 percent of content creators cover 5 or more beats.

Cision’s explanation of what journalists need is terrific: Media is “looking for press releases that are chock full of original research, graphics and invites to interview experts or attend [virtual] events.”

The survey says, correctly, that “anticipating, monitoring and quickly acting on trending stories will become even more critical” for PR pros this year. Journalists, it continues, “closely evaluat[e] whether a story idea has the ‘it factor,’” which will lead to social traffic and ad revenue. A total of 59 percent of journalists, Cision says, are using metrics, such as views, engagement and demographics, to evaluate the stories they choose to cover.

Some of the above-mentioned useful statistical insights: the relentless pace of COVID-19-related coverage, and lack of resources and room to always do it justice, produced fatigue in 37 percent of journalists. Similarly, 37 percent of journalists now want to cover more upbeat news, such as getting-back-to-normal stories, Cision’s survey shows. Almost half (46 percent) want to find new angles on COVID-19 stories.

Fake News

Another pain point for journalists that communicators can identify with: the strain of separating fact from fiction and keeping bias out of one’s reporting.

More difficulties: 1 in 7 journalists said they struggled with the stress of accurately and adequately covering 2020’s racial issues. Undaunted, one-third of journalists say they want to cover news showing progress on DEI in 2021.

Another thing for communicators to mull: 30 percent of journalists find it difficult reaching sources when so many people are working remotely.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider