Securing earned media coverage is more than a numbers game

This time last year, we looked at what we called the “Wild West of media relations” to set out the good, bad, and the ugly side of PR practices. Research reported the alarming stat that there were 6.2 PR pros to every journalist – and this has more than likely only increased since. It’s a game of cat and mouse (take your guess as to who is who) and the prize is earned coverage.

One year on and PR pros are still having a hard time navigating the “Wild West”. Recent Meltwater research found that in 2024, 7 in 10 PR pros are struggling with creating effective content. More worryingly in our view, more than half say they are unsure on how to effectively distribute the content they do create. In 2024, PR pros need to get their act together.

To unscramble some misunderstandings, we delve into Cision’s recent tip sheet for winning over journalists and securing that all important earned media coverage. With over 3,100 journalists across 17 markets surveyed, the tip sheet brings some valuable insight – and we’re adding some IBA tried-and-tested tactics into the mix too!

  1. Journo pet peeves in 2024

Knowing what your journalists are looking for when it comes to pitches and content is fundamental. But what about knowing what they don’t want? According to Cision, it’s just as important: “By avoiding the actions that turn off the journalists you want to work with, you can go a long way in building good faith and proving you respect them, their work and the way they operate.”

Of course, all PR and marketing managers have been there. You have a new client, they want to enter a new geography or new market and grow a brand presence. You need to cultivate new relationships, research new journalists, perhaps perfect dialect for local areas. It can feel like you’re starting from scratch.

Here’s a quick rundown of the top journalist pet peeves in 2024:

  • Spamming – 3 in 4 journalists will block a PR pro that bombards them with irrelevant pitches (something we know to be true from Cision’s Global State of the Media Report)
  • Inaccurate or unsourced information – 62% of journalists will place PR pros on their don’t call list if info is unreliable
  • Pitches that sound like marketing brochures (watch out ChatGPT et al) – 57% of respondents will ignore a pitch that gives an overtly sales feel

  1. Take that PR Pros! Only 1% of journalists receive relevant pitches between 76%-100% of the time!

Journalists understand their audience. PR execs understand their client’s solutions. As PR pros, our job revolves heavily around our ability to understand the journalist’s mind, their objectives, and how to get their attention – the essential ingredients to translate outreach into coverage for client PR and marketing campaigns.

But the Cision research found that shockingly only 1% of journalists receive relevant pitches 76-100% of the time.

Unsurprisingly, the research found that 76% of journalists will either block or place a PR pro on a “don’t call” list if they are found to be sending too many irrelevant pitches. Spray and pray is not a “tactic” we can get behind at IBA – but we’ve told you that before.

It’s all about making the journos content life easier

It’s a crowded media landscape, so make sure you know your target audience, and only hit them with targeted pitches. For 74% of surveyed respondents, having an understanding of journalist targeted audiences and what they find relevant will help make their lives easier – an understandable ask considering 49% of journalists receive at least six pitches per day, with 12% contending with 21 pitches or more every day.

  1. Put relations back into Public Relations

PR is all about building relationships – all too easy to forget if you’re too tied up in the above spray and pray routine.  Cision again: “One way to build better relationships with members of the media is by focusing first on how you can add value. Proving yourself to be a valuable source of information, resources and access, sets the foundation for a long term, mutually beneficial partnership.”

When asked “In which of the following ways do communicators provide value?” an overriding 63% of respondents cited ‘alerts of upcoming news or events’, while 58% chose ‘help in finding sources’, and another 47% selected ‘providing new/interesting story ideas and providing exclusive information’.

Being a reliable source of information adds value and builds trust in establishing good journalist relationships. In fact, 66% of respondents added that providing data and expert sources would help make journalist lives easier. Now, more and more journalists are becoming reliant on Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) as go-to, reliable resources for breaking news and opinion.

For example, it was easy to think our Automotive client was just about vans, tire changes and service delivery, so our task was to position their SMEs as credible thought leaders in the changing mobile retail service delivery market as a core element of building their brand presence. We’ve managed to secure interviews and earned media coverage in top-tier publications – think WSJ and to name just a few!

There are big wins to be gained in earned media coverage by correctly positioning your SME in media that trusts and values your pitches!

  1. Think about the PR box

Media coverage doesn’t always appear as a result of a pitch – it’s your starting point. PR pros need to be proactive and creative when offering SME expertise to relevant journalists. Think exclusive interviews, podcasts, trade shows (journos still value relevant events as the Cision research identified above), and beyond. Building your clients’ reputation and SMEs as go-to industry resources builds trust, enhances credibility, and in turn will lead to all important earned media coverage.

Just last month, we facilitated an interview opportunity for our enterprise software client at leading energy event in the U.S. The result? Our client’s SME was positioned at the forefront of energy technology conversations, a downloadable video interview, and importantly, a new cultivated relationship!

No pay for play – just earned, valuable coverage.

PR in 2024 – crowded but not impossible!

The stakes are high in PR this year and the pressure is on. The number of PR pros is only increasing, but that influx of new PR pros shouldn’t come at the cost of creativity, intelligence, and good practice. The time to shine is now, and to outshine ChatGPT!

Georgia Harris is PR Lead Themes at IBA International.

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