Journalists Reveal What Makes A Story Shareable

April 15, 2022

This article is included in these additional categories:

Cross-Media & Traditional | Digital | Email | PR | Social Media

More than 8 in 10 journalists are either as likely to respond to pitches as they were last year (59%) or more likely to do so (23%), according to Muck Rack’s State of Journalism 2022 report [download page]. With companies seeing the value of earned media, it’s worth understanding journalists’ take on what makes a story shareable.

According to the survey, which was fielded among more than 2,500 journalists, the factor that is most likely to help make a story shareable is the topic, with 71% saying that a shareable piece is one in which the subject is connected to a trending story. That’s understandable, given that audiences will be interested in a topic and potentially searching for stories about it.

However, the topic might not always be under the control of the journalist, or the PR pro pitching a piece, making other factors just as – if not more – relevant. As is stands, the next-most cited factor in making a story shareable is it containing an image or infographic (65%), with exclusive and/or surprising data (57%) next on the list. (Shameless plug to come back and visit MarketingCharts again for both of these elements, at least for areas connected to marketing.)

Interestingly enough, few journalists surveyed said that involving a relevant social media influencer (12%) or including quotes from a company spokesperson (8%) will help make a story shareable. In fact, just 17% of respondents separately said that they consider social media personalities to be credible sources for their reporting. As far as spokespeople go, CEOs are considered credible by the largest portion (66%), ahead of company PR professionals (50%) and agency PR professionals (36%), with celebrity spokespeople (14%) trailing distantly.

How to Pitch A Journalist

While two-thirds of journalists surveyed regard their relationship with PR teams and people at PR agencies as either a partnership (8%) or mutually beneficial, but not quite at the level of a partnership (60%), the remaining third look at their relationship as antagonistic (“but not inherently a bad thing”; 16%) or a necessary evil (16%). To avoid falling into those latter buckets, PR professionals should consider journalists’ preferences concerning pitches.

It’s important to contact journalists by email on a 1-to-1 basis, per the report: 91% of respondents prefer to be pitched this way. By contrast, fewer than 1 in 5 prefer to be pitched by mass email/newswire (17%), phone (15%), Twitter (13%), or other social network (8%). These other pitching channels appear to draw more ire than appeal among respondents.

Journalists’ desire to receive pitches declines through each day of the week, with Monday easily the preferred day, and each successive day being less preferred. This aligns with previous research from Cision, in which Monday was the preferred day for pitches. However, that study found that Monday was also the day when journalists receive the most pitches, and that later in the week, the number of pitches received declines faster than the preference for receiving them. This suggests that PR pros can stand out by pitching later in the week, although there are clearly some risks involved in doing so.

It’s worth noting that the majority of journalists say that the best time for them to receive a pitch is in the morning, either between 5 and 9AM (34% share) or between 9AM and noon (33%).

About 4 in 10 journalists receive more than 5 pitches a day, or more than 25 per week. Keeping that in mind, it’s not surprising that they want those pitches to be short. For two-thirds, the ideal pitch length is shorter than 200 words, with 45% saying it’s 1-200 words, and 23% saying it’s less than 100 words (2-3 sentences).

Meanwhile, only 4 in 10 say that it’s acceptable to follow up more than once, although about one-third will tolerate a second follow-up. A slim majority (52%) believe it’s OK to follow up 3-7 days after an initial email, though a further third (33%) are fine with a follow-up after 1-2 days.

These are important points, given that the number one way (of 5 listed) that journalists immediately reject otherwise relevant pitches is due to bad timing.

For more on the state of journalism, download the report here.

About the Data: The results are based on a January survey of 2,547 journalists, 64% of whom reported being full-time journalists, editorial writers, or bloggers. The majority have been journalists for at least 10 years.

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