“I haven’t heard back from the journalist after multiple follow-ups” is something every PR and communications professional has said to a client. Not hearing back from a journalist happens quite often, and isn’t something that should be met with such anger and frustration from startups — which happens quite too often.
So why is getting “ghosted” by a journalist so bothersome and hard to understand or accept?
Unlike dating, where not hearing back is taken as a form of rejection or lack of interest, it doesn’t always mean the same thing with a journalist. It can, yes, but so many factors keep journalists from responding to PR pitches. And yet, a startup’s first thought is to think that PR isn’t working hard enough, or that journalists are easy to get in touch with, that they respond in minutes, and that they anxiously check their emails for updates.
3 Reasons Journalists are ‘Ignoring’ You
- They’re overwhelmed with pitches.
- They’re busy with other stories.
- They’re not interested in your news.
This thinking has been met with friction from PR professionals who have to set expectations that educate startups on avoiding overly aggressive follow-up emails that can harm your brand reputation and relationship with a journalist.
Building and maintaining reporter relationships are crucial in PR, and my media contacts tell me they hate being bombarded from PR teams and their startups. Media fatigue is all too real, and it’s important that startups don’t get branded as “nagging” — or worse, put into spam by a journalist who ultimately controls whether you secure coverage.
Here are three reasons to always consider first when the media aren’t responding to your startup pitch.
They Have Deadlines and Multiple Priorities
The news doesn’t stop. It’s 24/7 reporting and changes at a moment’s notice. With this comes deadlines, aggressive timelines and shifting priorities that a journalist, editor or producer has to manage on a daily basis.
Startups need to take this limited window of media availability into account. Just because a journalist is actively posting on social media or that they recently published a story doesn’t mean they have all this free time to chat and discuss your startup “news.” They don’t — unless they posted asking specifically to hear from sources for a story they are writing.
In other words, journalists are busy! I push back on clients who ask me to reach out to a journalist or news outlet when it doesn’t yet warrant a pitch or followup. As exciting as it is internally for your startup to have hired a new senior executive or opened up a new office, that news generally wouldn’t cause a journalist to stop all their tasks and jump at the opportunity to speak to you. Startups need to approach the media in a way that is of service, and consider only reaching out when the angle is worth a journalist’s time.
It might seem like a never-ending game of waiting for the exact right opportunity to reach out, but a journalist will appreciate you more for it.
They Get Zillions of Pitches a Day
One of my media contacts once told me that they receive more than 600 PR pitches a day, and most never get a reply. PR people know that even getting a response from a journalist who passes on the story is a good thing to communicate to your client, and it’s better than no response at all, because it shows that something in your pitch got the attention of a journalist who is inundated with emails and DMs.
This should give startups an idea as to how cluttered a journalist's inbox is with pitches: They now have felt inclined to set up automatic email responses to explain how busy they are with digging out of emails, reporting, and to request that senders specifically not follow up too many times on a pitch.
We’ve all seen the posts from journalists explaining what that they do and don’t cover, or screenshots of overly aggressive, PR pitches that make you cringe. Journalists do this to send the message that they only want to be contacted if your story hook is relevant to their beat and news outlet, as well as relevant to what's going on culturally and socially.
I’ve had reporters get back to me months later on a pitch I sent asking to speak to my client for a story they are only now working on. Startups must start valuing the importance of getting on the radar of a journalist who has never heard of your company before a PR pitch versus looking for that immediate media opportunity.
They Don’t Find Your Startup Interesting
As I mentioned earlier, getting a response from a journalist, even a no, is a good thing. Not getting a response on your media outreach could indicate a bigger communications problem worth looking into. It could mean that your pitch is boring, isn’t eye catching or is way too long. When a reporter goes dark even after multiple follow ups, that means it’s time to move on to a new target — or even consider stopping the pitch outreach altogether.
Radio silence from a journalist or multiple news outlets on a campaign is enough feedback to know that the news just isn’t something that the media are biting on. It’s up to the communications professional to be transparent and vocal to startups about what’s resonating and what’s not so that you can pivot accordingly. Just as it took months for a journalist to get back to a pitch, I’ve also had instant responses from journalists after I hit “send”on a pitch. If a journalist is interested in your news or insights, they’ll respond.
At the end of the day, journalists are people, too, and have very little time. Sending never-ending pitches about your startup will only get you blacklisted and ignored in the future, when you could have really exciting news to share.
If only startups thought of the media as they do investors. You wouldn’t expect an investor to write you a check for a million dollars after getting pitched your product once, would you?
Apply that same thinking toward a journalist who covers your industry for a news outlet with a million or more unique visitors per month — why should they commit to writing about your startup after getting pitched once?
There’s not much of a difference when you put it into perspective.