Let’s face it, getting media mentions seems to be getting more difficult by the day. It doesn’t seem to matter if you have a tight connection with a particular journalist if your pitch is exactly suited to a journalist’s beat, or if it’s the perfect length—you’re probably still being met with silence on the other end of that email.
As it turns out, you’re not alone. According to the Propel Q2 2023 Media Barometer, journalists are, on average, only responding to 2.91% of all the pitches they receive. That means about 97% of pitches aren’t getting any response whatsoever—not even a “no thanks”!
What’s happening? And does this mean that PR is on its way out as an industry? Should you start thinking about a career change?? Well, don’t close your work laptop quite yet – there are simply a whole lot of changes underway. All you need to do is learn to see them.
So What’s Going On?
If we look at world economics, we can see that, well, things aren’t going… great. Interest rates have increased dramatically over the past year in an attempt to stem worldwide inflation, making it hard on everyone, from individuals to large multinational organizations, with some even predicting a recession.
Therefore, everyone is cutting back on expenses that they consider to be “extra costs.” While you might be cutting back on vacations or buying that new car, businesses are cutting back on ad spend, for example. But what does corporate advertising spending have to do with me not getting as many responses to my pitches?
Well, as it turns out, the two are more closely tied together than you might think.
News outlets – no matter if they’re on TV or print, radio or online – derive the majority of their funding from paid media and advertising, i.e.the P in the PESO model. From our end as PR professionals, we experience the paid part of PESO whenever the organizations we represent pay a media conglomerate to guarantee that pieces will be published about them. However, from the business’s perspective, any time that money is going out to promote them, it falls into the “advertising” category.
Because organizations are cutting back on their advertising spending, media companies have less money. And because media companies have less money, many outlets are being forced to reduce their staff. Many times, this means they’re cutting journalists.
In the past six months alone, BuzzFeed News and Protocol shut down, hundreds of staff members were laid off from BBC, Gannett-owned newspapers either closed down or laid off staff, CNET laid off half of its newsroom, and MSNBC and NBC News cut reporters. In addition to this, NewsCorp (which owns the Wall Street Journal and New York Post) will be laying off 5% of its employees by the end of 2023, and the future of Vice is up in the air.
How Does This Affect My Results?
With all of these layoffs it appears that there are now fewer journalists to pitch at mainstream media outlets. Meanwhile, the number of PR pros is increasing, meaning that there are fewer journalists able to respond to the growing number of pitches.
Journalists are basically drinking out of fire hoses when it comes to the amount of pitches they’re receiving. This issue, coupled with pressure from the people higher up to “do more with less” has the potential to lead to mass journalist burnout. In fact, many journalists are already reporting burnout as the world faces a state of “permacrisis” where it seems like everything is happening everywhere all at once. It’s no wonder that journalist response rates are so low.
A Light at the End of the Newsroom Corridor
The state of affairs described above might be enough to make you want to crawl into a hole (or at least change careers). However, there is reason to hope!
While it may be more difficult to pitch to mainstream outlets, this just means PR professionals need to start getting more creative about who they pitch to. For instance, there’s a high likelihood that mainstream media will begin relying more on freelance journalists, so people in communications should start pitching them more.
There’s also an entire world of bloggers, substackers, and other industry influencers to pitch. In fact, there are more opportunities to get your organization coverage than ever before. And, of course, there are podcasts.
The Future of Mass Media?
Of all the forms of new media, podcasts are one of the most promising and effective ways to get your organization’s message out into the world. And the statistics back it up! According to Pew Research, 49% of Americans listen to podcasts, and 67% of Americans between the ages of 18-30 listened to one in the past year. With such strong use by this young user base, podcasts are likely to be in vogue for years to come.
In fact, it appears PR pros are already picking up on this.
According to the Propel Media Barometer for Q2 of 2023, PR pros were pitching podcasts over 20% more in Q1 of 2023 than in Q4 of 2022, and getting over five times the response rate! In addition to this, while ad spending in mainstream media is declining, more companies are buying ad space on podcasts than ever before! In fact, podcast ads now take up 1% of all media ad spend. This means that many podcasts will continue to be cash-positive, thereby continuing operations and providing a great place to pitch your organization.
Finally, with so many podcasts focusing on niche subjects, pitching someone in this new media format may bring your organization a better bang for its buck than a mainstream publication. While industry podcasts may have a smaller audience than the BBC or WSJ, you can be sure that only the most relevant people will be listening to a podcast on a niche industry subject, giving your organization direct access to people who have a vested interest in what the organization does. This kind of reach was unimaginable only a few years ago!
So, while today’s media landscape is changing and doom and gloom seem to be everywhere, there is, in fact, no more exciting time to be a PR professional. People’s media consumption habits are changing, and people in comms need to change along with it. The tools to success are in your hands.