Survey Of 500+ Publishers Reveals How They Want To Be Pitched
Kelsey Libert surveyed over 500 digital publishers to discover what you can do to improve your content placement pitches.
Several months ago, I read an interesting study on publisher outreach. The writer had surveyed 100 bloggers in the food/parenting niche with a PageRank between 0-5 to discover what these publishers thought about search engine optimization (SEO) professionals.
While Moz’ founder Rand Fishkin complimented the research, he mentioned that he “might have wished for a larger sample set across more verticals.”
Cue my personal lightbulb. At Fractl, we specialize in producing content marketing campaigns that secure placements with the web’s highest-authority publishers. I began to ponder the differences between pitching a small mommy blogger versus a renowned journalist at Time.com.
Over the following few months, I drafted more than 20 survey questions and open-ended responses aimed at discovering what we can do to add to the value of those who desire press from major publishers. By the time I closed my survey, I had received an overwhelming response from more than 500 leading digital publishers.
One-hundred top-tier writers responded, including but not limited to writers from:
CNN.com, Time.com, NYTimes.com, TheGuardian.com, CNET.com, MSN.com, Reuters.com, DailyMail.com, USAToday.com, ZDNet.com, TechCrunch.com, Mashable.com, MTV.com, HuffingtonPost.com, Slate.com, RealSimple.com, BusinessInsider.com, Babble.com, Examiner.com, PCMag.com, BuzzFeed.com, LifeHacker.com, USnews.com, ChicagoTribune.com, ScientificAmerican.com, Forbes.com, Yahoo.com, Gigaom.com, SeattleTimes.com, InformationWeek.com, InfoWorld.com, ThinkProgress.com, MoneyCrashers.com, TheStreet.com, DeadSpin.com, TUAW.com, ESPN.com, HerCampus.com, UrbanSpoon.com, BGR.com, Parade.com, Heathline.com, Patch.com, Parents.com, Geek.com, Refinery29.com, MyRecipes.com, Buzzle.com, SFWeekly.com, PhillyMag.com, TheFiscalTimes.com, StyleCaster.com, ThinkAdvisor.com, TreeHugger.com, and dozens more.
Understanding The Robot Invasion
Over the past three years, on the cusp of the content marketing explosion, a storm has been brewing in the inbox of every unresponsive writer.
While the average worker receives close to 12,000 emails a year, dozens of top-tier editors reported getting over 2x that amount — with more than 100 pitches per day flying into their inboxes, these writers receive about 26,000 pitches per year. (The irony is that some of these writers also reported that they “never” cover a story based on something that was sent through a pitch.)
Today, editorial voices are outnumbered by public relations professionals by almost 5:1. In order to grasp the big picture, the first thing you need to understand is a publisher’s capacity.
On average, 45% of writers publish one story per day. Meanwhile, 8% of writers get pitched more than 100 times per day, 11% more than 50 times per day, and 40% more than 20 times per day. In other words, these writers get 100, 250, or 500 pitches a week for only five story spots!
When you take into account that only 11% of writers said they “often” write a story based on content that was sent through pitches, you quickly realize that the amount of email waste rises well above a person’s threshold to tolerate it.
The PR Industry Is Ripe For Disruption
Today, top-tier publishers are publicly lamenting about the state of the public relations industry, writing:
“Many [PR professionals] have a misunderstanding when it comes to the difference between advertorial and guest posts.” — Gigaom guest post policy
“Too many submissions we get are clearly just pitches for a company, attempting to masquerade as thought pieces, a press release dressed as a guest post.” — TechCrunch guest post policy
“Over time [guest blogging] has become a more and more spammy practice.” — Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team
Still, there is hope when your focus is on developing mutually beneficial relationships, rather than spamming lackluster content. When asked, “Would you rather be pitched ideas that you can collaborate on or get a finished asset?” Seventy percent (70%) of publishers said they prefer collaboration.
Based on previous feedback from writers, we outlined four options that the perfect piece of content might possess, including:
- “Exclusive research”
- “Breaking news”
- “Emotional stories”
Exclusive research came in first (39%), followed by breaking news (27%), and emotional stories (15%). What was really interesting was that 19% of writers filled in “content relevant to my audience” as their “other” option, highlighting the need to deliver highly targeted campaigns based on a writer’s beat, versus email blasting everyone on your list.
It’s important to note that high arousal emotions also appeared repeatedly, including content that incited surprise, interest, and humor. Other common phrases included: unusual angles, well-written, interesting data, actionable advice, compelling content, trending/timely angles, non-promotional and mutually beneficial.
The next step is displaying your data in a format most publishers are interested in and capable of hosting. Articles, infographics and mixed-media pieces took the cake, followed closely by data visualizations, images, videos and interactive maps.
What do publishers want the least of? Press releases, interactive projects, quizzes, flipbooks, widgets and badges. The latter is likely due to the fact that these formats don’t lend themselves well to the characteristics of the perfect piece of content listed above.
How To Break Through Inbox Clutter
A Northwestern Law study (PDF) found that:
“The degree to which we perceive another person to be similar to ourselves in traits and attitude and to be worthy of our generosity or assistance, depends on the extent to which we perceive a personal connection with that person, no matter how trivial.”
When you incorporate this theory in your media outreach, you demonstrate to the writer that you’re a genuine human being and not a spam bot. In fact, 64% of writers think it is of some importance that you establish a personal connection before pitching.
Since digital publishers are some of the most active people online, you want to use their active digital touchpoints as an opportunity to network weeks prior to any pitch. Some writers may be more active blog commenters, whereas others could be engaged through social networks.
Crafting your pitch on the appropriate channel will also make or break your placement.
Want to be put on the spammer list? Only 5% of bloggers requested phone calls and these were mostly small site owners, whereas most top-tier editors were vehemently against this method of outreach. Five percent (5%) of bloggers preferred to be pitched through their contact forms, but again we saw that these were mostly small site owners.
The leading way to get pitched? Eighty-one percent (81%) of writers prefer you send your pitch through email.
Perhaps the most important takeaway for a media relations specialist is to triple check the spelling/grammar of a pitch before hitting send. Eighty-five percent (85%) of respondents said there was some likelihood that they would delete a pitch based on a spelling/grammar errors, regardless of the content’s quality.
Other doozies that will get you sent to the trash centered mostly around marketing speak, with words such as: revolutionary, incredible, life changing, Dear Blogger, ALL CAPS, pitch, press release, stunning, believe and dramatic.
When crafting your pitch, 45% of writers said to keep it short and to-the-point (< 100 words), while 42% were okay with a cursory explanation ( < 200 words). If you have a tendency to be verbose, you’ll likely end up in the trash. Only 12% of writers want an in-depth explanation (> 300 words), and again, these were mostly smaller site owners.
Before you hit send, it’s important that you take the time to craft an attention-grabbing subject line. Eighty-five percent (85%) of writers said that they open an email based on its subject line, so your subject line is your best call-to-action.
We gave writers four common subject-line formats to choose from:
- 42% Content Title, Type: “The Selfie Phenomenon [Parallax]”
- 29% Personalized: “You Have a Beer Chime, We Have Cowbell – RE: Exclusive Study”
- 19% Statistic: “Kylie Jenner posted 451 selfies to Instagram [Celebrity Selfie Study]”
- 10% Name: “Hi [Name], I thought you might like this”
The clear winner was the most descriptive subject line, that allows the writer to immediately tell whether or not your content fits their beat. The runner up builds on the Northwestern Law study, where you’re trying to make a personal connection with that person in order to stand out in their inbox.
Using an interesting statistic in your subject lines is always a great bet, too, because it’s descriptive while also leveraging the Information-Gap theory. Developed by George Loewenstein, this theory states that curiosity is aroused when there is a gap “between what we know and what we want to know” — and that we are motivated to take action to remedy this as a result.
Therefore, you need to create these knowledge gaps in both your subject line and the body of your pitch. You can do this with curiosity based subject lines and statistics from your research that disprove a commonly-held belief.
Using this method will increase both your open rates and your CTR. Make sure to keep your subject lines short and sweet so they don’t get cut off in the writer’s inbox; one study recommends keeping your subject lines at 6-10 words to lift email open rates.
The last important step is timing your pitch. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of writers preferred to receive your pitch in the morning hours, while 22% preferred the afternoon and 9% preferred the evening. I recommend using Boomerang or Streak to schedule your emails to go out at a specific date and time.
In closing, by implementing the feedback that is “straight from the horse’s mouth,” you’ll not only help to improve the noise:value ratio of our industry, but you’ll also improve your ability to secure high-authority placements for your clients.
Want even more tips on how to improve your outreach? Peruse this deck of quotes from 60 top-tier writers, who answered the question, “If you could give 1-3 points of feedback to people who pitch to you, what would you say?”