January 28, 2024
A study shows journalists are increasingly overwhelmed with pitches and media requests in an era of dwindling newsrooms.
A new report from Propel, a public relations software company, shows journalists are responding to fewer pitches than ever before, continuing a concerning downward trend.
Audio: Listen to this article.
The Propel Media Barometer report analyzed over 485,000 PR pitches sent through the company's platform during the second quarter (Q2) of 2023. It found that the average journalist response rate was just 2.99% –– meaning less than three out of every 100 pitches received any response.
This response rate marks the third consecutive quarter in which response rates have remained stubbornly low. When Propel began tracking response rates in 2020, the average rate stood at 7.33% in Q1. By 2022, responses had already dropped to 3-4% for most of the year before bottoming out at 2.66% in Q4.
Propel CEO Tammy Kahn Fram attributes the decline to significant ongoing changes in the media landscape, especially mass layoffs resulting in fewer journalists available to cover stories pitched by PR professionals.
"With fewer journalists writing, it will, of course, take longer for all pitches to move through the news cycle and become published articles," she said. "We saw clear signs of this in our data for Q2."
For example, only 50% of articles resulting from pitches published within three days during Q2 2023. That number stood at 59.5% just one quarter earlier in Q1 2023, indicating stories take longer to publish even once a journalist engages with a pitch.
The timing of responses is trending down.
The report also confirms the importance of fast follow-up when pitching journalists. 66.42% of all pitch responses happened within the same calendar day, with 59.3% occurring within just four hours of sending the initial email.
Propel argues that these findings “echo the importance of being patient and respectful when communicating with journalist contacts about your news.”
Pitch volumes have increased substantially, ruling out the possibility that journalists aren't receiving enough pitches to respond frequently. Propel tracked a 10% year-over-year (YoY) increase in open rates, suggesting journalists open more emails but engage with a smaller percentage of those pitches.
One Bright Spot: Podcasting
The rapid growth of podcasting was a rare bright spot identified in the report. Podcasters responded to 16.59% of PR pitches directed their way during Q2 2023, over five times higher than the average response rate. According to Global Edge, “Some leading podcast publishers worldwide … had over 377.24 million streams and downloads in June 2023 alone. In the first quarter of 2022, iHeartMedia generated more than 69 million dollars in revenue.“
Value of Relationships for Earned Media Coverage
The consecutive quarters of declining media response rates paint a concerning picture for brands aiming to secure earned media coverage without a strategy. Yet for public relations firms with long-standing journalist relationships, a dismal 2.99% average response rate leaves plenty of room to demonstrate value.
As the Propel report shows, journalists are clearly overwhelmed. But, an experienced PR pro understands which media contacts are most likely to engage with each type of story. They also know how to tailor pitches to reporters' beats and interests.
While brands striving for do-it-yourself PR can face more obstacles than others, the right PR partner still has the connections and industry expertise to capture media attention. That's why, for brands who can afford professional support, retaining an established agency like Axia Public Relations may offer the surest path to overcoming today's saturated media landscape.
With in-house newsrooms shrinking, leaning on an outside specialist is looking smarter than ever. And with journalist disengagement hitting all-time lows across the board, the differentiating power of a thoughtful media relationships strategy is only increasing.
For more information about media relations, download our “Learn Media Relations from The Media” e-book for additional tips on interacting and connecting with journalists and PR professionals.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio