Why don’t journalists respond to you?

I know the frustration of pitching stories to journalists only to never hear a peep. Rejection is hard, but hearing nothing is far worse because you aren’t given the opportunity to improve or clarify. Lucky for you, I have received feedback over time as a PR guy. Plus, I used to write for some of the big publications you’ve pitched to. In just 2 minutes, I’ll help you understand why journalists don’t respond to you.

Depending on your experience, some of these may be quite obvious. But, I’m willing to be some are new, even if you’re a seasoned pro. I’ll cover the more known/obvious ones first. If you’ve written the perfect pitch email using the FART Method, and still aren’t hearing back, perhaps this will shed some light.

You pitched the wrong writer the wrong story

Matt McFarland’s CNN Bio Page

The biggest reason why journalists don’t respond is because you pitched the wrong person. Journalists have various beats and focus areas, so if you don’t pitch within that area, they will delete your email without a second thought. Before pitching anyone, I strongly recommend you do your research on them and understand what they write about.

There are a few easy ways to do your research. Let’s use my past editor Matt McFarland as an example. First, look him up on Twitter or LinkedIn. His focus areas are summarized within his bios.

Second, check out his author page on the publication he writes for. I have a screen-grab of his bio page at CNN. (He’s since left CNN.) It clearly spells out his interests and focus areas.

Third, some folks have a personal web page. They will go into more detail on this page and explain what they cover.

Fourthly, although it’s time-consuming, read their work. Even if a journalist isn’t as thorough or clearly writes out what they cover in the areas outlined above, journalists live their beat in their work. If you read the last month of work, you’ll have a good idea on what they write about.

The fix: Read their past work! One reason why journalists don’t respond is that you didn’t pitch the right person, and didn’t pitch a story they’d write in the first place. Your ignorance is more visible more than you know.

Editors and politics got involved

You can pitch the perfect story to the perfect writer at the perfect time, and still hear nothing because politics and editors get involved sometimes.

As a published writer myself, it’s happened to me. I once wrote a piece on why Google Glass would fail. My editor nixed it because he simply disagreed and didn’t want to publish something he thought might embarrass us both. You know how that story ended. A few months later I ended up being correct. That doesn’t matter though, because the editor has the final say.

Office politics, personal opinion, bias, and governmental politics can also get involved. Journalists, just like anyone else, do have personal biases that may prevent them from responding. Certain words can turn them off or put up red flags as well. I’ve seen tech journalists publicly and unfairly criticize the very people they are supposed to cover objectively- people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. It doesn’t make them bad at their job or mean, it makes them human. Their humanity could be one reason why journalists don’t respond to you.

The fix: One simple trick that has worked for me is simply replying to your original pitch: “Hey John, I figured this was in your wheelhouse, but are there any concerns? I can also share…” Then make sure to add something new.

You pitched them during a busy period.

An editor at The Wall Street Journal told me that last month, he was getting 200 off-beat pitches per day—that’s on top of his regular pitch load.

There are many factors that contribute, but if a writer or editor is getting an overwhelming amount of pitches, they will be a little bit more liberal with the delete key. If the subject line doesn’t immediately grab them and hit them in the face, they will erase without even opening your message. Being overwhelmed is a solid reason why journalists don’t respond to your emails or pitches.

I’ve had success with lesser stories because I pitched at a slow news time, and failed with amazing stories because I pitched at a heavy news time. Keep in mind, in this post-COVID world, magazines and publications are short-staffed and have low budgets as well.

Ultimately, understanding a journalist’s busy period is industry-dependent. Know the big players in your industry and track them. For example, it’s more difficult to pitch a tech story during “TechTober” (October) because Google, Amazon, and Apple are all launching new products.

If you’re selling consumer goods, it’s Holiday gift guide season. Travel? spring/summer break. Real estate? Summer. Education? August and “back to school” month. In the words of Mike Wagner “zig, when everyone else zags.”

For a great story, it MAY be appropriate to pitch in a busy time, for example, if you have a product that is uniquely juxtaposed to an iPhone announcement, but it’s tricky. Bottom line: Know your industry before you pitch, and closely follow the journalists who cover the industry.

The fix: Wait for slower periods and write compelling subject lines you know will get opened. Pause and re-pitch a few months later. In my personal experience, journalists seem most busy in the fall and spring, so mix up your timing.

They don’t believe you

We’re living in the post-Theranos age. Theranos was founded by Elizabeth Holmes (catch up here), who was hailed as the next Steve Jobs, but she allegedly lied about her companies technology. Because of her press coverage, editors have changed and updated their strategies as a result. As a precaution, editors and journalists are hypercritical about startups and cool stories.

Today, founders, comms folks and marketers have to work hard to earn their trust. Because that takes time, you will have to make yourself easy to vet. If they can’t easily prove something or vet the information with a trusted contact, this might be why journalists don’t respond to you.

The fix: Money and data talks. If there is a publicly-traded or large company that is a customer of yours, that’s a great start. Obviously, clients don’t pay you for a service that doesn’t work, so this is a good validation of your product. You can also provide officials or credentialed people who can vouch for you. A peer-reviewed study that included your company also works.

Your story is fluff or not unique

You’d be stunned how much the founder-baby bias plays into your pitches. One big reason why journalists don’t respond is that they’ve heard your same pitch before. Yes, your same pitch. Many companies are blissfully unaware of their competition, or at least other companies that look like competition on paper.

Even in cases where a business model is truly unique, many marketing teams fail at separating themselves from the herd. They copy jargon from similar companies in their industry. What starts as a simple web content shortcut, turns into a communications liability. (This is also a reason I tell my client, don’t use AI to write articles or content.)

The fix: Know the landscape and understand what makes you unique before pitching. Knowing the trendy words and cliches ahead of time will help you form an original pitch that doesn’t trigger red flags. For example, AI pitches are all the rage right now (and many of them don’t actually qualify as “AI.”)

You’re blocked or blacklisted

Some PR and comms people are irritating AF and it can get them blocked or blacklisted, also impacting you! I get a large volume of pitches for folks wanting to be a guest on my podcast, The Justin Brady Show, and I respond to almost everyone. (If I missed you, I’m sorry.) PR people will send identical pitches repeatedly, then use a different name and start over. Even after I reply saying “No thank you,” they will just keep sending them. This backfires.

A lesser-known reason why journalists don’t respond is that they never got your message initially. If someone with the same email domain has been reported as spam by several entities, they could end up getting everyone in the company logged into the SORBS database. This is also why you should never buy a mailing list and add it to a newsletter BTW.

Thank you for contacting me!