Want to create the perfect PR pitch? A look at Propel’s Q4 ‘media barometer’ data dump!

Category: Data Insights

By: Rich Leigh

The fourth of the quarterly ‘media barometer’ reports has been released today by ‘public relations management’ tool Propel.

The report (which you can access here) is Propel’s way to keep ‘a pulse’ on the PR industry, and ‘to help comms pros best navigate media relations and set up data-informed pitching’.

It’s also just smart content marketing from them, to be honest, given they’re in a space with big industry incumbents. I think I’ve read each one so far, and intend to see how our agency use of the software stacks up against averages. Watch this space for that blog (that sounds sarcastic but… I genuinely think it’d be interesting!).

The report has been put together using data from a sample of approximately 400,000 real pitches through Propel, in Q3 of 2022, and as ever, makes for interesting reading.

My hope in this blog is to break it down and pick out the points that matter.

Pitch open rates

The average journalist open rate to PR pitches by email through the platform was just higher than 40%.

That means, for every pitch sent, just 2 in 5 journalists will even open it. The majority don’t bother.

Groaning inboxes and bad targeting could be to blame, but either way it’s good to put a number to the fact.

Pitch response rates

Journalists respond to just over one in thirty pitches.

For every thirty people that email a journalist, they’ll respond to just ONE.

I should caveat this with – and this is borne of 15 years of PR experience – even if a journalist LOVES your story, there’s a good chance they don’t respond to say they’ve published it. They’re busy, and unless they need something else from you, if you’ve nailed the pitch, they might not NEED to reply.

In the Q4 report, Propel says that the average journalist response rate to media pitches in Q3 has been on a ‘steady decline’ since its first media barometer report in 2020, from 4.6% (more like one response per twenty pitches).

I’d imagine that there are many more people using the tool now vs then, so there’s more data to wrangle, but it’s interesting to note and if I had to guess, I’d wonder if there are more pitches in general, given the boom of ‘digital PR’.

Average time to open pitches

Of the pitches that are opened, the stats are fascinating.

Again, let me caveat this with: I’m a massive geek when it comes to this stuff. I love creative PR stunts and campaigns probably more than the next man, but the data behind effectiveness tickles my fancy just as much.

A quarter of your read pitches are opened within a minute. This is where headlines, formatting and, most importantly, newsworthiness matter.

The majority of pitches that are read have been read within the hour.

If your initial pitch is going to be read: it’s probably been read within the first 48 hours of sending it. Just one in eight are read after that time. This is where and why following up and iterating on story angles is important.

Responding to your pitches

A third of pitches that will be responded to have been replied to within half an hour.

Remember, this data is speaking only to the one in thirty pitches that DO receive responses from journalists, and again – your pitch could be perfect and could have already resulted in coverage.

There could be no reason whatsoever for a journalist to feel the need to reply. I’ve spoken to our new head of content strategy, Tom Gibbon (who spent more than a decade in senior roles at Reach PLC) about exactly this, and he said there’s always the intention to reply, but journalists are kept busy!

The likelihood of a pitch response doubles within four hours of the pitch being sent.

If a journalist hasn’t responded to your pitch with a couple of days, they probably won’t.

Send vs. open vs. response times

Ever since I’ve worked in PR, we’ve somewhat finger-in-the-aired the best days and times to send media pitches.

‘Get it to journalists before 9.30am latest, so they can see it and choose to take it into conference’ was my early learning.

Of course, we’ve asked journalists too, but not every journalist or sector is the same, and in any case, in this hybrid-working world, all bets are off.

That’s why this is one of the more interesting points to come from the report for me.

The best day for pitch opens as a proportion of sends is Tuesday, and the best day for pitch responses is Wednesday.

Again, this data is skewed by when pitches are sent, and doesn’t mean pitching on a Friday in a particular sector is a terrible idea.

That said… Saturday is a write-off.

Other important pitch data

From the report:

Propel analysed journalist open and response rates correlated with key pitch elements like journalist-topic relevance, subject length, number of embedded links and more, arriving at the following recommendations:

Best email subject length: 1-5 words

Optimal number of embedded links: 2-3

Optimal pitch word count: around 230 words (including the lead-in and body of the pitch).

My takeaways from this are: shorter pitches and releases (although 230 feels VERY short to me!?), snappier headlines and don’t go too heavy on the link-stuffing.

Other findings

There are plenty of other findings in the report, looking specifically at investment and fundraising stories, broadcast media pitches and the increased chances of ‘bylined articles’ being opened and responded to by journalists, with accompanying guides.

Terminology point: a bylined article in this context is an op-ed/commentator feature pitch. Something written by an expert for media use. This guide to writing byline pitches might be of interest. 

One of the break-out stats from those findings are that journalists respond to byline pitches about seven times more than the overall rate, with an average journalist response rate of 26.5%.

Have a gander, anyway.

Wrapping up

Propel’s Q4 report is an interesting look at pitching in the PR industry. There’s little to compare it to, which is why although I do quite enjoy the regular stat dumps, I would say: data doesn’t always tell the whole story and don’t allow it to discourage you or detract from the wider goal of doing brilliant and effective PR work.

Stay curious, read everything you can get your hands on and keep at it.

NB: Radioactive is a user of Propel, as well as many other PR software tools