Media relations pitfalls: why a journalist won’t run your story

May 9, 2023

Often when I speak with clients who are new to PR, they might have had a go at doing their own media relations but weren’t able to secure any coverage when they sent out their story. There are some common media relations mistakes people make that can prevent them getting coverage. But, there are also some simple solutions that can help you improve your success rate. In this blog post, we're going to explore a few reasons why a journalist might not run your story. By understanding where you went wrong, you can better tailor your communications outreach to have more success in future.

You missed the boat

The first reason you might have been unsuccessful: you were too slow. Journalists are usually very busy and are often working to tight deadlines. When you're communicating with them, it's important to be quick and respond promptly. If you don’t meet a deadline that a journalist gives you, they may have already filed their article by the time you send the information back to them. Most journalists won’t have the liberty of waiting for you. So if you respond too late, you may have missed the boat and won’t be included in their piece. It’s one of those tips that seems obvious but many people still slip up on: always meet a journalist’s deadline.

You were too slow

Sometimes you can meet a journalist’s deadline but you were still too slow. For example, if a writer needs an expert comment or real-life case study to go alongside their article, they will often reach out to various organisations to see who might be able to help. Speed is of the essence. If they give you a deadline of four days but you’re quick off the mark and can give them the information they need in two days, you may well give yourself a better chance of getting in ahead of your competition. But if you procrastinate and take the full four days to turn the information around, someone may have beat you to it.

Your story wasn’t timely

Another reason a journalist might not use a great story is that it's not timely. Journalists often have a huge pipeline of great stories they could write. But they need a reason to write about it at this moment in time. Journalists will often ask “Why should I write about this story now?”. It might be because of something that’s happened in the news agenda, a big event that’s coming up or even an awareness day or national holidays. Whatever it is, it’s always helpful to have something to make your story more relevant.

Also, bear in mind that journalists often work ahead. There's no point getting in touch with a journalist at a monthly magazine for a Valentine's Day piece in January because they could have filed those pieces weeks, or even months, before then. Planning ahead is key.

It's not their beat

Your story could be brilliant but if you’re sending it to the wrong people – i.e. you’re approaching someone with content that isn’t relevant to their section or their beat – they probably won’t be able to cover it. For example, from an editorial point of view, I write almost exclusively about marine conservation. Someone could send me information about a brilliant eco product that’s just coming onto the market – but I just don’t write product roundups so it won’t be a good fit for me.

This is another reason I often bang on about making sure you’ve read and understand what journalists write about before you contact them. Doing so is going to help you fine-tune your targets to make sure you’re contacting the most appropriate people.

Your spokesperson wasn’t available

If your story requires a spokesperson to do interviews or provide comment, make sure they’re actually available when you’re contacting the media.

This is a common one for broadcast: you get in touch with a TV or radio channel, asking them to run your story. But when the channel responds saying they’re interested and wants to interview someone on air, your spokesperson isn’t available. It’s understandable – particularly with big organisations when the senior spokespeople are incredibly busy. But it can mean the broadcaster won’t be able to cover your story. So, before you distribute your press release, make sure you have a spokesperson available and with time blocked out in their diary for potential interviews.

You didn’t send all the information they need

Another reason a journalist might not run your story is that you didn't give them all the information they needed. Most journalists are busy and are juggling lots of deadlines and tasks at once. I'm sure lots of you will relate to that. But, for that reason, you need to make their job as easy as possible. Every time you make their job a little bit harder, you're putting another obstacle in the way of your story getting coverage.

For example, if you send a journalist product information for a gift guide, make sure you send them everything they need at once. If they have to come back to confirm the price, then ask for images, and then check where it’s in stock, they might be getting more annoyed every time they have to come back with another question. It might not necessarily scupper your chances of getting coverage – but it can do.

You didn’t follow directions

Similarly, when you don’t follow instructions, this can be frustrating for a journalist. For example, if they asked you to pitch them via email, don’t send them a Twitter DM. If they give you a word limit, make sure you stick to it. Try to be as helpful as possible and follow the directions you’re given. It’s much better to be remembered as a helpful PR contact than one who didn’t provide what they were asked for.

You didn’t have supporting assets

Having supporting photos and video footage to accompany your story can be critical. Depending on the publication, a journalist might not be able to run a great story if it doesn’t have supporting imagery. And they may need them quickly. So make sure you’re planning your imagery and footage before you distribute your press release so you have it to hand when you pitch. No-one will thank you if you’re desperately trying to set up a photoshoot last-minute or lose out on a great coverage lead.

There’s a lot going on in the news

Lastly, you might miss a coverage opportunity for a reason that’s nothing to do with you. If there’s a lot going on in the news that day, your story might just not make the cut. For example, I once had a half-page spread confirmed in the Daily Express. But the day it was due out, Prince Phillip went into hospital. There was nothing I could have done about it but my piece was cut and didn’t run.

While it can be out of your hands, sometimes you can avoid this. When planning your comms campaign, research what's going on that day. Make sure there’s not another big news story or national event taking place that might take precedent over your story. A good example is the Budget. On Budget Day, that’s going to dominate the news agenda. So, if you’re not providing relevant comment, hold your story for another day.

I hope this gives you some useful insight into PR mistakes you might have made in the past – or prevented you from making them in the future.