This Study of 500 Publishers Reveals How Marketers Can Get Other Sites to Write About Their Content

There’s a lot of talk about how the rise of content marketing is impacting, well… marketers.

Less addressed? The impact on publishers, our partners of necessity in the branded content boom, and what happens when we pitch them tons of stories without really thinking first.

There’s little doubt that marketers need publishers. They amplify our content and help us reach vast audiences. And right now, they are also the victims of thousands of freshly minted content marketers flooding their inboxes with an escalating number of story pitches.

To help our industry ensure that we are stewarding this trend to the benefit of both publishers and our brands, BuzzStream and Fractl collaborated to survey more than 500 publishers to learn more about the pitching influencers that can make or break a content promotion strategy. Here we share what we’ve learned in this two-part series on the state of content promotion and improving pitch open rates.

Publisher pain points: Quantity and quality

In 2011, something radical happened in the marketing world. A drastic shift took place in online outreach, with content marketing and blogger outreach skyrocketing seemingly overnight.


While the trend opened up new opportunities for brands and companies to connect meaningfully with audiences, there was also a significant consequence: Top-tier publishers now receive an average of 26,000 emails a year (that’s roughly 500 pitches per workweek) from people competing for press coverage.

When you consider that 45 percent of writers only publish one story per day, it becomes clear that from the perspective of publishers, the supply of pitches significantly outweighs the demand. This is even more true for certain verticals. Top-tier lifestyle, entertainment, and technology publishers told us that they receive more than 300 pitches per day, or 1,500 per week. With so much competition for so few story spots, the inevitable result is press release fatigue.


But if that sheer volume isn’t exhausting enough, the content of these pitches is also a major point of contention. For every one editorial voice in the inbox, there are now five PR professionals asking for time and attention. Sadly, many PR pitches are not offering high-quality, value-added content. As TechCrunch aptly put it, “Too many submissions we get are clearly just pitches for a company, attempting to masquerade as thought pieces.” Even worse, many—if not all—of the publishers in our survey reported that a large percentage of the pitches they receive have nothing to do with their beat.


Solving for quantity: Improving outreach

Trade that shotgun for a laser. Though publishers had many complaints about off-beat pitches, they also had quick suggestions how marketers can break through.

1. Better pitch targeting

If publishers could give a single piece of advice to the marketing world, this would be it: Do more research on the publishers you’re pitching. This doesn’t mean just learning the general vertical they write in, but going further to find which specific topics they’ve covered recently. A one-off article they may have written several years ago won’t be relevant for a pitch sent today.

Carefully reviewing the publication you’re pitching can yield important insights that will help determine the appropriateness of the campaign, assets, and pitch, such as:

— Tone/style of most published or popular articles

— The visual or interactive assets that work for the site

— Whether they appear to publish syndications or only exclusives

Consider these other key findings: Nearly 50 percent of publishers reported rarely or never being open to syndications of stories that have already gone live. Ninety-six percent aren’t interested in quizzes. Marketers who do their homework and learn the types of content their targets employ will earn not only more consideration for their pitches, but also the respect of publishers who appreciate not being pitched with inapplicable assets.

And if you’re pitching lifestyle, tech, and entertainment verticals, it might be time to get creative and consider how you can appeal to other verticals. Our study also found that some verticals receive far fewer pitches than that popular trio. Climate, animals, and jobs typically receive less than 10 pitches a day. Just be sure your pitch is authentically aligned with the vertical, not a stretch or wild toss.


2. Improve personal connections

Sixty-four percent of publishers think that establishing a personal connection before receiving a pitch is of some importance, and 66 percent said they’d be more likely to open a pitch if a past relationship is mentioned in the subject line. Why? Marketers who take the time to reach out to writers and editors via social networks, blog posts, or other online touch points are signaling that they have taken the time to research their target’s work. Keeping in touch with the personal side can also serve to let marketers know when a contact might be traveling, in which case they can plan their outreach accordingly.

Although publishers said that they would like marketers to follow their Twitter or blog accounts to get to know them better, neither of those avenues were preferable as pitching channels; less than 10 percent said they want to receive pitches through social media or contact forms. Although the personal connection is important, publishers made many heated comments about “phony friendliness”—there is a fine line between acknowledging someone’s interests and work, and pretending to be their best friend. Ultimately, the best way to develop relationships with those on the publishing side is simply to offer them juicy content of true value.

3. Limit follow-up

Finally, there are times when a campaign may be a good match for the vertical, the asset is appropriate for the publication, and the pitch has been tailored to the writer; yet the publisher won’t respond to the marketer. There are many reasons for this. He or she could be traveling, the pitch might be lost among the inbox clutter, email follow-up could have slipped under the priorities of more pressing deadlines, or there’s simply no room on the publisher’s edit calendar for the story. Although it is acceptable to send one or two follow-up emails just in case any of those scenarios are holding up progress, 87 percent of publishers agree that any more than two follow-ups is too much. At that point it’s time to accept that the publisher just isn’t interested in the pitch.


Solving for quality: Content they want

After the barrage of irrelevant pitches, the next biggest complaint from publishers was the type of content they get pitched. To learn more about what publishers actually want, we asked them about the content they want to work with marketers to create.

Seventy percent said they’d rather collaborate on an idea than receive a finished asset. Publishers feel strongly that they shouldn’t be expected to simply reprint a press release. (In fact, 95 percent said they weren’t interested in receiving press releases at all.) Instead, publishers prefer to work with marketers who bring ideas and assets to the table that can be further researched and expanded based on the writer’s interests.

Sixty-six percent prefer exclusive research and breaking news over emotional stories. Although particularly well-executed human interest pieces can be captivating, the majority of publishers would rather work with marketers on verifiable data and trends.

Eighty-five percent want raw data along with the pitch. Whether it accompanies a finished asset or not, publishers are keenly interested in investigating the raw data behind a campaign idea. This allows them to both follow up on areas of their own interest, and verify that the information is accurate before publishing it.

Sixty-five percent are interested in data visualizations. Data visualizations of all types, ranging from infographics to videos to interactive maps, are the most requested content formats. After that, 19 percent of publishers are interested in articles. Widgets, badges, flipbooks, quizzes, and press releases fall to the bottom of the list; none of these earned more than 5 percent interest.

The third variable: effective pitching

Crafting targeted outreach and desirable content is the best formula for working successfully with top-tier publishers. But once the best contacts are established and the data has been crunched and visualized, still left is the task of pitching in a way that will pique the publisher’s interest.

Eighty-one percent of publishers prefer to receive pitches via email, and 85 percent say they open an email based on the subject line. This means that all the time and effort that research and creative teams put into marketing campaigns hinges on the effectiveness of 10 or so well-written words. Why 10? 75 percent of publishers told us they prefer subject lines or ten words or less. More than 50 percent said that subject lines should also let the publisher know exactly why the pitch is relevant to them, quickly and specifically.


A well-written subject line can benefit from good timing, too. Sixty-nine percent of publishers would rather receive a pitch in the morning than any other time of day.

When it doesn’t add up

Publishers also told us that there are consequences beyond not obtaining a placement for marketers who fail to adhere to best practices. Off-beat angles, too many follow-ups, and bad grammar were all reasons publishers gave for blacklisting people; in fact, 30 percent said they’d blacklisted three or more marketers this month alone due to bad practices. The impact of being blacklisted may also affect more than the individual marketer, as blacklisting can result in an entire domain being blocked from a recipient’s inbox.

These insights are the product of a two-part study by BuzzStream and Fractl. Download the free white papers on pitching influencers and subject line open rates to learn more about the content types and pitching methods that publishers are looking for.

Kelsey Libert is a marketing VP and partner at Fractl. She is a viral marketing and media relations speaker, and she contributes to the Harvard Business Review, Marketing Land, and HubSpot. Connect with her via LinkedInTwitter, orKelsey@frac.tl.

Image by Joel Ryan

Get better at your job right now.

Read our monthly newsletter to master content marketing. It’s made for marketers, creators, and everyone in between.

Trending stories