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The 2024 State of the Media Report

Get actionable insight from 3,000+ journalists on what they truly want and need from PR teams.

Journalists on the PR Terms to Avoid in Press Releases and Pitches

Pitches and press release are vital components in any public relations professional’s toolkit. According to the 2024 State of the Media Report, journalists rely on them, too. Sixty-eight percent of reporters we surveyed said they found press releases the most useful source for generating content, with direct pitches in second place with 47%. Moreover, 74% named press releases as one of the things they most wanted to receive from PR professionals.

With that in mind, it’s crucial to get the content of your press releases and pitches right. Even if you have a killer product or service that’s cutting-edge, the last thing you want to do is sabotage yourself with buzz words or phrases that put journalists off.

In the 2024 Cision State of the Media, we asked respondents to answer a simple question: What is the one word or phrase in a press release headline or subject line that makes you immediately want to hit “delete”?

The results were illuminating, with responses giving us a snapshot of the words that really grind journalists’ gears.

To dive deeper into the words and phrases journalists dislike, we used AI to help consolidate, summarize and categorize the responses, and saw some common themes emerge.

Journalists Think Media Pitches Can Overstate Urgency and Importance

"Breaking,” “urgent,” and “exclusive” were among the most frequently mentioned words journalists have grown wary of seeing in their inboxes. Other more insistent phrases like “read this” and “pay attention” also made the list. This indicates that no matter how compelling or timely your team considers a story, journalists may think otherwise.

Why This Matters for PR: Communicating the importance of a product, service, or announcement without coming across as forceful, demanding, or overbearing can help put you in a journalists’ good graces. Fifty percent of journalists receive more than 50 pitches a week, so their inboxes are likely flooded with must-cover “breaking news.” Choose your press release’s subject line and introduction carefully and think about how you can emphasize value and timeliness to the reporter and their audience in other ways.

Journalists Think PR Can Be Prone to Hype and Exaggeration

“Groundbreaking”, “disruptor” “unique,” and “revolutionary.” These are some of the words journalists see in press releases or media pitches that make them cringe. All of these descriptors promise a brand, product, or service with lofty ambitions or capabilities, but in the eyes of our State of the Media respondents, they rarely deliver.

Why This Matters for PR: Comms teams should ensure they’re easing off on the hyperbole and be candid in their press releases and media outreach. If you have something that’s genuinely innovative for your sector, and there’s an opportunity to back up a claim with third-party data or research, it’s well worth doing so. Otherwise, consider other ways you can communicate what differentiates your story.

Journalists’ Eyes Roll at Marketing Jargon

Fifty-five percent of journalists we surveyed also named “pitches that sound like marketing brochures” as a surefire way for PR professionals to land on the “don’t call” list. This chimes with the responses we saw from several journalists with regards to the words and phrases they don’t take seriously, such as “new paradigm”, “synergistic”, and “monetize.”

Why This Matters for PR: When a journalist sees a pitch or press release full of marketing jargon or business speak, there’s a good chance they’re going to zone out or simply be confused about what you’re trying to say. If there’s a kernel of interest beneath the jargon, they’ll also have to figure out how to put this into a story that their audience will understand. PR professionals, like journalists, are storytellers, so make sure your language is direct, clear and delivers a compelling hook.

Journalists Prefer Personal Pitches

If you’re sending a press release directly to a journalist, make sure you’re not doing so with a generic greeting. Reporters found phrases like “Dear [Name]”, “Hello [No name]”, and “I trust this note finds you well” troublesome. Calling someone by the wrong name can be just as bad, too – 19% of journalists said they will block a PR professional who does this. Forgetting the personal touch is unlikely to do you any favors when it comes to securing earned media coverage.

Why This Matters for PR: Personalization is becoming increasingly important across the marketing mix. For PR and corporate communications pros, getting to know journalists on a personal level will help establish meaningful connections and build long-term, professional relationships. Personalization can also help your email pitch stand out among a sea of generic emails, so the better you are at it the more likely you are to capture attention.

Hot Trends Can Turn Journalists Cold

AI”, “bitcoin”, and “metaverse” are much-discussed, on-trend topics, but many journalists said they were tired of seeing them in press releases. Part of this may be down to oversaturation, and part of it down to lack of relevance to the individual. In the 2024 State of the Media, 77% of journalists said “spamming me with irrelevant pitches” was the fastest way to get put on the don’t call list.

Why This Matters for PR: Creating targeted and up-to-date media lists will ensure you’re getting the right pitch or press release over to the right journalist. Tailoring pitches will also ensure the content aligns with the journalist's beat and interests, increasing the likelihood of getting picked up. Plus, it shows you've done your research and are respecting a reporter’s time and expertise.

Final Thought

Creating effective press releases and pitches requires careful attention to language. Clear language that communicates value without resorting to marketing jargon or buzzwords is a good place to start, while backing up your claims with data when possible is also critical.

Use your pitch or press release as an excuse to put your creativity to work. How can you tell a story succinctly and navigate around some of the overused phrases that journalists are tired of reading? (On this point, AI tools are playing a part in the spread of overused phrases, so this article will help you understand the terms overused by GPT models and steer you to more "human" language.)

Ultimately, successful PR hinges on clear communication, relevance, and genuine connections with journalists. By respecting their time, expertise, and preferences, you'll build stronger relationships and increase your chances of securing coverage.

For more insights directly from journalists, check out our recent webinar on demand: Understanding Today's Media: Industry Insights from Top Journalists.

Learn more about how we can support your PR efforts with CisionOne Outreachspeak with one of our experts.

About Simon Reynolds
About Simon Reynolds

Simon is the Content Marketing Manager at Cision UK. He worked as a journalist for more than a decade, writing on staff and freelance for Hearst, Dennis, Future and Autovia titles before joining Cision in 2022.