March 21, 2019

Following up with Journalists: How Long Should You Wait?

Andreas Olesen
8 min read

So you just pitched a story about your startup to a journalist. After a few days of patiently waiting, you conclude that the journalist is never getting back to you. In this post, we will look at the response-patterns of journalists. By using data we have collected over the past year, we will attempt to give you a better intuition of when to act.

The inboxes of journalists are under immense pressure. Some receive more than 100 pitches a week

As a natural result, journalists don’t have the time to respond to every story request you make

On the other hand, you can't always afford waiting weeks for a journalist to get back to you. 

The story you are pitching may be urgent. You may have promised the journalist exclusive rights. Or perhaps, you just want to be as efficient as possible with your time. Passively waiting for a response, isn't the best use of anyone's time. 

In either case, you want to find the balance between being respectful while not being naively waiting for a response for too long. 

So how do you put yourself in a better position to get that response instead of leaving everything up to chance? We decided to look at our data and see if we could find anything that could remedy this scenario.

Here is a Summary of Our Key Findings:

  1. Most journalists respond quickly. If you sum the count of responses over time they increase logarithmically, meaning fast growth in the beginning before flattening out.
  2. Roughly 83% of all responses are received within the first 24 hours. Therefore, it makes sense to quickly move on if you haven't had a response for some time.
  3. Only 9% of all responses are received between the first and second day. Therefore, it's worth considering if it makes sense to wait passively for that long.
  4. Given the generally low response rate of journalists, the actual probability of getting a response after 24 hours is close to 4.2%
  5. We haven't yet found any correlation between when a response is received and the likelihood of having a story published.
  6. If you decide to follow up, a good time is the 18-hour mark. Here, the response probability is low and you hit the journalist’s inbox at a different time of day.

Responses Come Quickly

For this article, we chose to look at messages that actually received a response from a journalist at some point.

By inspecting only these we learn about the patterns of when the average journalists respond - if they in fact do at all.

We can then use this information to model, depending on the time passed, what the probability of getting a response is.

The benefit of using this approach is that you can use your own response rate - the percentage of messages you usually get a response to. With this ratio, you apply this model to see how it decreases as a function of time. 

The response rate varies greatly from person to person based on parameters such as timeliness, relevancy, uniqueness and much more. 

For this article, we will assume a response rate of 25% which can be high or low depending on the circumstances. It's a sensible number to use if you don't know your own ratio.

We have built a tool to help you do the response rate calculations. It's intended to help you save time and give you a quick estimation, so do check it out.

Fraction of responses received as a function of time.
Fraction of responses received as a function of time.

For this experiment, we decided to only include messages that we did not follow up on later at some point.

If you send a follow-up it implies the message was not responded timely in the first place. Therefore, those data points will be biased towards late responses and blur the underlying ground truth of how long a response takes.

If you're interested in how follow-ups affect the response rate that's a topic for another time.

We found that the sum of responses received over time increases close to logarithmically: a high percentage of responses are received within the very first hours. Hereafter, it rapidly decreases and approximately 83% of all responses are received within the first 24 hours. 

Only 9% more responses are received if you wait for another day. This result fits well with the findings of USC Viterbi School of Engineering, who proposed that roughly 90% of all emails are responded within the first two days.

Approximately 83% of all responses are received within the first day and only 9% more the following.

With this in mind, it makes sense to wait for a response in the beginning. However, waiting quickly turns into a dangerous game, becoming less rewarding for every hour that passes.

Key Takeaways

  • Most journalist respond quickly
  • After waiting one day 83% of all journalists have responded
  • Only 9% of journalists respond between the first and second day

So How Long Should You Wait?

Given that around 83% of all emails are responded after the 24 hours mark, it begs the question: Is it worth waiting another day for a response? 

Well, it depends on the circumstances. Assuming someone has a response rate of, say, 25% (as we established earlier was a good starting point), the actual probability of getting a response after 24 hours is only about 4.2%

This is calculated by multiplying the initial probability of 25% with the fraction of responses that are not received at the given point in time.

4.2% is pretty darn low. It's easy to argue that if no response is received shortly after messaging, it intuitively shows disinterest.

We compared when normal responses are received with those that lead to a story. Surprisingly, we haven't yet been able to find any clear indications for the hypothesis.

Our data is still sparse on this area, so it has to be taken with a grain of salt, but we expected a more clear pattern anyway.

As we haven't found any correlation, it may be an indication that it sometimes is in fact worth waiting a little longer.

After a day the chance of getting a response is so low that you should either follow-up or move on.

However, given that  the probabilities we are actually dealing with are so low (around 4.2%), you can argue that it's still worth moving on if more than 24 hours has passed. Perhaps even earlier if there are other journalists out there who could benefit the story.

If time isn't a factor or the journalist is just the perfect fit, it may make sense to wait. So really, it's a judgement call. Consider these points as guidelines to make an educated decision based on your situation and gut feel.

Key Takeaways

  • Time of response didn't seem to influence the likelihood of having a story published
  • After only 24 hours, your actual chance of getting a response is close to 4.2%

When Should You Follow Up?

Sometimes, it makes sense to do a follow-up as it can boost the likelihood of getting a response. 

If you decide to do so, a good rule of thumb is to send follow-ups 18 hours after the initial message. 

Assuming you tried to synchronize the message to the working schedule of the journalist you gain some benefits:

  • You bump the message in their inbox when the chance of response is already very low.
  • If you unluckily messaged close to the end of a shift or after their last inbox check they will have it first thing the next morning.

Keep in mind that no one likes to be spammed. Avoid sending more than one follow-up. You quickly become an annoyance and you risk ruining a valuable relationship.

Key Takeaways

  • A good rule of thumb is to follow up after 18 hours

Wrapping Up

So how much ground did we cover?

It's clear that the likelihood of getting a response decreases surprisingly fast. As a result, waiting long periods of time for a journalist to respond is a poor strategy.

Therefore, we’ve given you a set of actions to take depending on the urgency and fit of a story, but also discussed how these should be used as an addition to your own judgement. 

If you do decide to follow up, it makes sense to wait until around the 18-hour mark. This seems to be a good middle-ground between not wasting too much time while still giving the journalist a workday to look at the proposal.

If you want to check the probability of getting a response for your own message, we have built a tool you should definitely check out. Hope you find it useful and see you next time.


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