Shift to digital subscriptions changes PR pitching

Hurray! Many newspapers have finally found a business model. But many PR people aren’t factoring that into their pitching practices.

Many dailies have doubled their digital subscribers in recent years. In 2020, the overall newspaper revenue from subscribers eclipsed revenue from advertising for the first time ever. The number of paying subscribers to Substack newsletters quadrupled last year. Clearly people are beginning to pay for their news, not just their streaming movie platforms.

But many PR pros keep pitching like we did when most online news was free.

Think about it from the journalists’ perspective: If you charge for your content, then you want it to be premium. For example, when you go to the homepage for The Information, the respected paywalled tech news site, the first thing you see isn’t a free story. You see their tagline: “In-depth tech stories you won’t see anywhere else.” (italics mine)

That’s the driving principle behind a much-misunderstood tweet from a WSJ reporter who said the word embargo tells him a pitch has no value. Many confused PR pros likely missed later in the thread when he makes it clear: “. . . for anyone focused on subscriptions, embargo is really another word for spam.”

“Embargo” makes it clear you’re pitching other people. Yes, the extra time to research and prepare the piece is nice for mild-mannered journalists who don’t care that other sites will have the same story at the same time. But not for the cutthroat competitors who want to gain or protect the valuable subscription dollars from discriminating customers.

This change in the media economy means that if you’re pitching an announcement to outlets with a subscription business model (increasingly most of them), then you need one of these realities:

  • You pitch it as an exclusive
  • Your news is so strong and important that an outlet would look bad for not having it
  • You are okay pitching to outlets that are not powerful enough to demand exclusivity

I shared more ramifications from the changing media landscape with my Inner Circle this week.

You can access my presentation on “Outlets to Pitch and Outlets to Ditch” if you register for our Wait List and then join the program the next time we’re accepting new enrollments. We talked a lot about Substack, nontraditional outlets, and matching your pitch to your target media’s production model.

But I’m not sharing those details in this free post because my business is and always has been . . . you guessed it . . . a subscription model :).

This article was originally published on June 15, 2022

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