The Goldfish Effect and Busy News Cycles: How to Stand Out in a Sea of Pitches

A famous study published by Microsoft in 2015 found that people tend to start losing concentration after about eight seconds—that’s one second less than the average attention span of a goldfish. It’s a symbolic comparison that has been scrutinized in recent years, but the message still hits home. We live in a time where social media, newscasts, reality TV, streaming platforms, and other media and entertainment channels have increased the amount of information we take in every day (no wonder we can’t concentrate for very long on any one thing). Media pitching is a delicate process to navigate. Getting a reporter to confirm they’ve read your pitch is hard enough, let alone actually write a story based on it. Along with shortened attention spans, head-spinning news cycles and media noise have swarmed newsrooms and pulled reporters’ attention in so many different directions that standing out from other stories can be more challenging than ever before. Clearly, shortening attention spans have had an impact and practitioners of media relations must adjust. Confucius once said, “the key to success is the ability to adapt.” If you’re still following me, the goldfish effect has critically altered the way the media picks up pitches. As a public relations professional, you have about eight seconds to hook your reader and reel them in. Here are four helpful tips that can help your pitch stand out from a sea of information.

Go back to basics.

Many of us were taught in school that a story is newsworthy when it is timely, relevant, and impacts large audiences. Prioritize timeliness and support it with data—this positions your news into the appropriate context of current world events. Also, make your narrative relatable by finding an angle that focuses on human interest. By being sensible, creative, and trying to find something that connects to human experience, your pitch will have a better chance of connecting with reporters. For example, when pitching about a client’s business expansion, rather than writing about numbers and dollar value, focus on the impact this endeavor will have on the community, how many new jobs it will bring in, and the type of new businesses it will attract.

Keep it simple.

To achieve client media coverage, develop content that avoids overused jargon. Draft releases that are simple, informative, and relatable. With eight seconds to focus, this will draw in your readers and keep them engaged. Journalists want to know there is a real person on the other end of the pitch that uses everyday language just like them. For example, journalists may not be as interested in the technological minutiae behind a machine that will treat a disease. Start off with how many people will be treated and lives saved thanks to this modern technology.

Think outside the box.

Traditional media is not always the only platform to be featured in. Consider looking into podcasts, blogs, social media, and other channels where you may have much more control over the message. These are great spaces to push thought leadership stories and trailblazing client initiatives. Podcasts are a great platform for your clients to tell their life story in a longer format, weaving a story about the challenges and opportunities that have paved the way for their personal and professional career.

Do the heavy work.

Build upon your relationships by providing the media with as much information as you can. In this way, if they pick up your pitch, they will appreciate that most of the heavy lifting of compiling information is done. Proofread your release, write an enticing header and subheader, and provide any relevant photos or videos—help make the process from pitch to publishing easier. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of pitches, especially when you only have seconds to engage your reader. Despite the challenge that it brings, it is possible to work around it. Remember, there are plenty of fish in the sea. If you’re strategic, authentic, and creative—you’ll get them hooked.
The Castle Group, Account Supervisor, Public Relations, Laura Ruiz
Written By: Laura Ruiz


Outdoors of the Castle Group office