This article originally appeared on PR Daily in September of 2017
In recent years, phone pitches have fallen by the wayside as journalists and PR pros alike are busier and more mobile.
Though many on both sides might dread phone communication as a waste of time, a few well-placed follow-up calls can boost media campaigns by enabling PR pros to quickly gauge reporters’ interest, gather intel for future outreach and strengthen journalist relationships.
Reporters might benefit from a PR pro’s tenacity, too. While skimming hundreds of daily email pitches, they might have missed a story that interests them or fits nicely into articles they’re writing.
Make the most of your next big media push with these six tips:
1. Set the stage. PR pros can send polished email pitches in the most hectic of environments. However, this skill is not well applied to phone pitching.
When it’s time to make the call(s), find a quiet place with a good connection. Review your media list and identify a few reporters for whom a follow-up call makes sense (these should be obvious fits for your story).
Have your email open so you can quickly pull up your original pitch; journalists may ask for the date and timestamp for reference.
2. Respect the journalist’s time. Similar to a telemarketer, you’re probably working against pre-existing negative impressions built over years of irrelevant and inconvenient phone pitches.
Don’t read your original email verbatim. You’ll have at most 30 seconds, so tailor your written pitch into talking points that highlight the most important information, including introductions. Include anything timely that has occurred since your initial outreach to make the pitch more compelling.
[FREE DOWNLOAD: 2019 Internal Communications Measurement Survey Results]
3. Know who you’re pitching . At a minimum, browse the journalist’s recent coverage and Twitter profile. This might be unrealistic if you’re blasting 100 email pitches, but you owe it to the reporter you’re about to call.
You might find they’re covering breaking news, and would accordingly be resentful of an interruption—or you might uncover something that makes your outreach particularly serendipitous.
4. Embrace the numbers game. There was a time when the internet and professionally-managed media databases made journalists’ contact information very accessible. Hundreds of thousands of PR pitches later, journalists now keep their direct lines close to the vest. Even if you’re lucky enough to find an accurate number online or via an operator, journalists are still screening your calls.
Don’t call every number on your media list for every pitch – there’s a higher bar for phone outreach, as it takes more of a journalist’s (and your) time, which you should respect. Make the most of it when you do reach a reporter, including managing your own expectations so you don’t carry your frustration into your outreach.
5. Take advantage of feedback. Even if your efforts don’t result in a story, every piece of intel you receive while making calls increases your ROI and chances for future success.
Does the office directory share a direct extension number for a contact? Does the receptionist give you the name of a “mystery” editor not listed in your media database or on the outlet’s website? Is your contact no longer working there? Write these all down. This might seem intuitive, but you can be tempted to glaze over these details in the moment, forcing you to reinvent the wheel next time.
Also pay attention to why your pitch is accepted or rejected (if the journalist doesn’t tell you, ask nicely). This priceless information can give you an edge over other PR pros. If the journalist declines, but is in good spirits, ask him or her about current projects and offer to help elsewhere.
6. Adjust your approach. When you distribute an email blast and get zero responses, your options are limited. The message clearly didn’t resonate, and at best, you can wait a few days, refine your approach and take another shot.
Phone outreach, however, provides real-time feedback that can be applied to your next call. It could be something minor, such as a word you’re using to describe your client that’s throwing journalists off, or something more significant—for example, the angle you’re taking is not grabbing interest.
With each call, you have the opportunity to perfect your pitch and make the next more effective. Consider this when you think about ordering your outreach: Save the “holy grails” for last to receive the best version of your pitch.
Reporter follow-up calls are “high risk, high reward.” Approach them wrong, and you might convince a journalist that the time to blacklist you is well spent. However, the opportunities and benefits far outweigh the time and effort it takes to put these best practices into action.