To Call or Not to Call…That is the Question
October 4th 2016
Stop me if you have heard this one before – don’t call reporters, they absolutely hate being called!
While there are instances of reporters that absolutely despise being called (i.e. Here and here), I am here to tell you that follow-up calls are an essential public relations tactic to earn media coverage for your clients and build relationships with reporters.
When I say pick up the phone and call a journalist, I am not saying pitch your whole story over the phone. Most journalists prefer an email pitch because it allows them to open and read at their own pace when they have time. An email pitch gives them all the basic details, in written form, right in front of them. That being said, I do think there is a place for picking up the phone and calling a journalist. Publicists just need to use common sense and show some regard for that reporter or editor.
When to Call…
After You Have Done Your Research
Before you decide to pick up that phone, make sure you know what the reporter wants. There will be reporters that have “do not call me” or “this is the best time to contact me” on their biographies, Twitter profiles, personal pages, or media directories. Use that to your advantage. Take a look at the previous stories they have written and make sure they are the best contact for the story. Nothing gets under the skin of a reporter more than someone who hasn’t done their research and ends up pitching a food story to a science reporter.
When You Are Pitching Local TV News Stations
Typically, assignment desks field inquires and pitches 24 hours a day and decide whether or not the story is worth passing to a Producer or News Director. The assignment desk editors at local stations I regularly pitch prefer emails between 6am and 9am and then a follow-up call the next day if they do not respond. A call to an assignment desk allows PR professionals to get important news into the hands of decision makers and receive immediate feedback on the pitch. If it resonates with the station, or if there is other news that takes priority, this immediate and valuable feedback can be shared with your client.
After You Have Practiced What to Say
It is very important to practice what you are going to cover once you are on the phone, prior to making that initial call. PR professionals need to understand and respect the pressures reporters face each day with deadlines. This can be done in many ways. One example is to start a call with a reporter by asking whether it’s an OK time to talk. Additionally, instead of asking if they read your release, jump straight into your story idea with the most compelling news angle for that publication’s audience. This shows the reporter you are well-versed in the topic and publication you’re pitching, and you value their time on the phone and respect any upcoming deadlines.
When Not To Call…
The Same Day you Sent the Pitch
You don’t want to be the person who sends an email at 9:50 a.m. on Tuesday morning and follow-up with a phone call at 1:00 p.m. that same day. We know that journalists get hundreds, if not thousands of emails a day. Sometimes things fall through the cracks and just because they don’t respond doesn’t always mean they aren’t interested. Don’t be that annoying PR flack and wait two, maybe three days for that first follow-up call. This allows media time to respond first and if they aren’t receptive to your pitch, come up with a new approach and/or move on to different contacts.
If the reporter is on Deadline or Doesn’t Want Calls.
This goes back to doing your research on the media outlet or reporter. There is a wealth of information available to determine whether or not to call a reporter. Take a look at when their stories typically post, check their online presence, or see if any colleagues have worked with that person before. The bottom line is that we all have our jobs to do and the reporter/PR professional relationship needs to work in harmony.
I’m not saying picking up the phone is the only way to pitch, but editors are more likely to pay attention to what you are saying when you are actually talking to them.
By: Joseph Giumarra
Joseph is a versatile communicator with public relations experience in several industries including education, nonprofit, finance, travel, consumer and lifestyle. He believes it is imperative to build meaningful and trustful relationships with reporters, not only by picking up the phone, but also by understanding all aspects of the media landscape. This belief has led to successful placements for clients in numerous national, regional, broadcast and consumer lifestyle media as well as three communication awards for his work. Outside of the office, you can catch Joseph participating in sports and advocating for people to appreciate rock music.
Photo credit: Fitforwork.org