No matter what everyone says about PR going digital and social, our most important publicity-getting tool is still the old, reliable telephone. When we have news, we use press release services, we email our contacts, but I’d say 75% of the media articles we get for our clients is “closed” over the phone after discussion with the journalist.
But journalists require sensitive handling on the phone. Below are some of our phone etiquette tips for PR practitioners, or entrepreneurs who are PR DIYers.
1. Preparation is key.
Much of your work is done BEFORE you even dial the phone. Be prepared with your pitch: what are you pitching and why, oh why should the journalist care? Make sure you have something newsworthy to talk about. If you’ve done your homework, you know that particular media outlet’s editorial calendar, the journalist’s beat and have something relevant to offer.
If you’re nervous about talking to journalists, you’ll do better by practicing first, either by yourself or with a friend. After you deliver your pitch, have your friend ask: “So what? several times until you are sure that you can deliver your key points succintly.
Aside from practicing what you want to say, you want to practice your delivery as well. Aim for an enthusiastic but business-like tone. Although the person on the other line can’t see you, smile as you speak. It adds a sparkle to your voice. Speak clearly, confidently, and respectfully.
2. Timing is everything.
The worst thing you can do is call when the reporter or editor is on a deadline. Generally, newspapers are on deadline in the afternoon, a weekly publishing Monday is on a Thursday/Friday deadline, and someone working on a monthly magazine can have a deadline that stretches for days. If you can access a PR software like Vocus or Cision, there’s a wealth of information about media contacts there including how they like to be pitched and when is the best time to reach them.
Your best bet is to ask (after you’ve introduced yourself), “Is this a good time for you?”
If they say yes, then introduce your pitch in 2 – 3 sentences. If they say no, ask them when you should call back.
Either way, the journalist or editor is making a commitment to speak to you, either right then and there or at a later time.
3. Courtesy counts.
Always be courteous on the phone, no matter who you’re speaking with. Don’t forget your “please’s” and “thank you’s.” More importantly, give the call your full attention. Put email and other notifications off. Eliminate all distractions, turn off your cellphone because any lapse in attention can be heard in your voice.
4. Know what you want.
Now that the journalist or editor has listened to your pitch, what do you want him or her to do next? Do you want them to cover an event? Send a reporter? Interview an expert?
Make sure the media knows how to contact you, should they have questions. Ask how they prefer to be reached for follow-ups. Also, try to end the conversation by agreeing on your next steps, including when you’ll call again, if necessary.
5. Persistence pays. But beware.
It’s a good idea to call again to follow up on your agreements with media. For example, call the day before an interview or event to reiterate the time and venue.
But don’t be a pest about it. If you call two or three times without any response, then let it rest. A journalist or editor who’s really interested in your story will respond, and there’s no use wasting your time and energy with those who don’t care.
Do you have telephone tips for other PR professionals? Did you learn lessons in the past that have proved to be invaluable to you today?
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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