Stop and think for a second: what percentage of time do you spend actually having verbal conversations vs. communicating via The Internet (e-mail, social media, gchat, etc.)? I am sure the latter easily takes the cake. We are all guilty of it; the majority of our interactions with people happen in cyberspace. In PR, this is a major problem if you are trying to forge real relationships with editors. Making phone calls as a pitching tool can help to fortify connections, and seal the deal on major placements.
I truly believe that using the phone takes someone from a mediocre publicist to an amazing publicist. It really sets people apart because most PR pros only rely on e-mail to land placements. While most editors do prefer e-mail communication, using the phone sparingly to follow up on pitches or samples can make a world of difference. Our e-mail inboxes are digital black holes, where pitches constantly get lost and never read. Sometimes a quick phone call can bring attention to a pitch that would have otherwise gone completely ignored!
Ready to steady your nerve and start dialing? Not so fast! In PR there is certain phone etiquette to remember when making phone calls to avoid annoying editors:
Don’t say you are calling from a PR firm
You will automatically get a telemarketer reaction. It might not be justified, but publicists have a terrible reputation. If you say you are calling from a PR firm, editors will tune you out. Instead, I have found that you get a warmer response, if you say you are calling on behalf of the client. For whatever reason editors tend to be more receptive when you position yourself in this way.
Lead with a question
Start with a question rather than a long spiel about your client. This makes the interaction more conversational. Ask questions, such as, “did you receive the information I sent about the event next week?”, “has the cookbook you requested arrived?”, “what do you think about the winter line?" You get the picture. If you engage in a two-sided conversation, the editor will be more likely to listen to what you are saying.
Get to the point
Everyone is busy, and no one has time for a never-ending phone conversation. Before you start making phone calls, have an elevator pitch ready; be able to pinpoint what makes your client different in one to two sentences. Sometimes it helps to write a script out before you get on the phone. Nothing will turn an editor off more than if you start rambling, so make sure you are concise about what you are looking for.
Leave a message
I will never understand why some publicists refuse to leave voicemails; it makes no sense. We all screen our calls, so it is crucial to leave a message. Chances are you will only get about 10% of the people you call on the phone, so if you don’t leave a message, no on will know you called. Make sure you leave your number twice, and speak clearly and slowly.
Always follow up with an e-mail, right after you call
Regardless of if whether I speak with someone or leave a message, I always send an e-mail. This ensures my contact info is at the top of their inbox. If they didn’t answer, I just send a quick e-mail following up asking if they received the information or to please let me know if they are interested in my client's products. If they did answer, I come up with an excuse to send additional details or information. Chances are the majority of correspondence will happen via e-mail, so you want to make sure they have your e-mail address in a convenient place.
I run into a lot of publicists that are scared to use the phone. Don’t be! Making phone calls can be essential to landing placements. If you can get someone on the phone, chances are you can convince them to cover the story. Editors are more likely to pay attention to what you are saying when you are actually talking to them. Plus, it helps to continue to build personal relationships with the editors you work with, an invaluable component of successful PR.
Photo Credit: Esparta