Calling a journalist? Don’t be annoying

“They’re the bane of my existence.”

“I absolutely hate them.”

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“They drive me insane.”

These are a few of the actual comments I’ve heard from journalists about that all-too-common PR tactic, the phone call. Among journalists’ biggest PR pet peeves, 52 per cent say cold calling is the ultimate sin. But not every journalist loathes a phone call; indeed, a small number actually prefer them to emails. And some tell me that a well-targeted call can be a helpful reminder about news they might have missed. But most journalists find that the vast majority of phone calls they receive are annoying, disruptive time-wasters.

If you insist on calling journalists, and want to minimize the damage to your relationships, here are six points to keep in mind:

1. Be sure your pitch is on target

Journalists hate getting emails that are poor fits for their outlets or their beats, but the offence is compounded if you follow up by phone. Emails can be easily scanned and deleted. Calls are a much bigger intrusion. If you go to the trouble of getting on the phone, you should at least do some research beforehand to make absolutely sure that the pitch is a reasonably good match for the outlet. A media database can help you with this.

2. Exercise news judgement

Those journalists who dislike phone calls are more forgiving — or even appreciative — if the call alerts them to important breaking news within their beat. For some, these situations are the sole exception to the “no phone calls” rule. Just be sure that, from the journalist’s perspective, it really is news.

3. Give them time to read the email

Even journalists who don’t mind follow-ups often complain that the calls come too soon after the email. You’ve got to give them a chance to respond! Unless the news is urgent, you should generally wait at least a few days. However, waiting too long can also be counter-productive, because the journalist won’t have any recollection of the email. Learn what you can about the journalist’s preferences regarding follow-ups. If that proves too elusive, resort to Plan B: common sense.

4. Make the pitch “voicemail friendly”

Voice messages need to be succinct, but be careful not to speak too quickly and risk garbling your words. If a journalist has any trouble understanding what you’re saying, your message is more than likely going to be deleted. PR Pro Tip: State the phone number at the beginning and end of the message. That way, the journalist doesn’t have to listen through the entire message a second time if they decide they’re interested.

5. Call when journalists aren’t so busy

Picture this: you’re busy, the phone rings, you’re interrupted, you’re annoyed, you’re less inclined to listen to the person on the other end. Understanding the journalist’s deadline cycle will allow you to call when it’s least disruptive. For example, most newspaper reporters tend to be busier in the afternoon — especially late afternoon — than in the morning. Reporters for the financial wires tend to be busiest when markets open and close, and during “earnings season” — those months when many companies announce quarterly financial results. Weekly publications have their own editorial cycles — depending on the outlet, reporters may be especially busy early, late or mid-week. Learn the cycles.

6. Put your A-team on the job

One of the most annoying aspects of follow-up calls is that they often come from low-level staffers who are obviously reading from a script. These staffers are typically ill-equipped to answer even basic questions about the pitch or press release. It’s a common practice, but many journalists see it as a form of telemarketing. As one editor said, “The only difference is it’s not at dinnertime and there’s no ‘do not call’ list.” You’re less likely to alienate journalists if the calls come from PR pros who are knowledgeable and willing and able to engage in a real conversation.

For more tips on building relationships with the media, check out the Media Matchmaker report, which is full of insights Business Wire gained from interviewing over 600 journalists. Make your perfect media match today!

 

This post was originally published, in a slightly different format, on April 1, 2016.


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Steve Beale

Steve Beale

Stephen Beale is the editor of Bulldog Reporter’s Inside Health Media, a publication for PR people in health and medicine. He covers media news and interviews health journalists about their preferences for dealing with PR people. Based in the San Francisco area, he previously worked as a technology journalist.


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