In this email saturated world, it’s difficult to penetrate the din and connect with a journalist about your story idea. Granted, you probably have a great idea that includes many news elements or is a perfect fit for the media you’re pitching, but if you aren’t able to communicate it effectively to your targeted audience, your idea will sit by itself on your blog and/or be discussed amongst your colleagues around the water cooler.
When I worked at a public relations agency one of the primary reasons our clients came our way was because of our ability to convince journalists that our stories were worthwhile. We didn’t usually accomplish this through well placed emails. We accomplished it on the phone.
There’s little magic to this method, but when compared to simply emailing journalists, the results are staggering. When making a call, make sure to call early in the day (ideally before 8:30 AM). Keep your call short, polite and “news-packed”, unless you sense the journalist is interested in chatting. Always ask if they have a moment for a quick pitch before giving them the details. They may not, and if they say so, respect that and call back another time. Never leave a message on an answering machine unless you have an incredibly hot topic or happen to work for President Obama.
For many junior communications people, picking up the phone can be intimidating. Cold calling is never easy and getting barked at by an impatient assignment editor can be particularly off-putting. Despite these reservations, it’s important to recognize that there’s a reason people do business over the telephone. Part of the reason for a phone call is that it allows the communicator more time to present the value of the story. Most emails (particularly those sent by PR people) will be lucky to get a scan by a busy journalist. Many emails are deleted before being read. A well placed call, on the other hand, gives you 15-30 seconds to sell your story to an (somewhat) attentive audience. If injected with enough news hooks, colour and enthusiasm, 30 seconds can mean the difference between a bite and another missed opportunity. As with email, you can still be ignored, but at least on the phone you’ll know you are being blown off or your idea isn’t getting traction.
In addition to giving you a better chance to convince a journalist to cover your story, the phone call also gives you the ability to begin the development of a relationship. This is key in sales, development and, most importantly, securing informational interviews. While email is passive and allows for little dialogue (unless the journalist is interested), a phone call, particularly during slower news times like very early in the morning or after deadline in the evening, gives you a chance to connect with your audience. What area is the reporter particularly interested in? Is there a longer-term story they are working on that you can help them with somehow? What do they think of the day’s news events? Any way you can connect with them so that they see you as a human being, not a faceless caller, gives you extra points! The stronger the connection you can develop with the journalist, the more helpful you can be (and they may be to you) in the future.
By picking up the phone practiced communicators know they can turn a good idea into a great news story. There’s no magic to it, just a simple method that anyone can pick up and find success.