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Posted on 03.31.2015

In media relations: Is it time to put down the phone?

At some point, every public relations professional is faced with a dilemma: To call or not to call? There you are, are staring at your phone, trying to decide if you should make a follow-up call to a reporter (or perhaps whole list of reporters) after your initial email pitch/press release/media advisory has gone unanswered. 

If you listen to most of the recent PR-advice articles on the Internet, you should rip the phone line out of the wall and walk away:

  • The follow-up call lands at No. 4 on a list of 25 PR Habits that Drive Reporters Nuts because “There’s probably a reason you didn’t get a response the first time.”
  • “If a reporter doesn’t respond to your email or social media interaction, adding a phone call, telegram, fax or carrier pigeon to the mix likely isn’t going to break through the clutter. Leave the phone calls for reporters you know well or requested follow-ups for information.”
  • “The only time it’s acceptable to make a phone call to a media contact is if you’ve both already agreed to have the conversation, you have a well-established existing relationship with this contact, or this contact has made an egregious editorial error that must be corrected immediately.”

So is the follow-up phone call a universal no-no? I’d say yes… and no.

When I was a business reporter, I can’t tell you the number of times I was working feverishly to break a story or meet a deadline (or five) only to be interrupted by a call to “check in” on a press release or see if I was interested in an emailed pitch. My thinking was always, if I was interested, I would have responded to the email.  Now, on the other side of the PR fence, I try to minimize follow-up calls—or really any calls—to reporters unless I already have a good working relationship with them or I’m calling about something that I’m certain they won’t want to miss (think big, juicy exclusive).

For all those other pitches and press releases that go unacknowledged, I recommend trying one of the following:

  • Email again. When you know the reporter doesn’t want a phone call, or you’re about to leave a voicemail (reporters are notorious screeners), send a second email with a gentle reminder and some additional information to sweeten the pitch. You’d be surprised the number of times you get a response to the second email.
  • Approach a colleague. Try contacting one of the other reporters or editors at the news outlet. Maybe your second choice contact ends up being the right person for the story. Be sure, however, to let the second reporter know that you’ve already pitched Jane at the health desk. Nothing will annoy Jane more than having that same unwanted pitch show up in her inbox, forwarded by a colleague who doesn’t know you’ve already knocked on her door.

If you simply must pick up the phone, remember to be brief, courteous and clear. And always start the conversation by asking the reporter if it’s a good time to talk—it shows that you understand the nature journalism and gives the reporter the opportunity to politely avoid an unwanted conversation instead of interrupting you in the middle of your talking points.

What do you think? Is it time to hang up on the follow-up call? Leave a comment and start the conversation.


Erin George is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Erin’s blogs here. Connect with Erin at erin@lovell.com or @ErinLawley.

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