According to most people who work at PR agencies, especially tech firms, using the phone for media conversations is outdated. Hardly anyone thinks it’s useful to follow up, or worse, actually pitch a story by phone. PR pundits insist that phone calls will not earn you many friends, and at best it’s a waste of time.
So how is it that most of the greatest earned media placements in my 20-year PR career have come from a connection I’ve made on the phone?
Left to my own devices, I will send an email and follow-up by phone or, dare I say, even a cold call. In my experience, more than 90% of the time when I do connect with someone by phone, they end the call requesting the email pitch. Mind you, it’s the same email pitch I already sent. The email pitch they never read.
There’s no blame here. These producers, writers, reporters and editors receive thousands of emails a day. I’d venture to say they’re pitched far more often now than in the days when PR people routinely pitched by phone. Even then, many people were shy or uneasy about talking. For me, talking has come naturally.
l recall working at a popular consumer public relations firm where the owner asked me to train everyone on staff to talk on the phone. At that time, it was part of the job. PR people can get away without being on the phone now, to the point where we have a different problem. Over-dependence on our devices has sent people into hiding. No one even wants to talk anymore. What’s more, I don’t think they know how.
Overall, verbal conversation is a lost art. Baby boomers came into the workplace before computers and cell phones, so they relied on face-to-face communication and in-person networking. But Gen-Xers and Millennials raised on technology are comfortable conversing almost exclusively on a device. They think of social media as actually social. And they substitute an emoticon for real emotion.
But in our business, a big part of a publicist’s job is communication and persuasion. If a pitch has no relevance to a journalist’s work, personality will not win them over, but it might get a referral or build a relationship for the next one. Meanwhile, here are a handful of tips I culled in my years of successful pitching on the phone:
No, not in a “smile-and-dial” telemarketing sense. But as you tap the number, smile as if you’re about to shake hands and meet someone. Your voice sounds different when you talk with a smile. Try it.
Loud, soft, animated or not, that’s the mood of the person on the other end of the phone. Match their volume and intensity. You want to meet them where they are and, hopefully, engage them.
Get your elevator pitch down so you know what you want to say, but be sure to sound conversational. You know how you can’t stand talking to telemarketers who sound robotic? Don’t sound like that.
If you’re calling a specific geographic area and have a personal tie-in, a quick icebreaker can be fun.
If it’s not right for the person you’re talking to, can you find out who might like it? There’s nothing better than putting someone’s name as a referral in a subject line.
Oh, one last thing. Make sure you know how to work the phone!