To Call or not to Call? – Is it Even a Question?

December 1, 2015 |

Now, those who know me will tell you what a laid back, placid, all-round agreeable sort of chap I am (cue muffled coughing / general sarcasm), but a recent blog made me ditch all that in favour of Angry Ranting Martin.

If you’re interested, you can read the blog in question here, but for those who haven’t got the time or inclination, I’ll paraphrase it for you.

You kind of get the gist from the title ‘Here’s Why You Should Never Make Another Follow Up Call To A Journalist’. Unsurprisingly, it focuses on an article written by a journo, which basically acts as a chastising for us PR types for daring to pick up the phone to speak to them.

Priceless gems include “journalists really, really hate it when you either pitch via phone (cold call) or follow up on an unanswered pitch with a surprise ring” and “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.”

I get that this particular journalist and blogger aren’t fans of PR calls and are hanging a big fat metaphorical ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on their doors, however, what is annoying is the fact they feel entitled to make a sweeping statement on behalf of their whole profession.

Now, before I get hit with a tirade of “you would say that, you’re in PR”, it’s worth pointing out that I used to work as a journalist too. I had plenty of regular PRs who I got to know over the years and who also got to know me and the type of story I liked. There were also the cold callers who got it very wrong; my favourite being “did you know it’s National Potato Week?”.

However, there were also those off-the-cuff calls that proved incredibly fruitful and came at just the right time when I either had a space to fill in a news bulletin or added to a story I was already working on.

This is where I believe our journalist friend and his blogger chum are missing the point entirely. News is time sensitive and of the moment, and if you leave it too long, it’s old news. This is why the art of the phone call is often vital. It’s immediate and straight to the point. Sometimes you will be selling in to a journalist you know and sometimes you won’t, but news is news.

Part of this is down to the news judgment of the PR person and knowing what warrants picking up the phone and what is more suitable to email. With a number of ex-journalists in our team, I like to think that everyone at Tank has a good grounding when it comes to this. It’s also about doing some legwork before the call and taking a look at the type of subject the journalist writes about to make sure you aren’t way off the mark.

The notion that we’re about to pre-arrange every single call we make with a journalist does make me chuckle and most journalists I know (and I’m sure many I don’t) would much prefer a quick chat on the phone to ascertain interest rather than faffing around comparing mutually free slots in the diary.

As for the seemingly cardinal sin of the ‘follow-up call’, all I can say is that journalists are human too and that things get forgotten or lost in email. We’ve had some cracking pieces of coverage that have been generated by the art of the gentle reminder.

I think the blog and original article are aimed at a certain kind of PR agency, but I do get annoyed when we get tarnished with the same brush. All I can say is obviously these old grumps haven’t had a call from my team at Tank!

And, for those wanting more on phone-based sell-in skills, have a cheeky read of Maz’s blog.