Picking up the phone to tell your story to a busy reporter can be very intimidating.
There’s something about making a phone pitch — not seeing the face on the other line, hearing only the edge in the voice or an impatient exhale — that puts the pressure-cooker in overdrive and makes even veteran PR professionals become mush-mouthed.
That said, for those who try (and keep trying), phone pitches can be a very effective way to get news coverage.
Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you call an over-worked, stressed-out reporter in your community:
- Be polite: it goes without saying, but be nice on the phone. Keep your tone of voice pleasant, even if the reporter doesn’t return the favor.
- Nothing personal: don’t take any negative comments, brusque lanquage or evasive behavior as a personal affront. Busy reporters are asked to do a lot of work in very little time so when they receive phone pitches they tend to cut to the chase.
- Get to the point: reporters are asked to do more with less time than ever. Consequently, many reporters are experts at sniffing out the potential value of a story in 60 seconds or less, which is why you must present your pitch and supporting facts as economically as possible.
- Don’t be a pest: if the reporter tells you no, then don’t keep bothering him or her. Try again when you have a new announcement to share. If a reporter doesn’t respond to your initial overtures, then don’t increase the frequency and/or urgency of your outreach. Chances are the reporter is just too busy to get back to you or may find the news irrelevant or not compelling enough to respond.
- Think fast: if a reporter challenges your assumptions on why your news is important, then try to come up with a different angle or share another fact in hopes of building your case. Reporters will often to play devil’s advocate, challenging you on why your news is so important, mostly because their editors do it to them all the time.
- Learn from past mistakes: instead of giving up after one or two stinging defeats, try to figure out what went wrong. Often a journalist, even if busy, will tell you why she is not interested. I got shot down by a Wall Street Journal reporter based on the fact that there just wasn’t enough evidence supporting my claim, which, sadly, was the painful truth. The next time I pitched her, I had my facts ready before the call.
- Know their beat: it will help you greatly if you already know the reporter’s rea of interest. By doing a little research in advance, you save yourself the embarassment of finding out that the reporter doesn’t actually cover technology startups but is instead writes about real estate.
- Offer to help: when phone pitching, make sure you offer the reporter a chance to interview others for the story to make the reporter’s job easier. It could be the difference between rejection and eventual news coverage.
- Leave clear voicemail: if you don’t reach the reporter the first time, then on’t be afraid to leave a voicemail to set the initial ‘hook.’ Speak in a clear, well-paced voice. Practice the voicemail ahead of time so you can easily summarize the significance of your news pitch in 15-20 seconds or less.
If you keep these pointers in mind when you first hear that reporter’s voice on the other end of the line, then you just might save yourself a lot of hard lessons and wasted time.