Picking Up the Phone in Public Relations: Yes, It Can Still Be Relevant
As we call ourselves in the Twitter-verse, we “#PRPros” spend most of our days stationed behind a wall of monitors, furiously tapping away on our keyboards as we write press releases and pitches, build media lists, and plan social media campaigns. These moments of fervently focused silence are (all too frequently) alleviated by hour-long calls, either with clients to strategize upcoming plans or with media to host an interview on breaking news.
In a wry twist of irony, our daily lives as public relations professionals are actually rarely “public,” nor do we have many in-person “relations” that extend beyond bumping elbows with co-workers at the coffee pot in the kitchen. So, normally safely sequestered at my desk amidst my headphones, wires, and the comfortable sound of productive silence, I was stricken the other day when my phone rang (lo!) with a reporter on the other end.
Talking on the phone—does it ring a bell?
Let’s back track.
In the midst of my intense research on the latest happenings in the cybersecurity sphere, I stumbled on a great tweet from a tech reporter that was both client-relevant and delightfully nerdy all at once.
Because I’m a self-proclaimed Star Trek nerd (Captain Kirk over whoever-the-hell-is-in-Star-Wars any day), this tweet immediately stood out from my otherwise news-heavy Twitter feed of what’s-the-latest-in-death-and-destruction-around-the-world. (I also work with a client who’s changing the game in tech support, so this comment on the static (and rather disappointing) nature of IT support caught my eye, and I wanted to reach out to this reporter to try and strike up a conversation.)
Hoping to start a dialogue, I drafted up my best tweet-response (I admit, I struggled a bit with the character-count limit) and threw my voice into the void of the internet, hoping for a response.
I thought I was being a little more on the unconventional side—witty, even, my hubris might say. But this tech reporter was quick to one-up me, seeing my tweet and raising me an impromptu phone call.
Talking off-the-cuff while off the hook
Just a few minutes later, my intercom buzzed, with our wonderful office manager letting me know I have an in-coming call on the other end: a certain reporter from To-Remain-Un-Named-Tech-Publication.
With my phone rarely ever taken off the hook (my headset gets all the action for my usual conference calls), I was (to put it lightly) shocked. Remembering my extra-polite phone voice from my many years of working retail in a wedding cake bakery, I picked up with a cheery, “Hi, this is Meredith,” and braced myself for the worst.
To my surprise, the reporter and I engaged in a 20-minute long phone call, where we dissected the state of the tech support industry, brainstormed interesting news stories, and good-naturedly debated about whether or not Star Trek qualifies as “nerdy” (I affirm that it does—but affectionately, so).
I hung up the phone slightly bewildered by the experience but also feeling much more knowledgeable about the needs of the industry, the needs of the reporter, and, believe it or not, the needs of my client.
A call to action
So often in our pitching attempts, we are laser-focused on the message we want to deliver for the client, the angle we want to take, and the story we want to see, that we can lose the perspective of the journalist (and, in essence, the reader). Spending a few minutes just candidly talking with a journalist about real news ideas—not just the perfect pitch—actually ended up being the most productive part of my day, as it reminded me what my goal in pitching really is: to tell an interesting story about the client.
Even though this reporter isn’t ready to work together on a story just yet, our interaction was much more meaningful and in-depth than my usual routine of a few back-and-forth emails and some trite email signatures. Instead, in those 20 minutes, I started a professional dialogue that will last much longer than one pitch, one press release, or one tweet, as I found a true contact with whom I can stay in touch until we hit on the right storyline for both the client and the reader.
It’s kind of a sad world where connecting via email seems professional, commenting on social media seems genuine, and talking on the phone seems startling. And while this doesn’t mean I’ll be ringing up every reporter the next time I have a pitch list, it does remind me that there’s someone on the receiving end of that inbox, and we’re really not just all shouting into the internet void.
When was the last time you actually talked on the phone with a reporter? Was it yesterday, last month, last year? I’d love to know! Let me know on Twitter @merryshoebell.