Friday, April 4, 2014

Reaching the Media: A Call... or Email to Action?

By Steve Simon

Contrary to what many texters, chatters, tweeters, and emailers would like us to believe, reports of the demise of the telephone call have been greatly exaggerated.

That said, for those of us who are PR professionals (and those who profess to be!), those coveted reporters and editors we try so hard to reach may have a lesson for us.

It is dead.

At least it is in the sense that we may have thought it a good idea to just pick up the phone, call a reporter, and "pitch away!"

As someone who has been in the PR business for a "few" years -- let's just say long enough to remember when the phone pitch really was king, before email and way before social media -- I have learned from many first-hand experiences how important it was to modify my approach over the years.

Even if I am trying to get a reporter on the phone now, I almost always begin with an email, conveniently tagged with a read receipt. And even if I know the journalist and have a great relationship with him or her, but don't want to include the pitch by email, I typically would let them know I have a story idea that I think they'll want to consider... and then ASK if they have time to talk briefly by phone.

One of our great reporters here in the Washington, D.C. area is WTOP Radio's Neal Augenstein, who is also a prolific tweeter by the way -- now well upwards of 17,000 tweets and counting. I couldn't help but "LOL" today when I read this tweet from him, leading to the following exchange:

There was a time, back in the day, when you could make a general determination on when a "good time" would be to call a reporter. Daily newspaper reporters, for example, used to have one -- or maybe two --real deadline times each day. They had one job then. They wrote for the newspaper.

Today, they still do that, but they also blog, tweet, post, and sometimes capture video for their story. They are on deadline all the time. And yes, they cover far more territory than they used to. Having a "beat" is a veritable luxury that no longer exists for many reporters.

So getting a cold call from a PR pro -- even ones they've worked with in the past and may even like -- is not high on their list for how they want to be pitched, at least for starters. Don't get me wrong. They still want and may very much need to talk to you.

Believe me: reporters won’t hesitate to hunt you down, in response, if needed. But understanding the pressures they are under and reaching them first with email or some other form of written communication -- which can give them the context they need, with the ability to digest it when they are clearly focused -- can help them to sort out whether it's newsworthy or not. 

Am I saying to never call a reporter? Of course not! 

But before you dial that phone -- especially before you ring that cell phone number that a reporter provided you the "last time" he or she reported a story of yours -- stop and think. And then drop them a quick email… first. Maybe even a second email, in case they were on the run when they read it and just couldn't reply.

If you don't hear back, then call. At least then they will know exactly why you're calling. And, ultimately, you'll be a lot more successful when your pitching your news.

Steve Simon is Vice President at Van Eperen & Company. a full-service communications and marketing agency. You can contact him at ssimon@veandco.comYou can also follow him on Twitter @sayssimonpr or connect with him on LinkedIn

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