Telephone For PR people the one forgotten tool on our desks is … drumroll please … the telephone.

A colleague recently asked me to send along a few successful written pitches to use as examples with a prospective client. But, as I read through my emails to reporters, the emails that garnered the best responses almost always started with:

“Dear (insert journalist’s name),

Thank you for chatting on the phone …”

The point was raised: there’s just something wonderful about the telephone.

Sure, email works fine. In fact, it’s landed great opportunities for clients we’ve pitched. But, there are a few things that can make traditional telephone interactions successful and powerful. Here are a couple thoughts:

Email gets stuck. A journalist friend of mine once said to me, “My email just piles up! I probably get 20 pitches a day. I don’t know what to do with it all, so I don’t do anything.” His advice? “It’s annoying to get a phone call. But, once the person starts talking, I usually have to listen.” Sure, there’s something irritating for journalists who get phone calls: it’s an interruption. But, those who call immediately have the journalist’s ear. Then, it’s up to the PR representative to make the pitch work.

The open discussion. Sometimes it’s good to lend your ear to the journalist. What does that mean? A couple months back we were pitching a high-level legal publication. But, we weren’t sure if the editor would be interested in the topic we were pitching. After all, we also weren’t sure what angle we wanted to take. So we had a discussion. And upon getting the editor on the phone, our conversation went something like this:

    “This is Susan”
    “Hi Susan, I’m calling on behalf of (my client). We realize there’s a lot of news about (a program the IRS is undertaking). Is it something you’ve given a lot of coverage to?”

Two things were interesting about this pitch:

One, this discussion would likely not have taken place over email. By having a telephone conversation, we were able to open up the conversation to get a better idea of what the editor wanted – we lent her our ear to do a bit of listening. Why is it good? Because sometimes I feel like email pitches can be like throwing darts at a dart board. You have a specific, physical idea in your possession. And once you fire off the pitch by clicking “send,” it’s fingers crossed. Instead, the phone conversation is malleable.

Two, there wasn’t really a pitch in this example. Some people might deem this “lazy PR.” After all, our job is to develop firm, targeted pitches. But, I’d argue that tightly-positioned pitches can sometimes be overwhelming for a journalist. In fact, during my days as a news reporter, I didn’t always want a complete story idea. And, as was the case here, by not presenting definitive story idea, the editor had a few moments to consider the topic and absorb it. By walking through our ideas together in conversation, her interest grew with every word, and we ended the discussion with a definitive idea of where both she and I wanted to end up. Sometimes, soft pitches amount to greatness. 

You’re kidding me right? These are the words a New York Times marketing and advertising reporter used when I told her I was calling on behalf of a software company. After all, top-tier reporters want colorful characters, interesting anecdotes and stories with a twist. Such details are seldom found in software development stories. And, had I emailed, the reporter would likely have never responded.

But, my voice on the other end of the line forced the reporter to listen to my pitch (as much as she probably didn’t want to). And, surprisingly, she asked a few questions. In fact, her questions amounted to a five minute conversation. And surprisingly the reporter responded to our follow-up email, leaving the door open for future interaction.

Is the telephone conversation the end-all to public relations? Absolutely not. I would be remiss in saying that Twitter, Facebook, Help a Reporter Out and other electronic channels are powerful tools.

But, for those who dread reporter phone conversations: confront your fear. And, for those whose love affair with the phone needs rehabilitation: rekindle your love.

Because sometimes communication by voice can be most effective – and – in the examples above, it produced remarkable results.

Contributed by Aaron Kellogg. Follow him @KelloggAaron

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, user: zigazou76. Full terms and conditions for image use.