Wha!? PR people who don’t answer the phone??

memo with urgent messageWe’ve all heard of the “good karma” e-mail. “Hi. This is So-And-So and I see you’ve recently been writing on topics X, Y and Z. I have clients in a number of related areas who might be able to serve as a source for you. Please let me know if I can ever be of any help…”

I love good karma e-mails. No pitching. No berating. Just an “I’m here to help.”

My co-workers and I like to take this to a new level. We are huge believers in helping journalists even when we hand them an expert who is not our client. We hold our relationships with journalists in very high regard.

Exhibit A – I have a fantastic relationship with a wonderful listings editor at a business publication I pitch often. We recently pitched her something that wasn’t a great fit but she was looking for something in the realm of what we had brought up. She was specifically looking for a banking or residential real estate professional to give expert quotes on the housing tax credit. We don’t currently have a client that fits her needs, but within ten minutes of her request I called three banks (with which my firm has no affiliation) I thought might be fitting. The message (when given the opportunity to leave a message) I left was along the lines of: “Hi, my name is Kate Ottavio and I work with Co-Communications. I have a listings editor at XYZ Business Journal and she’s looking for expert commentary on…I think this might be a great opportunity for your company to weigh in…Again, this is for an article (cough, hack, free publicity on a silver platter) and I wanted to see if we could help this editor out. Thanks!”

Here’s how my outreach went. I’ll leave the names of the establishments out.

1) The phone rang and rang and rang . . . And then rang some more. I called a media relations/PR person on staff with this bank and he didn’t even have a voicemail.

2) I left a voicemail. Still no word.

3) I left a voicemail and got a call back 24 hours later.

We all know where we stand with examples one and two. Three? What if a journalist called and was on deadline? There’s a lost opportunity if I ever saw one.

One rule I live by: If I can’t get back to a journalist (or anyone really) immediately with something he or she needs, I will reply with an estimated time of delivery. This lets the journalist know that you did in fact receive his or her e-mail and that you will be working to get the job done efficiently. I almost giggle at people who get back to me 24 hours after first contact because I try to move as swiftly as possible when something had been requested of me. I am driven to get things done and get them done in a timely manner. That’s such an imperative piece of our business!

Am I being OCD? Or considerate? Do you have guidelines to follow or funny stories about the longest response time ever? Share, share away!

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  • Assistant

    This is a great policy. Despite having experience in PR I am currently working as an assistant at my current firm. I actually had a journalist at an important publication say they did not want to have to call the person I was answering the phone for because they knew they would not get back to them in a timely manner and just leave them hanging. This person is notorious for doing this. Not a good way to cultivate a relationship with a journalist.

  • As I write this, I am waiting on a number of businesses to get back to me. I contacted them early last week. This is an opportunity for them to get free publicity in a major New England business journal. This is for them to speak as experts in their field.

    But no, they remain silent. If you make a reporter wait for a reply or make her repeatedly call you, she will move on and find someone else.

    And that, imo, is bad business.

  • Kate, Maybe 1 and 2 were afraid you were selling something, the “silver platter” sounding too good to be true? IDK. I've often called former clients, colleagues and general contacts when I've seen a media request right up their alley. Most are usually good with a “thanks but no” or a short reply, but always appreciative of the effort on my part.

    As to dealing with the journalist: I don't promise what I can't deliver; I always follow up and check their deadlines, their needs; and if I can't make their deadlines, I let them know ASAP to move onto other sources. FWIW.

  • I wouldn’t disagree with my message sounding too good to be true as I think it’s the exception and not the rule – great point!

    That’s a good practice – never promising something you can’t deliver (if you do and don’t get it, you look that much worse). Fantastic additional points! Thanks so much.

  • jeffespo

    Now I hate using the phone and avoid using it as much as I can. However if I get a call from another PR pro, it is a common courtesy to call them back as soon as possible.

  • Great post – As the owner of a Uk based Pr business I am constantly shocked by journlaists who are in turn shocked by the fact that we get right back asap. We are always getting compliments for what i see as just doing our job!!

  • Totally! I've seen/heard that same shock, ha! It dissapoints me when they say “oh, no…you're the only person we've been able to reach/has answered us.” Yikes.

  • lauraclick

    I wonder if the PR people you contacted viewed you as a threat (i.e. why is she invading MY territory – this is my job and I can do it just fine, thank you). Or, maybe they thought you were doing this as an angle for your company to get hired (i.e. hey, here's this great opportunity, but I'll only give you the lead if you hire me for $___). You were trying to be helpful, but people can be so cynical.

    That said, I think that there are plenty of businesses who are bad at returning phone calls in a timely manner. So, this isn't altogether surprising. It is, however, quite sad.

  • Steve Austin

    Been there, still frustrated by that. Everyone says they want PR and then when you give it to them, they shy away.

  • I completely agree. It's “best practice” to at least respond within 24 hours to say you don't have an answer, but are working on it. I'm new to PR and don't work directly with reporters very often as I'm not a company spokesperson, but if I AM working on drafting responses, I at least send the reporter a courtesy e-mail to let him or her know a tentative time of delivery. So I would expect the same when I am requesting information from people, but I rarely get quick responses.

  • Ruth Bazinet

    I really like what you're trying to say here regarding the courtesy contact, but bells rang when reading about your outreach to banks/potential sources. Reaching out to a company trying to “help” a journalist can backfire. What if that bank is already in touch with the journalist or has a troubled relationship with that journalist/publication that you don't know about? At the very least, it would be wise to let the editor know who you are reaching out to first. The purpose of the exercise is to cultivate your relationship with the reporter/editor, but taking the risk could leave you alienated from this person. I am posting this comment not as a criticism, as I too was once faced with a comparable predicament, but rather to give another side to this pr practice. I wonder what our journalistic counterparts think about this topic…

  • Hi Ruth – Thanks for your comment. I do very much appreciate it as it's a point that I hadn't even thought of – and a good point at that. Seems we can be blinded and only see the 'good' when we try to help, but don't weigh all of the outcomes. Cheers!

  • great piece Kate, thanks for sharing. I do music PR and agree completely…nothing worse than missing the boat on coverage when someone asks for a photo of one of my bands and I am in a place where I can't send one. If so I will have my blackberry with me and tell them I'll send a photo as soon as I get back to my desk, or if it's even more time sensitive, email someone who can get it to them quicker. It's not OCD, it's common courtesy and doing your job properly for the client. 🙂 Thanks again

  • Guest

    I think that only because someone contacts me doesn’t mean I have to get back to them RIGHT AWAY. I really do like the approach of at least responding with an estimated time of response and try to do it, too, but honestly, I feel I have so much ACTUAL work to do that I am reluctant to spend my entire day writing “Getting-back-to-you-about-so-and-so” emails. I could easily fill a work day doing nothing but that.