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[Editor’s Note: Got a PR question you’ve been dying to ask, but don’t have the right person in your rolodex? Keep reading…]
I am just starting out in PR and need a few tips for phone pitching. Can you help out?
Dear Phone Home,
There are a lot of differing opinions on telephone pitching these days. Some PR pros are for it, and some treat the device like a disgusting carton of sour milk. Whatever side of fence you’re on, chances are you will need to pick up that phone and pitch every now and again.
With that being said, here are a few pointers to get you started:
- Relax, get to it. As a rookie phone pitcher, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a bit nervous on your first calls out. In addition to the phone call itself, you might also hesitate because you think a co-worker or boss is listening in on your conversations. This is nothing to be ashamed about—most of us have been in your shoes at one time or another. Try asking your boss if there’s an empty office that you might be able to use. If that doesn’t work, just try to focus on the task at hand and tune out your surroundings. Also remember that if your boss is eavesdropping, that he/she may just be trying to help you out.
- Think before you pitch. It is imperative that you know your pitch inside and out. You do not want to get caught on the phone with a media outlet without your facts straight. If you lack the confidence in your spiel, the journalist or producer will sense it right away. I suggest writing out key points and facts ahead of time and keeping them by your side. Just beware of sounding like you are reading from a script—keep a natural and conversational tone.
- Pitch to the right person. You are now relaxed, confident in your pitch—but do you know who you are calling? Make sure you are contacting the right person that would cover your story. If you are publicizing a new digital camera, don’t call food editor. Cover your bases and search for the latest stories the reporter has written. This will at least ensure that your pitch has a chance of scoring some interest. Additionally, sometimes there are multiple people covering a beat or no one specifically at an outlet. It’s simple enough to ask – “I’m not one hundred percent that this should be on your desk so I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.” Works great – seeking advice makes people feel knowledgeable and most people want to be helpful, acknowledging that you may be wrong makes them realize you’re human, and it’s often more time effective to pick the close person (not banking–>food but at least in the right ballpark) and ask than to spend hours researching only to discover the right person is on maternity leave and the beat is being handled by a general assignment writer for the next few months anyway.
- Ask permission. It’s no secret that time is precious commodity in the newsroom. If you get someone on the phone, introduce yourself, and then ask if it’s a good time to talk. This person could be on deadline or in a meeting.
- Ready, set, pitch. So you have their attention, maybe for a minute. You need to make your case fast. Be succinct, clear, and conversational if time permits. Anticipate questions the press might ask you in advance, and have your answers ready to go. If you get a question that you absolutely do not know, be honest and say that you’ll get back to him/her.
- Phone pitching is like dating. Sometimes they say yes and want to keep seeing you; other times they don’t want anything you got. Don’t get upset if the journalist is rude or uninterested in your pitch. It happens to the best of us. Brush it off, pick up the phone and keep plugging away. It’s the unfortunate truth that rejection is part of the public relations field, so don’t get discouraged. If you are getting nowhere with your pitch, take a step back, and see if anything needs tweaking.
However if you did score a “date” and the reporter is interested in your pitch, follow up. Don’t wait five days to circle back around with him/her. Get the individual the information, interviews, hi-res images—all the materials requested—in a timely and reliable fashion.
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Dear Flack is written by Marie V-B, a seasoned public relations professional. Advice is based on both personal experience and input from members of PR Breakfast Club and outside expert sources.