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Epiphany Search

I was lucky to survive my first experience of calling a journalist, especially as it was my first day working at the Wall Street Journal. As I remember, the brief conversation went something like this - Journalist: “<em>Hello, Marie Smith</em>.” Me:  “<em>Hello insert name. This is Nicole, how are you?</em>” Journalist: [awkward silence, followed by laughter]

I was lucky to survive my first experience of calling a journalist, especially as it was my first day working at the Wall Street Journal.

As I remember, the brief conversation went something like this - Journalist: “Hello, Marie Smith.” Me:  “Hello insert name. This is Nicole, how are you?” Journalist: [awkward silence, followed by laughter]

My manager at the time had suggested that I use a script to call people in case I got nervous. Fortunately, after the journalist stopped laughing at my mistake, we managed to have a nice conversation that led to her using my press release.

Six years and hundreds of calls later, I still think about that moment when I pick up the receiver. Ironically, it actually relaxes me now.

Through this and many other experiences, I have learned that the key to having a conversation with a journalist which doesn't result in laughter is to have a rehearsed plan.

Similar to learning your lines for a play, practice makes perfect. This daunting task should not put you off but it should definitely be a lesson to learn from.

Here are some good examples, as well as some bad and ugly conversations – along with my tips on how to avoid them.

Synopsis: You (Fred) are about to contact Joe Bloggs at an industry publication, on behalf of a client (Windows’R’Us), about a new range of bulletproof windows. You have the press release ready to email over.

Example of an ugly phone call:

Journalist: “Hello, Joe Bloggs.” PR: “Hi Joe. My name is Fred and I'm calling from Windows’R’Us who have just released their latest range of windows. If you are interested, I'd be happy to send you a product to review. Would this be alright?

The only response you'll hear after that pitch is a dial tone. You lost the journalist after introducing yourself and the brand. Journalists are pressed for time, so unless you are calling to tell them they won £1 million they prefer you to keep it short, sweet and to the point.

It is also common courtesy and sense to check that the journalist has time to discuss your project. Here is how to fix this disaster:

Journalist: “Hello, Joe Bloggs.
PR: “Hi Joe. This is Fred from Windows’R’Us. How are you?
Journalist: “Fine, thanks. What can I do for you?
PR: “Is this a good time to chat with you about a new range of bulletproof windows?”
Journalist: “Bulletproof windows? Cool! Tell me more!

Now, you not only have their attention but you also have a higher chance of securing coverage. In the event that they don't have time to talk, simply ask whether an email would be preferable, then confirm their email address before thanking them and hanging up. Congratulations - you have averted a potential blacklist!

Example of a bad phone call:

Journalist: “Hello, Joe Bloggs.
PR: “Hi Joe. This is Fred and I have a press release that I'd like to send over for your consideration. Can I quickly go through it with you?
Journalist: “I'm really busy right now but if you send it over, I'll take a look.

The problem with this approach is that you have given a generic pitch, therefore the journalist has responded in like kind. Unless you deliver a memorable performance, you and your email simply will not be remembered.

As explained above, journalists have very little time for pitches but in those precious few minutes if you make sure you get across the important points, it will help your chances. Here is an alternative option:

Journalist: “Hello, Joe Bloggs.
PR: “Hi Joe. My name is Fred from Windows’R’Us. How are you?
Journalist: “Fine, thanks. How can I help you?” PR: “I have a press release on our new range bulletproof windows that I know your readers would be interested in, especially after the new law that was recently passed. Do you mind if I send it over to you for consideration?

While this pitch may seem longwinded, there were two improvements in this approach: you tied the press release into relevant news and made it of interest for the publication's readers. More often than not, journalists will appreciate this even if it doesn't result in coverage. Finally…

Example of a good phone call:

Journalist: “Hello, Joe Bloggs.
PR: “Hi Joe. My name is Fred and I'm calling on behalf of Windows’R’Us. How are you?
Journalist: “Fine, thanks. How are you?
PR: “I'm well thanks. Do you have a minute to discuss a new range of bulletproof windows that we recently launched?
Journalist: “Sure. Go ahead.

You may Pass Go and collect coverage!

Overall, just remember three key things:

  1. When you phone a journalist, whether it is your first or hundredth time, remain professional, polite and be concise. Avoid rambling – know how and what you want to say
  2. When sending the press release, make sure to copy it into the body of the email and not send as an attachment. This will save time and allow the journalist to skim through it to assess the content quickly
  3. If you deliver a strong pitch and still don't see coverage, remember it is rarely personal. Just revise your approach and see if there are any areas to improve on