Phone Calls—So 10 Years Ago?

By Megan Lane

Boston, 1999:

As a PR intern at the New England Aquarium, I spent my days faxing press releases to the Aquarium’s media list.  Amid busy signals, failed transmissions and paper jams, the news finally gets out.

I follow up with phone calls and try to create relationships with that voice connection.  Some coverage appears (in print) in local papers.

My friends and I have a phone tree of sorts, and use it to figure out plans for that evening.

On the way home, I fire up my Walkman and listen to the day’s news on terrestrial radio.

Out on the town that night, there’s no danger of embarrassing, drunken communications because I don’t have a cell phone or ready access to an email account.  With no digital camera, we have to wait for prints to come back from the photo shop, rather than immediately upload them.

Sound like the dark ages?  In reality, it wasn’t that long ago. Technologically speaking, it seems like a lifetime, and the way we conduct our personal lives—as well as our business lives as PR folks—has changed significantly.

Boston, 2009:

As an account manager at SHIFT Communications, I now spend my days pitching tailored stories to reporters with whom I’ve developed relationships.  A thought can move from an idea to an interview to the Internet in a matter of hours, sometimes less.  I’m not even sure where the fax machine is in our office.

My friends and I keep in touch on Facebook, and that’s where the majority of our plans are made.

Throughout the day, I get my news from Twitter, and Sirius satellite radio.

Out on the town, I have to forcibly disconnect from my BlackBerry to keep from reading emails, texts and breaking news because everything’s at my fingertips.  You can’t be social if you’re obsessed with your phone.

So what’s the common thread here?  Technology is completely different than it was 10 years ago, as is the way we consume media and execute our jobs as savvy, creative, informed PR pros.  But the one thing that PR hinges upon—indeed, the one thing that business hinges upon—is relationships.  And this is where I like to party like it’s 1999, get on the phone and really make a connection with the person on the other end.  Emails, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are all great tools for opening the door and getting a reporter’s attention, but it’s face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact that cements a relationship, and an opportunity.  It’s easy to overlook this basic tool in this age of instant high tech.

We’re beyond the days of “smile and dial” at least when it comes to banging out a blanket pitch to an untargeted media list (well, we are, at least).  But research, rehearsal, smiling and then dialing is the right way not only to pick up interest in your current story, but to find out what makes reporters tick as individuals.  Know your reporter’s work.  Have your pitch down cold.  Be friendly and confident.  And if you get hung up on, try again next time.  It really does pay

So when you’re pitching, as tempting as it is to point and click, try this instead: Think. Breathe. Smile. Dial. Succeed. It still works.

1 Response to “Phone Calls—So 10 Years Ago?”

  1. 1 Liz Laneri September 29, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I totally agree with you Megan. We can’t just hide behind emails or Facebook. Having a real-time phone call can help maintain and build relationships.

    I would even take this a step further and say building relationships with reporters (or anyone for that matter!) can be even stronger when you meet up with them in person. Even if it is just for coffee or a quick bit to eat, having that informal conversation where you’re not pitching your clients, but simply just talking about anything and everything allows you to truly get to know one another and build trust (and a relationship). Unfortunately we all tend to get tied up at work and make excuses (myself included), but it’s something that I personally would like make sure I do more of.

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