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Vivian Li/李雯雯

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5 tips for better phone pitches

Phone pitches: Love them or hate them, they’re necessary.

If you love your phone, read no further; if you hate your phone, this article is written for you, with love, from someone who knows how you feel. When I first started in PR, I landed a dream job. Instantly, I was pitching national news outlets and simultaneously learning the practical skills professors don’t teach you in college.

One lesson I picked up on quickly is that you’ve simply got to get used to being in the sales business if you want a great public relations career. You’ve got to get good at it, because traditional PR has always involved cold calling.

Once you’ve spent time crafting your messaging and writing and distributing your release, you can’t just stop and wait for your phone to ring. If you do, you might just miss your greatest placement.

Overcoming a fear of picking up the phone comes with practice, but practice only makes perfect if you’re practicing the right way.

During my 15 years in the profession, I’ve made countless phone pitches. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

1. Whether to "wing it" shouldn’t even be a question.

I’m a planner by nature, but even if you’re not, don’t wing your phone pitch. Take the time to write, rewrite and write your pitch again, if needed. You don’t have time for filler words, pauses and unnecessary points when you’ve got only about 30 seconds to sell a reporter on your story.

Practice your pitch out loud and multiple times before you ever pick up the phone. This builds confidence and helps your pitch flow.

Even if the reporter doesn’t pick up your story this time, a polished pitch can help you get your foot in the door the next time. After all, the phone is just another tool to build a relationship.

2. Parts of a pitch: A breakdown so you won’t have one.

Every pitch should include three sections: an introduction, the message and a closing. It might sound a little like a speech tactic, but it works.

The Intro should include your name, your company name and your phone number.

If you’re working for an agency and representing a company, make sure to use the client’s name, not the agency name. For example, I work for Intermark Group Public Relations. My intro might go as follows:

“Hi, this is Sonia Blumstein with [CLIENT NAME.] My number is XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

This approach is perfect if you’re leaving a voice message, which is more often than not what you’ll be doing. But on the rarer occasion when a reporter answers his or her phone, take a slightly altered and courteous approach:

Your name

Your company or client name

Temperature check

Check to see if the reporter has time to talk to you. Perhaps you called when the reporter is on deadline. Perhaps the reporter wants to talk to you, but it just isn’t a good time. You won’t know unless you ask. Try this script, for example:

Hi, this is [your name] with [company/client name].

I’m calling to follow up on [abbreviated story topic] or [a release I sent you earlier today].

[Did I catch you at a good time?] or [Do you have a quick minute to talk?]

If the answer is “no,” follow up by asking if there is a better time to call back. If the reporter gives you the run-around, say you’ll call back at a later time.

Once you finish your intro, briefly share your story idea in 30 seconds or less.

Assuming you’re leaving a voice mail, close by repeating your phone number so the reporter can easily jot it down without having to replay your message.

[RELATED: Tell the stories that touch people's hearts—and inspire action.]

3. Get your numbers straight.

PR professionals joke that we are in the communications business, not the numbers business. But there are two sets of numbers to be mindful of when planning phone pitches: the 12 numbers on a clock and the seven days of the week.

Reporters work on different deadlines. To the best of your ability, don’t call them when they are on deadline. A few guidelines:

Don’t call daily print reporters after 2 p.m. in their time zone. They’re working to finish up their stories before they hit the door.

Don’t call TV or radio shows while they are on the air. Call them right after their show is over, when they are working on booking the next program. You might only have one or two hours to reach them. Know which hours those are and plan ahead.

Don’t call a weekly outlet on the one day of the week the publication is wrapping up and going to print.

Don’t call a magazine about a story that has passed its editorial calendar due date.

Don’t call on Fridays, especially daily news outlets.

Do call a reporter if you have breaking news. It’s the one exception to the rule.

4. Double as a customer-support agent.

By the time you’re calling a reporter, you’ve likely already sent your email release, but chances are your release is buried in the reporter’s inbox.

Before you pick up the phone, open your original email. Have it at the ready to forward immediately. If the reporter can’t find your release, you’re one step ahead and can send it right then. Sometimes the reporter will even wait on the phone to confirm receipt.

Score. You’ve just increased your chances to get that reporter to read your release, which is the first step to getting your placement.

5. Save your voice, your time and theirs.

If you know you’re going to include a phone call campaign, you might avoid at least a few calls by giving the reporter a heads up. In your email pitch, tell the reporter you plan to follow up via phone.

If the reporter knows you are going to call, maybe she will reply to your e-mail before you pick up the phone. Who doesn’t want that?

These are the strategies I’ve used to land placement in the top print and broadcast publications across the country. What tricks do you have up your sleeve?


Vivian Li

PR Manager

Tel: +86 010 8390 7451

Mobile: +86 13041030670